issue 23 :: June 2014

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Survey: Visual Art Inspiration

I asked this question to a dozen creative musicians, each of whom deserve much more space for their ideas.
Has a work of visual art ever directly influenced one of your sound works/performances? If so, how?
“If memory serves, no, not directly. Subliminally/unconsciously/subconsciously? Absolutely.”
Milo Fine
“i’ve been pondering your question and though i cannot be positive i don’t think a work of visual art has ever directly influenced any of my work(s). i often find images that seem to resonate with the sounds, but i don’t really ever start there. a case in point: during preparations for releasing the disc "For H.F. Farny", which is a series of field recordings of an abandoned telephone or telegraph wire, i was looking for info about same and came across an old painting of an indian on horseback  with his ear to a telegraph pole. this image fit with a certain "nostalgic" way of thinking while hearing, so i used the painter’s name in the title. the only way a listener would know that would be to google the name and with persistence stumble across the painting. (which is another analog of the way i work-stumbling).”
Jeph Jerman
“The first time I saw Jay DeFeo’s painting The Rose, I fell in love with it. It was at an exhibit of Beat-era art and film in San Francisco at the de Young Museum in 1996. I had the idea to do a sound work influenced by The Rose, in the aspect of creating layer upon layer of material. In her case, it was paint. In my case, it was sound. The end result was a sound piece in the form of an audio recording (a sounding?), titled Pilgrim. DeFeo’s thick - almost sculptural - painting took eight years to finish, from approx. 1958-1966, and was first exhibited in 1969. The Rose seems to accomplish the miraculous feat of allowing the viewer to attain immanence and transcendence at the same time - immanence through contemplation of the materials of layered oil on canvas and wood, and transcendence through the feelings evoked by the abstracted beauty and ugliness of the rose.
“For Pilgrim, I didn’t want to achieve DeFeo’s grand vision. But I really liked the idea of taking my time to focus on the individual layers as well as the work as a whole. I wanted to contrast a lyrical song about home/homeland as something both comforting and decaying, with the noise of layered sounds. The text for Pilgrim was published in Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal #6 in 2003. The final audio piece was released in 2004 on Uncertainty Rides the Waves, along with other solo and Coterie Exchange tracks. You can hear Pilgrim through the Puzzling Music Archive.”
Sharon Cheslow
“Light and shadows are a constant influence. This is not officially “visual art” as in a piece of art in a museum, but it is visual and to me, very artistic. I am particularly attuned to shadows. In the late summer, my living room in Chicago has the most amazing shadows that come through the trees at around 5 PM. I love the way shadows emerge and change in a subtle way, and the way they move across the space when a car goes down the street, and how they disappear and reappear with the light. There are several trees of varying proximities to my window that filter the sunlight in the late afternoon, so the shadows have multiple dimensions and depths on my wall. Some of the leaves and angular branches appear really huge on the wall, and some are like tiny moving textures, all layered on top of one another in various shades of gray. The collective movement of these shadows—the flashing and the quaking, and the various dynamics of gray and black, inspires the type of movement I aspire to create with sound. Shadows are a combination of form and formlessness. I try to achieve that kind of balance (or maybe it’s a paradox) in the larger structures of my compositions, too.
“Elements of cinema and cinematic images have affected my work profoundly. For the past few years I have been touring with two brilliant expanded cinema artists, Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. In fact, the work of Sandra and Luis to me seems much more about light, and some of the images they create move in the way the aforementioned shadows move. So I am really attracted to their work. We have been performing almost exclusively in cinema venues because the visual portion of the piece we are presenting, Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure, requires a dual 35 mm crossover projector system, which are rare these days. My sound track is for a quadraphonic setup. Their projected images creep and splay out of the boundaries of the screen (the visual frame of cinema). This aspect of their work has brought my interest to the “frame” of sound, which consists of walls/rooms. I am particularly interested in twilight and the area of sounds that blend with room sounds, like wind. These types of sounds exist on the edge of perception just as near darkness is on the edge of the perception of light.
“These liminal points of perception have brought my attention to the importance of dynamics in acoustic composition. Interest in sound dynamics has been overshadowed by a focus on elements like pitch and timbre. Dynamics is just as important as those elements. I utilize very slow dynamic transitions from quietness to loudness in Aberration of Light . Before each performance I tune (using EQ) the white noise in my recorded soundtrack to white noise of the room sound (the ventilation, etc), so that the slow hiss of the sound piece appears to grow louder from the walls, and comes into the audience, just as light might spill out of a cinematic screen. These types of dynamic changes have a very powerful overall effect on the cinematic experience. Dynamics are so powerful in a time-based medium because of the added dimension of duration.”
Olivia Block
“I should not find it odd that a work of visual art has never directly influenced any of my performances, compositions, or improvisations. I’m interested in a different kind of time; images bestow time while sound bestows as well as segments, reshapes, or outright steals time.
“When MoMA relocated to Queens for a remodel of their NY space in 2003, I watched people gaze at Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I did so long enough to attract the more-than-casual curiosity of several museum guards. I looked long enough to note that most viewers gave this amazing, almost miniature masterpiece 10 to 30 seconds of their attention; less than a minute for perhaps the truest visual incarnation of “dazzling” in Western culture!
“I’m sure for those viewers that half-minute was powerful, but my own work is seldom so compact. Most of my pieces emerge from field recordings; I take (need, steal) more time so the listener can welcome, if desired, mental images or other responses to emerge, change, and dissolve. “The meaning of a symbol is the response to that symbol” — Morse Peckham.”
Chris DeLaurenti
Our previous survey was on the relationship between art and politics..
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