Saturday, 30 August 2014

Eye Music

Eye music is a term taken from the title of an exhibition of that name a few years ago. The image (above) of a love song by Baude Cordier, was included in that exhibition. Cordier was a Renaissance song writer, the image forming this love chanson 'Belle, bonne, sage' constructed in a heart shape, with red notes to indicate rhythmic change. This is a very basic idea, touching on some aspects of Islamic calligraphy and relates to Appolinaire's visual poetry. (Below)

However interesting as these overlaps between drawing and writing may be, there is another very close relationship between drawing and sound that I would like to open out. You could think of musical or sound notation as a form of drawing. Just as a map is a drawing that enables us to ‘read’ a landscape and travel around a country, a musical score allows us to play and engage with music. This relationship is a very old one. The first musical representations using images based on all ten fingers and thumbs to illustrate how the sounds could be represented visually.  My own feeling is that as new technologies become more central to the way we make drawings, animation, sound tracks, visual scores and the return of Chinese scroll type drawings will all begin to merge. We will naturally step between old and new technologies and the divide between the arts will begin to disappear. Sound is not the only area to have its own visual language. Dancers have developed a familiarity with visual notation as well. Chorographic notation, such as Laban, now becoming almost as familiar as the visual score and you can image it being in the future linked into timelines that will sit alongside scrolling images.  The familiar layout of editing software such as ‘Final Cut’ or ‘Premiere’  already points towards some form of future visual synthesis of these things.
Basic Laban Notation

Adverbial Laban i.e. actions with annotations as to their quality

The visual abstract pattern of sound being edited

However it is also useful to think about how each of these elements can drive quite separate ideas. Drawing from the moving figure is a very challenging activity and often can result in a mess of lose mark-making. However when you try and compress the information down and combine this with some form of structured annotation, such as Laban, perhaps new structures will arrive. The moment of Cubism could be seen as a first attempt to compress visual movements into compact wholes, Futurism then opening these out into more rhythmic structures. Neither movement however went on to fully synthesise their findings, probably because of the fast rise of the camera as a recording tool and the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge.  I’ve no answer to this, simply a gut feeling that there is still much work that could be done in this area by someone wanting to invest time and energy on something that is fundamental to an understanding of life.
Above, a Braque drawing, demonstrating how time can be compressed by building a construction based on several viewpoints at once. In his case the observer's movements are frozen within a record of perceptions. 

Duchamp's 'Nude Descending a staircase' (above) attempts to both capture the movement of a figure as well as embed within this some awareness of the observer's interaction with the event. 
Balla's drawing starts to work in a territory between that of the new information coming from photographs and a sort of stylised notation of movement. 


Time lapse photography

Just as drawing has a lot to offer to the exploration of movement, it can also be used to establish a relationship between sound and image. Several early 20th Century artists such as Kandinsky believed that there was a direct relationship between sound and image. A particular note could it was believed be represented by a certain colour or shape. There was a rise in interest in synesthesia and as more and more information was gathered about how the brain worked, we began to realise that our senses are wired up in such a way that what we read as sensations are in fact products of an interpretative process that can at times become mixed up.  A really interesting read that touches on this issue is The Mind of a Mnemonist by Luria, a fascinating book that introduces us to the problems that can occur when senses are ‘wired up’ differently. 
Of course many early 20th Century artists were also influenced by the writings of Madam Blavatsky, in particular the Theosophical ‘Law of correspondences’; adherents seeking some sort of shared essence of ideas, as a way of being able to develop general  principles from particular events. Abstraction at that time for many artists, such as Mondrian, pointed to the existence of a reality higher than the merely material. Therefore a correspondence between colour, shape and music, seemed to them to be a higher order of reality, a synthetic vision that transcended everyday perceptions.  For more information download this.

Thought-Forms, by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater is the text that brings all these issues together. Read:
See in particular these illustrations: plate M the music of Mendelssohn, plate G. the music of Gounod and plate W. the music of Wagner.

Above, illustrations from Besant and Leadbeater

For those of you interested in developing drawing machines, see the section on forms produced by pendulums.

Although I seem to have wondered somewhat off track, I think you can see where this diversion could take you. However, going back to sound scores within contemporary art practice, you could look at the work of Caroline Bergvall, an artist I’m particularly interested in because she looks back at old narrative forms, such as Norse Sagas and has developed a practice using her voice to draw with. Listen to OSIS here and see some of her visual scores here.

Radio 4 has a very interesting programme on artists and music here.

Finally those of you who are into Flash animation might be interested in blending abstract representation with animation. 

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