Look what I received in the post today! Art Quilting Studio came all the way from the States and has a wonderfully sensitive article about my collages written by Rice Freeman-Zachery. It’s the first time I have had my work featured in a magazine and I’m very happy with the result. There are loads of photos and I’m even on the cover! I’ve had a look around and you can buy Art Quilting Studio in the UK here if you’d like to read it for yourself. It’s a really nicely produced magazine with loads of other interesting things as well.
Is it possible for music and sound to be a visual art as well as a hearing one? This is a question that I have been mulling over for some time and one that lies at the heart of the work I am doing at the moment. I am interested in a synthesis of sound, landscape and music notation and whether drawing sound could be a way of creating an aural landscape where sound is visualised and landscape is heard. I am exploring this by looking at various forms of notation.
Notation is a recognised system of symbols (essentially marks on paper) that visually represent a music or sound idea. Standard notations are well-known, clearly defined structures that are able to communicate sound information in a functional and precise manner. I consider the characteristics of three notations that are able to articulate sound: text, Western musical notation and graphic scores.
Text and words are the visual form of speech. Indeed, as you are reading this you are probably also hearing my words in your head. The traditional Western musical notation of a score is read by a musician who has the skill to interpret and hear a composer’s thoughts.
Both these types of notation can be understood aurally when the written language has been learnt. Furthermore a musician can also realise music notation by playing them on a musical instrument as the notational elements of a musical score are there to fulfil a purpose which is to ‘sound out’ a composers’ ideas. A musical score is normally thought of as silent and would generally be deemed redundant if it weren’t to be played by musicians, however, we don’t question the functionality of a script if we don’t read it out aloud. Thus, we are able to learn the symbols of script or score, understand their meanings and consequently ‘hear’ those meanings in our heads – our eyes are able to see the sounds inferred.
However, both these notations create boundaries and an artist can only take their ideas as far as the conventional limits of the system will allow. Formal notations can constrain an artist who wants to be able to communicate a suggestive or poetic sound idea that falls outside of the standard structure of known marks.
From the 1950s composers such as John Cage, Cornelius Cardew and Earle Brown moved away from the restrictions of conventional musical notation to find new solutions. The reasons for this were various: to create a greater artistic freedom with a new range of sounds and sound relationships, to enable creative improvisation and interpretive freedom in performance. Graphic scores were the medium through which composers were able to articulate their ground breaking new ideas.
Graphic scores are a way of communicating musical or sound ideas through drawing. Although some composers only used drawing alongside modifications of conventional musical notation others invented a completely different approach. Experimental marks and pictures represented sounds and became the alternative means of expressing creativity and the boundaries between notation as music and notation as art became blurred. The marks made on a graphic score are not the learnt mark of a standard script or musical score, they are imagined marks that come from the creator’s mind – there are no set rules for creation or interpretation attached to them. The creator will have had an idea but the final interpretation is only constrained by the reader’s imagination.
I believe that a graphic score is able to blur the boundaries between cognition and performance or put another way, notation as art and notation as music. By using abstract drawn, painted or constructed marks that are not a traditional recognised sound notation the work becomes a hybrid, a mixture of sound notation and visual and tactile marks that leave enormous scope for the imaginative interpretation of the reader. Art exists to enhance human understanding and the method of inferring aural, visual and even tactile experience through the medium of a graphic score gives the creator the freedom to express more than standardised notations are able to offer.
I want to draw attention to the way in which we experience our surroundings using the visual, aural and tactile senses. In these photographs I am creating visual and tactile marks that represent sound but leave us with the paradox of a silent score – a score that is not meant to be performed but one that is to be looked at, touched and consequently heard.
I’m in making mode at the moment and enjoying a quiet, contemplative time considering both new and old ideas. I have a piece of work in mind but the details haven’t revealed themselves yet. I really take pleasure in the process of discovery – working instinctively and spontaneously my ideas and thoughts evolve and new marks appear unexpectedly.
I shall be showing some work at the Robert Phillips Gallery, Walton-on Thames as part of an exhibition titled The Makers’ Art. It is a group show for members of the Society of Designer Craftsmen, North Surrey Group and will include textiles, ceramics, glass and jewellery. It starts on Wednesday 29 April and ends Sunday !0 May. There is a meet the artist session on Saturday 2 May between 12 and 2pm. I hope to be there! All other details below.
Here are the things I will be showing ….
From my sketch book ….
‘Sitting here on the marsh – perched on the remains of an old wooden boat that has been stranded above the high water line and left to rot – the only sounds that I can hear, apart from the wind blowing through my ears, are those of birds: oystercatchers, gulls, a skylark. There is a constant tweeting and chattering interspersed by the occasional raucous caw of a crow (or is it a rook?). The bird calls rarely stop and create a wonderful aural background to the landscape I am looking at.
The birds are also visible. A flock of brent geese flies up over the marsh to the north. Circling round in a huge murmuration they suddenly head west, flying low, looking for food as the tide goes out exposing nutrient rich mud. Oystercatchers high step over the mud bobbing and pecking and gulls glide elegantly on invisible air currents.
The only bird I can’t see but can hear is a curlew. Its brown body conceals it perfectly against the background of mud and marsh and its call rises above the other bird’s song. It is a sound to make you wonder. A low drawling note rises to an eerie trilling, bubbly ripple. An unmistakeable melancholy sound.
‘From the river
I hear voices,
Like souls abandoned
Curlews are calling.
Birds of the Fenland, though you float or fly,
Wild birds, I cannot understand your cry.’
From the libretto by William Plomer. Curlew River, Benjamin Britten
I’ve often tried to capture the song in a sound recording but have failed up to now – the machine never seems to be switched on at the right time.
How happy it makes me to hear its call. It reminds me of childhood holidays on the banks of the Tresillian river in Cornwall where we spent time on the water in a little dingy called Curly named after the birds that were so numerous there. Curlews seemed to be more abundant than up here on the North Norfolk coast. Here it is a special moment when the curlew calls unseen from the depth of the marsh.’
The hermit-like side of my personality relishes the opportunity to be alone for short periods of time and over the past week I have had the opportunity to shut myself away, take solitary walks and think. This brief period of reclusiveness is nearly over (I should now busy cleaning the house and cooking as my family is coming down like a deluge for the Easter weekend!) but I have come to a bit of a decision about my next piece of work.
A reflective period is always good. It’s a time to let your mind wander along no particular path, to let thoughts come to the fore or to consolidate ideas that have been pushed back but that won’t go away. One of those niggling ideas has been scratching away at me for some time and I’ve now decided that I don’t want to push it away again.
As you may have realised I’ve been drawing a lot recently and my sketchbook has accompanied me on nearly all of my walks – quick sketches, watercolours and drawings have all found their way onto its pages. I seldom work from my drawings. Instead they work as a sort of discipline – to stop, to look, to listen – to pay attention and to understand what is going on around me. I have been thinking that I should take these scribbles out of the sketchbook to live a life of their own but I realise now that I can’t (or won’t) do it.
Instead I’ve been thinking back to a piece of work that I did 7 years ago that was inspired by the music of Benjamin Britten and the North Norfolk landscape. It was a visual notation that merged landscape and music – a graphic score based on writing down sound through drawing. This piece connected the repetitive and rhythmic elements of the music and movements within the landscape.
Sea Interlude, 6m x 50cms, 2008
I’ve always wanted to do another piece on the same scale but felt that it would be going backwards – a re-tracing of old ground, but I’ve realised that it couldn’t possibly be a going backwards. Everything I’ve done between then and now would intervene to prevent it from being a rehash. Even using similar textile techniques it wouldn’t ever be the same. My recent drawing activity has reinforced the idea that looking at the rhythms and energies of nature is (in my mind at least) the same experience as listening to it. I have a need to do another piece of work that connects and consolidates these ideas.
I’ve talked myself into it – I’m doing the research and going for it! More details later …..