Music and art workshop
I enjoyed teaching the workshop on music and visual art this week. In this project, you ‘read’ a piece of abstract art as a graphic score, and make decisions about instruments, colour, rhythm, structure, etc. This was with a group of about 20 pre-service teaching students at Melbourne Uni, as part of a subject called Integrated Arts.
We started by working all together on this painting by Mondrian:
I asked the students the following questions:
- What do you see? (State all the obvious things)
- How does it make you feel? What response does it inspire? Is chaotic/peaceful/unstable/static/other?
- Context – what do you know about the painter? About this particular work?
‘Stating the obvious’ is very important, as it encourages participants to volunteer all their observations, rather than editing out the things that they think are less impressive, or too revealing, or some other inhibitor.
The next step is to look at the artwork as a musical score, and start to decipher/interpret it, and make decisions about its elements and what they depict. I used the following list of questions to get the students to focus their observations and decisions:
- How could you equate the different colours in this painting with different instruments?
- Do any colours vary into related shades? Textures? How might you represent these nuances with sounds?
- What kind of atmosphere is suggested by the rhythm/energy/lines/colours of the painting?
- How close together/far apart are the sounds? How does this vary around the painting? The proximity of lines or marks on the image can be suggested of rhythm.
- Are there any patterns or recurring marks/lines? How could these be depicted musically?
We created a very atmostpheric, minimalist piece, with the students divided into groups of four. One of the four took on the Yellow role, playing metalaphone, another the Blue role, playing xylophone, another the red role, playing glockenspiel, and the fourth person was White, playing triangle.
We read the painting as having the yellow lines running continuous, with the other small squares of colour being imposed upon the yellow (as opposed the the yellow colour being broken or interrupted by other colours – we saw it as continuing, underneath). The small squares of colour represented single sounds on the relevant instruments. Each group chose a line to ‘read’, a direction to read it in, and a single pitch to work with. Yellow people played continuous running quavers, very lightly, on that pitch. The others played short tones, in the order and time spacing suggested by the painting, according to the line they had chosen. If we’d had time to take the project further, each group could have chosen multiple lines, and moved from one to the next. The effect of these different lines, each played ona different pitch, all being played at once, and stopping according to each group’s reading of the line, was very hypnotic and peaceful.
However, some people in the group thought that the Mondrian had quite a chaotic feel, like a bird’s eye view of a busy grid of traffic. We could have chosen different instruments and depicted this chaos, using the same group structures.
It worked well. The groups went on to choose different paintings (all by Russian abstract artists – these are my favourites, and the images I felt would work well, when I conceived this project) and create new pieces of their own.