Thursday, December 3, 2009

Les lignes mystérieuses...

My recent collaborative "encounter" with artist Jim Zingarelli found us not only decorating old scores, but also creating a sort of music from the act of drawing itself. I've been intrigued for some time by the contrasting ways in musicians and visual artists think of and experience direction. I've heard Jim talk many times about the ways in which an image can lead a viewer to follow a kind of path in the act of viewing, but it's quite a different thing than the temporally prescribed way in which one experiences the events in a piece of music. (Let's put aside for now the complex ways in which a listener does indeed keep "in mind" musical events that have passed or that are yet to come.)

[NOTE: I mused on this issue at some length here, including some reference to Jim's work, although that was long before we'd imagined this collaboration. There's also some further commentary on the matter from Dan B. at Thoughtlights, with yet further comments by me in the comments to his post.]

Whatever you might think of this distinction between the worlds of art and music, I wanted to see and document what it would be like to watch a drawing unfold as a sort of performance. I decided a fun way to do that would be to have Jim sketch on my Tablet PC, using screen capture software to record all the strokes of the pen. The first time I handed him the tablet, he immediately threw a challenge back at me by asking me to play something for him to "draw to." Not being an improviser (see previous post), I pulled Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier off the shelf and faked my way through the C Minor Prelude from Book I. Not my finest moment as a pianist (nor had my office piano been tuned yet for the semester, so things were less well-tempered than ideal), but afterwards we were both captivated by the sight of watching his lines dash across the screen. Even the sound of the pen tapping against the tablet added something surprisingly satisfying. [Perhaps some day I'll have the courage to post this first session, although I'll have to load it up with as many disclaimers as possible about my playing.]

So, for now, I'm going to post a "live drawing" we did several weeks after that first encounter with Bach. In this case, having already embarked on our adventure with ornamenting a Couperin score, I decided to play what is probably Couperin's most famous work, "Les barricades mystérieuses," a bewitching little piece I compared to Schumann last month. What you see below is Jim's pen dancing along to the notes as I play. It's an unrehearsed, one-take, unedited performance by both of us. The point here is not to present some finished product, but rather to see what happens when these two worlds join forces, and when a drawing becomes something which can literally be experienced as unfolding in time.

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