Barry Spinello  post of Sat, 28 Jun 2003 03:43:03 -0000 to the iota-centre email-list.

Re: Into Action:
        (candid speculation and the forces of nature)

  Dear Benji-

In response to your Iota message requesting feedback on the question of the relationship between seeing and hearing, and the implications this relationship may have for artists who wish to create an art form that unifies seeing and hearing or painting and music.

I have grappled with these issues for the better part of 40 years, as others have- and offer insights that may be of value. They have been of value to me.

The mechanical apparatus (in the brain) for seeing and the apparatus for hearing are apparently separate and in place. But there is a huge interconnectivity possible between the two and it is this interconnectivity that is the area of interest. But "interconnectivity" need not mean the synching of the one to the other- which has been the case until now- but rather, something entirely new.

It is the purpose of this letter to describe (to my way of thinking) how music is composed; how painting is composed; and how music and painting can begin to be be composed as a single entity.

I find it helpful to start with the approach that- the painting (or composed piece of music) is not "the thing". The painting is but a residue of "the thing". The real "thing" is the interneural connection within the artist that caused the painting to come into existence.

So, when a spectator sees the painting that the artist made, a roughly equivalent set of interneural connection is built within the spectator- that roughly corresponds to the set of interneural connections in the painter- namely, the set of interneural connections that generated the painting. This description is a vast, even brutal simplification. But, we communicate mind to mind. We get at each other's mind via the artifacts generated out there into the world: jots on paper forming pictures that are words and sentences and images; abstract noises out of vocal chords, also forming sounds that are called words and sometimes music.

But how do these jots on paper and abstract sounds get made? Why does Beethoven sound like Beethoven, and Coleman Hawkens like Coleman Hawkens? How is art put together?

Music is composed through the motor act (moving your hand, etc.) of laying down a note, then laying down a next note, then laying down a third note, etc. And a picture is composed by a similar process- the motor act of laying down a line, then another line, a third line, etc.

In music (or in painting) a fraction of a second may occur between the first note and the second note. In that fraction of a second a myriad of interneural connection can come into play referencing the artist's history, training, feeling, personality, what he had for breakfast, etc. But one thing is clear- if a second note is to follow the first note the competing interneural activity must resolve into a single dominate strain which, Bang, releases as the motor act of the next note. If no second note is forthcoming then the artist either thinks again harder, listens to Brian Eno or JSB for inspiration, or quits the art business.

(The above description is, once again, a brutal simplification of what I understand to be cutting edge theory in neuroscience, which I find to be useful as guiding theory for creating the new audiovisual art form) --

If the artist is a musician he or she is working primarily within the gestalt of hearing. That is to say, by training, custom and practice the interneural connection within the artist circles primarily in and around the ear- the hearing function. And similarly, in a painter the name of the game is the eye. So, within us we have these two seemingly separate worlds- the world of seeing, the world of hearing; the functionality of the eye, and that of the ear; the concept of space and that of time.

But the issue is to make one world out of these two separate worlds... And is it possible?

Let's be blunt. Music, as music, is easily created. We well know how to do it.. And pictures, whether on canvas, in computer or in camera can easily be created- we're programed for it. And music and pictures that are created separately can be played simultaneously, and when that happens they reinforce each other. The connectivity that already exists between seeing and hearing "syncs" any music and picture together. Dozens of movies have been strengthened in emotional content by simply playing a Bach track alongside the pictures. Music videos start with a coherent piece of music, written as music, to which pictures are then synced. Great fresh results can happen even when picture and sound are randomly combined.

But the syncing together of two different forms, created separately and with different tools leaves painting within the gestalt of seeing, and music within the gestalt of hearing, and begs the point of a fundamental integration.

Early in the 20C Arnold Schoenberg recognized that composers schooled in the Western tradition of music were so dedicated, so reliant, so internally shaped to hear Western tonality that great effort was needed to "jump the track" into atonal sound. The tone row was invented and this deconstructed tonality and enabled western-trained composers to "hear", to "appreciate" atonal intervals. This led to Cage who further deconstructed music, bringing it to 'a point in space'.

In a similar way (get ready for more simplification) Cezanne pulled painting out of it's depth to the surface of the canvas, and through cubism led to Jackson Pollack- in whom the desparate impulse to create forced painting to the brink of time. We stand in front of a Pollack painting and, odd as it may seem, are deeply emotionally satisfied by moving our eye across canvas as we follow a line; follow a line; follow another line...

A point in space; a line in time.

Seen in this way the great art of the first half of the 20C has heroicly pulled painting out of space to the brink of time; and deconstructed the entire ediface of music to a point in space. I believe this is where we are now.* Art in the second half of the 20C has been bogged in a muddle, waiting for the tools- both practical (computer) and intellectual (neuroscience)- with which to proceed.

Why bother? Ask Runge, an early painter; Wagner in opera 50 years later; Redon, Fantin-Latour, Whistler, Klimpt, Gauguin, Debussy, Marc, the Cubists, and many others who talked and wrote about a music/painting synthesis. Kandinsky was convinced that colors could be heard, etc., etc. Long books are written on these topics.

But the philosophical question is deeper. And if I may indulge in speculation- it has been noted that the various disiplines within the University: mathematics, psychology, physics, other science, religion, the arts, etc., are separately full of content, but speak different languages and thus "pass each other like ships in the night".. "there is a schism within the soul of modern man..." By showing that our disciplines are all abstractions drawn out of a common pool of feeling, a common pool of highly integrated and interacting neurons in an ever self-differentiating and self-elaborating nervous system, cutting edge theory in neuro-science goes a long way towards showing how these same disciplines can be integrated and shown to be aspects of a common self-model (or self/world-model) embodied in our nervous systems... "and thus we shall be whole again"...

Back to reality and towards a conclusion:

Music and painting can't be integrated if music is made on a musical instrument and the painting is done with painting tools-- just as you can't make piano music by composing the white keys on monday, and the black keys on tuesday. Or, to give an example from painting- you can't draw the horizontal strokes of a painting in one room, and the vertical strokes in a different room, and expect a unified piece of work.

With two separate instruments (and separate computer programs are separate instruments): one for music, the other for painting, at best, you get two separate thought lines that sync together at certain predetermined points. Of course this can be truly wonderful. At first blush it is better than the integrated process of combining picture and sound, since all the sophistication of "painting" made separately, and "music" made separately, as they have existed until now, can apply.

But it is not a fundamental integration of sight and sound.

I am suggesting that the blending, the melding of sound and picture must come at a level of creation within the creator- and prior to syncing. By an act of creative will the composer must interject the impulse to picture and the impulse to sound- smashing them together inside the self- at the very next creative move, and every time.

(Frankly, I'd love to see a collabrative efort at a nude- in which Ingre sketched only horizontal lines and Paul Klee drew the vertical lines. Interesting? Yes. The continuing basis for an art form? No- more like a parlor trick.)

"Hey, I'm a sharps and flats man- I don't do white keys!"
 -May I suggest that by maintaining such a separation Western music would never have moved from Plain Chant to the Brandenbergs. And it took almost a thousand years for that to occur. Think of all the practicing of scales, effort at composing, false starts and small gains along the way. When Bach became Bach he was resting on the backs of the thousands of creators who came before him.. Or to be more specific- in a mimetic way, Bach picked up a vast filigree of interneural connection which had painstakingly been created, neuron by neuron, by those- heralded and unheralded- who came before him.

We are, once again, at the edge of the world.

In conclusion-

1. Use a single program (like After Effects) in which both sound and picture can be manipulated or arranged using the same method (moving pixels) in the same time-line.

2. Start with the smallest jot of sound and the simplest impulse of picture, and move and arrange the pixels of sound and the pixels of picture in and around each other, frame by frame according to your own personal aesthetic- a new audiovisual aesthetic that you must build from the ground-up within yourself.

3. Strive to proceed with sound and picture together, not relying even for a small passage on your wonderful capacity to make music, or your long history of drawing lines into picture, but rather- jump the track of the visual gestalt and steer off the custom of the audible gestalt to form a new interneural pathway. A pathway that integrates seeing and hearing at the interneural level of creation... A pathway that, once achieved, can be absorbed by viewers (learned from) so that each successive step towards the new audio-visual art form is solid, differentiated and additive.

I hope the above has been even slightly helpful rather than confusing and off-putting, and that it encourages work. Again, they are my ideas and no-one holds a monopoly on ideas.

Yours truly,
Barry Spinello (c) 2003

[emphasis AuzGnosis's ]

* In the first half of the 20C James Joyce and Gertrude Stein deconstructed verbal content- deconstructed words and the way words connect and deconstructed "meaning" itself. And "meaning" would figure into an ongoing unification of music and painting- and in so doing pull a music/painting synthesis away from pure abstraction. But that would be the concern of another letter.  [return to text-body]

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