John Cage was one of the leading composers of the 20th century. Known for his aleatoric / chance music, he began playing around with the boundaries of musical performance and composition.
These are some of his graphic scores. I saw them after I had create my own but I thought they were on the same lines and still found them useful in terms of concept.
I found a couple of his prints and they reminded me of music notation, but also aleatoric music. The way they are suspended in mid air, hanging from nowhere. I definitely see an element of chance in that.
The patience I need in this tiny hot stuff dark room.. perhaps if I had known, I would have avoided this medium altogether.
But then again, not. Whilst stop frame animation takes hours to do sometimes a couple of seconds, it is very satisfying. The way it has turned out has actually captured just what I wanted. The hand drawn element remains all the way through. Obviously in terms of it being hand drawn from beginning to end, but also in the way that the exposure, focus and speed changes constantly. I found it really difficult to ensure each frame was set up with the same lighting and focus because it changed so frequently. Using equipment that I am completely unfamiliar with was tricky. But I got the hang of it. Don’t get me wrong, there were extremely frustrating moments when I had to get up and leave the room for a breath of fresh air. These included the way each tiny new stretch of line I drew had to be so precise and if one mistake was made then I would have to START AGAIN. That happened a couple of times. But I soon learnt how to work around the mistakes and how to work through/with them.
Another issue was the classic.. KEEPING MY HAND OUT OF THE FRAME. One would think its a stupid mistake to make. But an easy one! I happened severe times. And a couple of fingers even manage to premier in some of the opening shots. Similar to this issue, I had to ensure that the edge of the page wasn’t creeping down in to the corner of the shot. Sometimes I would get into a rhythm and begin to pick up the speed, with little awareness to the fact that the page was sloping down and also creeping into the corner of the frame.
Yet ANOTHER issue I came across was the medium I was using to physically draw the lines with. Water colour pencil. One of my favourites. So versatile. It can be hard, it can be soft. It can be BOTH. I love the way the two contrast to vividly yet work so well together. Anyway, with all these pros, there must be some cons. And there were. Watercolour pencil doesn’t rub out so well.. The beautiful solidity of the pigment of each line is quality. But its just so damn hard to rub out. At points when I couldn’t face starting a fresh sheet I would rub the top layer of pencil away and then have to use my scalpel to scratch the rest! It seemed to work well enough.
The programme I used was called iStopMotion. It was great. It was connected to the FaceTime programme on Macs. It had a setting where you could have your stream of sound shown just about the time scale showing each frame. This meant that I could at least attempt to sync every new note with its appropriate turn in the shape.
All in all, the process was long. Very long, and I impressed myself with my levels of patience. But it was worth it, I would say.
It’s risky but it should be worth it. I’ve never done an animation before.. I didn’t realise how tricky it can be. And how patient you have to be!
Time really wasn’t on my side when I was making it. I had a week to finish because I needed the college’s facilities and it clashed with the easter holidays. So it was pretty hectic!
The idea was to put a moving image of the shapes from the final outcome of my process, to the composition it originated from. I wanted it to be moving image from right to left. Synesthetes from The Hidden Sense talked about the way colours and shapes would move in this way across their vision. And in a weird way, its the direction time moves.. or is that a personal association? I wanted the shapes to come and go, in sync with the music. To move together. So it would be as if the viewer was watching the sounds they were hearing. Essentially, that is what it would be.
The colour of each line would correspond with the colour of the note that would be playing. And the line should be rising or falling in connection with the melody line. It should be plain and simple. Geometric. Abstract, but delicate.
Translating music into art back into music.. essentially.
That is what I have aimed to achieve.
Naturally, the outcome is very different to what I expected. Things evolve and change all the time. Through the process I have come up with, there is much of this. But I don’t think that makes it any less credible. From the off set, and the early stages in my research, I have known that the outcome must be expressive. It must portray the way music is human, in every sense. From the composition, when the pen hits the paper, scribing what the composer has inside their head; to the performance, when it should be “perfect” in every way. Perfection is not possible, in my opinion.
To me, the Music Animation Machine is one clear example of this exactly. The way it has been computer generated means that every note is l i t e r a l l y timed to perfection. However, through perfection comes fault, because it naturally loses its sense of humanity.
So, my process has a natural pace and way of evolving. When you take a step back, a look at the processes three main sections this is clear. Many people would expect the music at the end to be the same as the one at the beginning. They couldn’t be more different.
I haven’t given the final score a key. I have classed it as atonal. I don’t want to give it a key, because it then categorises it. And it would be categorised into therefore a colour or a tone. I don’t think it should have a colour or a tone that resembles its entirety.
A process. I wanted to come up with a process to translate music /sound in to a visual medium.
I used tracing paper to transfer the shapes onto the manuscript. I then plotted the points where the lines crossed to form each corner of each shape. This is where the notes would be on the stave and the would also determine the gaps/rests in between each note.
Each shape also had a designated colour. And of course, each colour represented a note. So I plotted where these notes came in the manuscript as well, and ensuring the process was correct, they would all be on the line of a shape. For the passing notes, they came from the lines of each shape and the way they fell on the stave as well. So in short, the music came through plotting the notes of the melody along the lines of the shapes. The shapes write the music.
After writing out the composition, I traced over the individual parts in the music to re-emphasise the shapes. They had naturally evolved to slightly different symbols, but the general gist was there. I then removed the music, to be left with just the lines/shapes.
Graphic scores evolved around the 1950’s when more contemporary composers writing experimental music couldn’t rely on traditional music notation to be as effective. The way they work is basically through a series of visual symbols that can take almost any shape or form to aid the performer. Graphic scores took my interest because it related closely to the way sound can be represented in many different visual forms.
(Images from www.pinterest.com) ARTISTS: Cornelius Cardew, Marco Fusinato
After the last two experiments, I took it one step further in simplifying it. I converted the shapes into lines. Horizontal lines.
The colour remained the same and I tried to keep the spacing as close to the original as possible. I then extended the lines, which really interrupted any opportunity in representing the vertical aspects of the shapes. So they lost a bit of structure.. and to me, their presence.
Although I felt that this experiment lacked, I tried photocopying them and enlarging them. I tried manipulating them and obscuring them. I added watercolour to the black and white photocopies. It wasn’t very exciting.
This experiment didn’t live up to it’s expectations, but it did help me develop in terms of focusing on emphasising the music element. The many horizontal lines began to look a little like manuscript paper. Or a stave. The black and white photocopies of the watercolour on the lines made me think about drawing/painting onto blank manuscript paper. No ‘music’ music, as in notation, but just colour.
So after the collage, my next step was to try and re-represent the shapes. Perhaps, simplify is the right word?
I tried to look at the page and the group of shapes as one. And how they sat together on the paper. I just tried to translate the collage into pencil. It is vaguely accurate but again, symbolic and suggestive more than anything.