Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Just sit and watch the visual music.

Just sit and watch the visual music.

The author of On an Overgrown Path has been discussing the current head-scratching on ways to attract a new younger public to classical music. One tried and tested Zen option is quite simple. Invite them to just sit and listen. I would re-phrase that. By means of a video-clip, invite them to sit, listen and watch the visual music. I'll come back to this later. Just looking at the perspective, calm water and colour of Bob's header image makes you want to sit and experience this stillness, even without any music. After only five seconds you'll feel better. Try it here.

Concert halls are not the only places to find a sanctuary for inner peace, as a refuge from the urban stress of our increasingly fragmented world (to paraphrase Jane Moss of the white light festival). Many old factories or warehouses are now being put to use as smaller concert venues or "clubs" for classical music. The Amsterdam Yellow Lounge concept is just one example. You could moan about this being a promotional tool of Universal Music, but young people flock there for the atmosphere. With a drink in their hand, they will lounge or stand for ages, totally focussed on the music, quiet as mice, except for the accidental shattering of a beer glass occasionally

In such an informal atmosphere it's so natural to offer a few words of introduction before each piece. Young people love this contact with the real person behind the instrument. Daniel Hope does this well, Pekka Kuusisto adds a quirky sense of humour, even the intellectual Pierre-Laurent Aimard turns out to be warm, humorous and so happy to share gems of information. This routine could be one of the keys to the engagement of a new audience. But the quality of the music and the passion with which it's played is not compromised. It's the real thing, demands full attention and gets it.
A few words on live kinetic painting with Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Yellow Lounge.

Young people have grown up in a world of visual attractions of all sorts, from MTV to YouTube and much more. A new track in pop music is inconceivable without visuals. Yet despite hints from Wagner, Scriabin, Kandinsky, Walt Disney, Simon Rattle, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Bob Singleton, classical music programmers have been slow to employ this obvious "hook". When they do, many video-projections fail to fully integrate or harmonise with the music, as a visual counterpoint.

From Sofia Gubaidulina’s Garden of Joys and Sorrows. Image the musicians sitting in the green centre.

Audiences (young and old) tell me that my live kinetic painting to music transports them into another world. Because my visuals are conceived with the score and follow it closely, they feel that they can see the music. I'm offering them an added insight, in addition to the aural perception. The kinetic painting is abstract enough to allow the imagination to roam and there's something about the flow of the water-colours with the music that draws you in and provokes a visceral reaction. You feel it in your guts. They come away enlightened, back from that other world where they find inner peace, recharged with dopamine from a Gesamtkunst experience. With these audio-visual performances, sitting or standing still for a long time is not a problem. Does this sound like PR blurb? Well, ask any of them. Here’s one comment:

"I was aware of the quiet concentration of the other spectators. Very quiet, but in a natural way, not an imposed silenced. The colours, the rhythm, the world and atmosphere that you conjured up were so powerfully absorbing, that I found myself drawn into a timeless state. Time and space ceased to exist - just colour, shapes, movement and music as one whole. As I watched, I found myself becoming part of what I was watching - perhaps it sounds silly, but I felt part of a greater Oneness."

Takemitsu’s Black Rain, performed in Korea with the Sejong string ensemble in 2007 on August 6th, the anniversary of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Imagine the “shock waves” of paint, slowly spreading outwards over the desolation of the city. The red Japanese flag turns white in an awful silence.

This synergy of painting and music may help us to fulfill a basic need: to slow....down and cherish the moment. Try watching the video below, full screen. This music may not be to your taste and it may be a challenge to sit still for eight minutes, but let's just run this test. Focus on the screen. Turn the sound up (the first two minutes are barely audible). In this case there's no real painting, simply organized flowThis is about as slow as you can make it. If your coffee gets cold, I've made my point! (Go to YouTube for other, more dynamic examples).

 Meditation on the beginning of Górecki's Symphony no.3 (Sorrowful Songs). A lament on the tragedy of a mother's loss of her child and of a child separated from her mother in a Gestapo prison cell.
London Sinfonietta. Conductor David Zinman.


  1. How come nobody ever comments on your posts, Norman? There is always so much food for thought and discussion and your work is so intensely absorbing I would have expected dozens if not scores of comments each time. I'm very happy to know that you find the time to continue writing this blog. Thank you! Catherine