Monday 27 January 2014


Meditating on the audio-visual creative process. 

Between 1966 and 1973 I taught art at Aiglon College - a remarkable international school in the Swiss Alps founded by John Corlette. It was a boys' school only in those days and this visionary personality believed in educating "the whole man" - the physical, spiritual, social and intellectual.. And he assembled a somewhat eccentric but brilliantly qualified staff to put his philosophy into practice. 
Try covering each side of JC's face, to see what an enigma this man was.

In addition to the usual syllabus, JC believed in fresh air, healthy food, music - and silence. Every morning the whole school assembled for a Meditation (several minutes silence after the "pearl of wisdom" delivered by one of the staff), before they plunged into a very demanding day. On Saturdays, rather than the spoken word, a short piece of music was played, followed, as always, by the silence. On occasion, I would draw a story sequence on an overhead projector. As they followed my pen-lines the silent curiosity of 350 boys was palpable - they found it easy to focus on the developing visuals. Then I thought, why not something audio-visual? Live visuals, music and poetry to create a miniature Gesamtkunstform? An enthusiastic music teacher and a literature teacher* were up for a few minutes semi-improvisation - and so, just over forty years ago in the quiet Swiss mountains, my art form of live kinetic painting to music was born. 

View of the Dents du Midi, from Aiglon College.

Remarkably, at the very same time in New York, the light artist Joshua White and company were also using overhead projectors (and other analogue technical equipment) to explore psychedelia and to improvise other mind-blowing experiences with the music of Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and the Mothers of Invention. These fluid light shows were spectacular creative forerunners of the now standard digital visual projections backing most performances of pop music. 

In contrast to these excessive assaults on the senses, my interest was in "less is more" - dramatically slowing down my live kinetic visuals to a therapeutic tempo that takes you "out of this world" towards a meditative state of being focussed in "the Now". And my preference was towards contemporary "classical" music. But despite the film "Esquisses" made by Télévision Suisse Romande in 1976, based on my admittedly still quite experimental ideas, not many people noticed. 

"Prayer" -  the final image from Hosokawa's Meditation for victims of the Tsunami.

Classical music was slow to learn from the the world of pop music how hypnotic an audio-visual performance can be. (I wrote about the development of my Concerts of kinetic watercolour in an earlier blog in 2012). Although recently concerts are occasionally accompanied by digital visuals, more often than not these detract from the music. What is often lacking is the audio-visual sensibility amongst artists to create a Gesamtkunstform with the essential synergy that evolves from an inner creative feeling for visual harmony, or counterpoint. My experience is that audiences young and old love the surprise, the sensation of being there at such a live visual creative process. But it's sad that many concert-programmers find this difficult to understand and are missing the opportunity to capture new audiences in this way.
* Musician Clive Fairbairn, literature teacher Norman Humphrys and (later) musician Emile Ellberger.


Monday 20 January 2014

The magical time of our singing

The magical time of our singing

In 2004 my wife and I strayed from the tourist route for monastery visits on the Greek island of Lesbos and chanced upon this tiny derelict Greek-Orthodox chapel. 

We could easily get inside, where there was nothing much left to be seen. Yet the acoustic of the empty building was extraordinary. Even a whisper sounded special. Curious, I stood under the centre of the dome and just droned a few tones as I looked up. Every sound, floating up into the hollow space, was magical! Very soon the two of us were improvising some rough harmonies, marvelling at how good we sounded and suddenly feeling that we might have somehow keyed into a vibe that was hundreds of years old. When we emerged after ten minutes or so there was a little group of tourists listening outside. They thought it was a concert! Ah yes, the joyful illusions of the "singing in the shower" phenomenon! The architecture did it all for us.

But seriously, what is it about the acoustics of a dome on a cube, possibly joined at the golden 5:8 proportion, that create such a full, rich sound and take us into other spheres?

Here's the watercolour I made to commemorate this intensely personal experience. I called it "The time of our singing" (with apologies to Richard Powers, the author of that brilliant novel). As my musical instrument is actually the paint-brush, this may look better than it sounded!

"The time of our singing", watercolour, 50 x 36cm. 2004.