When we speak about music, you expect to see it notated in a specific manner —because of how we have been taught musicology. What happens when the notation takes a different form and opens itself up to the language of arrangement — an arrangement of lines, shapes and angles with variations of tonal beauty?
David Krut Projects is currently exhibiting Instruction, a project by João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga. This project is a visual exploration where the artist charts sonic movements and translations onto paper, developing a new written language for music.
The project coalesces etchings, woodcuts and installations and will be open until 14th June 2019. The artist will render a performance at the gallery on Saturday 1 June 2019 at 11 am.
I had an opportunity to chat to João about the show, his practice and his relationship to sound and music.
I’m interested in whether and how you make a distinction within different soundscapes; what is music, what is sound and what is noise?
I don’t think of it a distinction as much as an overlap. For me sound is multilayered and vibrant – it acts on so many levels at once. Vibration, pressure, physicality, tone, texture, it goes on. Sound is almost like air, it’s everywhere all the time, physically moving around, bumping into things, passing through things, constantly changing and affecting us. And very often I find there’s a musicality in what sound is doing all by itself.
Making music for me is a process of putting individual sounds together and listening to what they do, then inserting myself into the process and forcing my own sense of aesthetics and musicality on them. As for noise, I guess I think of it in terms of density. When there are so many different sounds occupying a given space that you can’t really discern the individual sounds, it starts to feel something like noise. I guess it’s a very complex arrangement and balance.
If I’m not mistaken, this is your first series of etchings and woodcuts? What was your experience of producing within these mediums?
You’re right, it’s a first for me. I love the way printmaking speaks to my own music making process. It goes in steps and I’m never sure what’s going to come out of the next step. It’s a long process of doing something, watching what happens, and reacting to that, making choices and starting the next step. Each action is a discovery. I’m sure there are people who want to know exactly how to make a certain thing happen, but I get excited by not knowing.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating this exhibition, from inception until you had the final etchings, woodcuts and installations?
The idea first came up after season one of the Centre for the Less Good Idea, where I first started writing these process-based graphic scores for a group of musicians I assembled and called The Blind Mass Orchestra. I had these scores, which were all videos in form, and I had the documentation of performances, but I was missing something that spoke to the actual processes that resulted in the videos and performances. I started drawing, wanting to map out what was quite an intuitive process. I liked the drawings and started to think about printmaking as a way to push that further. I spoke to Jill at David Krut Workshop and she basically described my writing process but through printmaking. Then we started working and Jill would show me possibilities, get me to try different things, show me books, test different techniques and ideas. She’s a great collaborator. I felt way out of my comfort zone but everyone at DKW was so supportive. Throughout the whole process I was thinking about how it all connects, about shape and pattern, about line as a carrier of information and about translation from one kind of language to another. That’s when I decided to include the installations to demonstrate how I was thinking about line as this multidimensional thing with layers of meaning.
What goes into that process of translating sound into a visual experience? Were you quite technical about this process or does it take more of an abstract feel?
It’s actually the other way around. The images come first. I develop a set of rules about how to read the image to make it playable sonically. In a way it’s abstract because the rules are mostly about feeling and movement and how different elements fit together, rather than exact pitches. In another way it’s very strict because timing is very important.
I love the piece “23 Notes” in this collection, can you tell us a bit more about it?
The general approach to making these works was to combine isolated elements of my existing scores in different ways to see what they could become. “23 Notes” refers to a section from a piece called Instructions for Musicians and Audience, which was a collaboration of sorts with William Kentridge during the first season of the Centre for the Less Good Idea. We both came up with instructions, which I then arranged into a score and directed. One of WK’s instructions was “23 Notes for Franz Fanon”. My direction to the ensemble – the first iteration of The Blind Mass Orchestra – was “Rapid fire single notes/hits in the round counting to 23. When we get to 23, stop!”. Then there’s a section of the image that was the result of a bit of experimentation with over laying colours on a very thin paper that gets glued on. So the final image has elements of 3 different plates pieced together into a composition.
Your practice centres itself around play and exploration; why is play important to you?
Play is important because I think we need to laugh. Mostly at ourselves. I don’t think art and fun should be mutually exclusive. And I’m fascinated by the notion of a lifelong commitment to building a language around one’s craft, and what happens when one challenges the virtuoso musician to do ridiculous things like play a single note on a violin while holding their arms up in the air, for example. The real challenge is for the musician to take that ridiculous task seriously, and that is what makes it really fun to watch.
And then exploration – I like finding new things! What does this button do? I make a much better musician than astronaut…
What type of sounds do you gravitate to when you are looking for inspiration? Is there certain music that you will gravitate to vs nature vs silence?
Yeah, all of those in different ways. I get really excited by the movement and texture of sounds that are all around me. The Margin to Here – the telephone pole in the show – is an example. I was with a group of artists on a residency in the Karoo. We drove a few kilometres out of Richmond (NC) to climb a pile of rocks, and when we got out of the car I heard this buzzing that sounded like it was far away. But it wasn’t moving, it wasn’t getting further away or coming closer. I realised we parked right next [to] a telephone pole that hadn’t been properly set in the ground, so the wires extending in both directions, being blown around by the wind, were causing the pole to vibrate and make a sound. So I put 2 contact microphones (microphones that record vibration) on the pole and recorded 10 minutes of the most beautiful music. The tones were shifting and changing with wind! So in the gallery you can listen to the recording on headphones, while the pole vibrates (yes you can touch it).
And silence – I don’t believe there’s such a thing, but that’s another conversation.
And music for me is about people and culture. It’s a window into a time and place and ideas. It’s more about the people who make it and listen to it. I listen to all kinds of music and so much of it inspires me.
Back to this show; why the title “Instruction”, what does it speak to?
All of my scores have a layer of instructions in them. Sometimes the audience can see them and sometimes they’re only for the musicians. They tell the musicians how to read the score. This is necessary because I’m not working with a standardised notation but rather trying different ways of notating musical performance. As a way to loop past performers back into the exhibition, I asked everyone who has performed my scores to give me a single instruction to draw something. I’m busy carving those drawings into the woodcut, which will be printed during the course of the exhibition. The act of giving instructions and acting out instructions is a common thread through most if not all of my scores.
I’m also interested in how different colours and colour palettes relate to different sounds – particularly in this show.
I started using colour in my scores as a way to tell different musicians in an ensemble when to play. For example, if musician A sees red shapes, then they must play. Then there would be a global set of instructions about how to read red lines as opposed to red circles. And that might change from score to score or from instrument to instrument.
In this show, the use of colour is more aesthetic. I wanted to use some colour but not too much, and it being my first time working with prints, I didn’t want to overdo it. Except for the woodcut. That’s based on a very colourful vector image from a piece called Still Moving Lines and so I wanted to see what bright colours would do in the print world.