Blue is for Bach

June 12, 2013

Do you see music in colour in your mind’s eye as you hear it played? I do and there are likely many others that who as well and I see these colours spatially. It is a type of kinetic vision that happens; stuff, there is not a better word for it, moves around and I see things. It happens, by chance, that I am listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on my computer as I write this sentence and, as I listen, I have a sense of time, space and colour that is totally abstract, but somehow real as well. Hard to write about, but a genuine reaction nonetheless. I have read that this kind of reaction to music is more common to visual artists than other people. There is the idea out there that visual artists think differently than other people and that is what makes them artists. Notice I use the term different and not better as there are many ways of thinking.

Painting, drawing and photography are about space. Photography is a little different as you are reducing the reality in front you by the camera rather than hand and eye into another form of reality. Of course, you are using your eye in photography, but in not in the same way you do with painting or drawing where you start with a blank piece of paper or canvas. I am writing here about photography as an art, a difficult definition, rather than anybody with a camera pushing a button. Owning a pencil or a brush doesn’t make one an artist either, but going or not going to art school doesn’t make you are not an artist. There are many great self-taught artists. Leaving all these questions aside, let’s focus on artists and how they see or, more to the point, how I see and why music is important to that process.

Johann_Sebastian_BachSo, back to Bach. The Baroque is a good place to start. Baroque music is about order and order appeals to me. Bach is central to my understanding of order. His six suites for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007-1012, are important in my life and its impression on me goes back a very long time. I saw a short film on Pablo Casals around about 1960 where he played one of the suites sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico which was his home late in life. It changed my life and how I listen to music. At the time I was working my way through art school at a record store in San Francisco’s North Beach that sold only classical records. The next day I bought his recordings of the suites on Angel’s Great Recordings of the Century series. The recordings were monophonic, they all had been recorded between 1936 and 1939, and the sound was not up to the standards of the 1960, but it was the performances I was after. I still have those records and the same performances on CDs. I listen to Casals play one or more the suites on an average of at least once a week, normally as I go to sleep, and that image of him playing is still deep in my subconscious, but it is the spatial relationships of space, time and colour that are important.

The nice thing about these suites is that they are for a solo instrument yet they are able to stir up such a complexity of spatial feeling in my mind. Music happens in time while a reaction to a painting might be made in a moment. The actual making of a painting takes a time, sometimes a very long time, and it is very different process than looking at one. What goes on in one’s head while producing a painting is different than looking at one, particularly by someone else. What goes on in a composer’s head while he is writing a work and what happens in a performer’s mind while she plays the same work, I will leave for them to explain. Music helped me when I was looking at a blank canvas or piece of paper in my studio to get my creative juices flowing and it helps me now when I write to find the words. I realise that there are artists and writer who crave silence when they work, but this is not what I do.

It’s not like the music guides my hand or mind. I do not need sad music to create serious work or happy music to do the opposite; it is, in my case, almost always classical music and generally Baroque music. Rock, country and most pop music would likely just annoy me, but I am sure there are artists out who dance to a different tune than I do. I understand that the music I listen to while I work is, in itself, art and not just fluff–white noise–and much of it is greater art than I will ever create. Everything is about space and, I guess, time. We try through art to somehow stop time. In a photograph that I took of a young woman, she will always be young and of that moment. The article I wrote thirty years ago is static in space and is about that time. Yet, when I go back and look at these things, they become alive again.

I am not religious. I believe that when I die that I am truly dead. My mind will no longer exist, my body will rot, in short, oblivion. Art, however, will live on happily without me and, perhaps, if I am lucky, some of my words will as well, but being dead, it will be out of my control.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Sunday, 9 June, 2013.

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