Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Making music with a camera. Parallels between musical and visual composition.

 Last month, I listened to Viva Voce, the Saltspring community choir of which my wife Heather is a member: or at least today she was by my side in the audience with a nasty cough that prevented her singing in the final performance. I am not particularly musical myself, but I have always loved listening; in fact I listen so intently that I might be thought to be participating! The audience, in music, the theatre and in the visual arts is a vital part of the act of communication after all and I bring my intense interest in making visual imagery to this performance. Visual creativity gives a parallel experience that adds to my understanding of the composition and performance of music.

Listening, I am aware of the many satisfying elements that are orchestrated in music. I feel the texture, the complicated rhythms, the clarity of some voices or instruments and the musical argument that is being developed through time. I almost see all this in visual terms. I know that not only am I a participant along with all other artists through the ages in making visual imagery but that musicians and composers are expressing and have always expressed that same mysterious river of thought in terms of sound and time. 

The other day I walked down a trail beside the ocean at Burgoyne Bay. A mainly cloudy day that threatened rain, with a flow of filtered light making the rippled surface shine like burnished silver, it was perfect for my photography. What I have in common with musicians is an interest in structure, in the coordination of all the elements that lie before me. A standard shot of the bay through trees is not really satisfying for me so I work with the bits of landscape available. I step closer and squat down, widened my lens and place a rock outcrop at the bottom of the frame. This low triangle is part of a series of similar shapes as the landscape receded into the distance. Similar, but each different in texture, tone and colour. My image is both true to the moment and yet organized, - each part working with the others. Like the music I have been listening to today.

Later, I climb up a trail thick with fallen leaves and find a big conglomerate boulder perched on the steep hillside. Interesting in itself perhaps, but interesting to me because of the arching arbutus and maple trees beside it. I can orchestrate these elements of textured rock and curved tree forms to become a composition that draws from visual elements present in the scene but are carefully placed in relationship with each other. To show the tensions between rock and tree, light and dark and provide a form of resolution to those visual forms in my composition is very satisfying. I was totally absorbed in that photographic exercise just as I have been today, listening to the musical compositions and the choir’s resolution and interpretation of them.

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