Thursday, February 7, 2008

Varnedoe vs. Judd vs. Riley vs. Theoretical Abyss

I was thinking recently about how music is percieved. While listening to Keyboard Study #2" (Terry Riley) I was struck at how monumental the shifts and repositioning of each phrase was against it's armature. This immediately called to mind something I read in the somewhat* transcription of Dr. Varnedoe's Mellon Lecture Pictures of Nothing. He said something to the effect that -and I am paraphrasing- with Minimalism each sculptural/visual event was striking because the scope of possibility is so reduced within each work. Minimalism is important because it reduces the dialogue to the work alone, to the world within each piece.

I like this idea, but it is clearer to me with regard to music. Music seems to inherently define it's own space. Meaning, that space in music is intuited and delimited by our minds. One can see music being performed, and feel it through the chairs, and respond to the performers reaction to it, but the only context for listening is the interior space of our mind. In our "headspace" the scope of possibility for music is both reduced and infinite rather than being judged against the space in which it sits.

I cannot conceive of sculpture, or any work of visual art without the tangible, physical space it inhabits. Even paintings! (I usually do a semi-circle around 2-D works too.) Reducing the scope of a real work in the real world seems to compromise the work's power, and put it at the mercy of it's environment. I supose that maybe Judd and co. where challenging the "white cube", or did the white cube come from Minimalism? At any rate, physical space is crucial to the perception of visual art, say I.

Actually, Benedict Mason uses architectural spaces to kind of shape the music and it's uptake, doesn't he?

* The lectures were somewhat extemporaneous.


tammy said...

I like thinking about this stuff too, I think of Ryman, he was probably a big part of Varnedoes talk- Everything has its context, no matter how minimalist or maximalist(?) the thing, or sound. We realize it is impossible to have a space totally free of association and that continuous chain of relationships affecting our reaction to something. I always have a hard time comparing music and painting, but yeah, music does seem much freer somehow.--a privledge to see your paintings and goings on -everything looks great!

sjw said...

Doesn't the space in which the music is performed affect how we hear the music inside the space of our minds? Isn't hearing a piece of music say in a romanesque church versus avery fisher hall at lincoln center versus on our car radio--don't we hear it differently in diffeent spaces? Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems to me that the contextual space is as important in music as it is for visual work.

Matthew said...

SJW is absolutely right. That's why I threw in Benedict Mason at the end. He composes pieces for specific places, and stations musicians in different parts of each venue, shaping the sound. The novelty of this changes the scope of applicable associations and such. My guilty conscience.

Absolutely space is as important in both visual art and music, and totally impacts our listening/viewing experience.
The point that I think is missing is that I was trying to think of ONLY the act of listening regarless of venue, and ONLY the act of viewing which for me involves movement. This also involves an environment, however.
So I was comparing looking with an environment, and listening without an environment. Both require a different sort of engagement obviously.

Perceptual experience, be it visual or auditory -dare I say sensory experiences- are indivisible from the conditions under which it is experienced. I think I was probaly being too reductive.