Visual Music

Geographically speaking, the Land of Visual Music lies between the Kingdom of Music and the Kingdom of Painting. It remains largely unknown, although we know the qualities of the realms between which it lies quite well. In the Land of Visual Music, attributes of music and painting converge and combine. It remains our challenge to discover both the sources and end result.

Historically, inhabitants of both Kingdoms tried for ages to explore the Land of Visual Music. They came close. Compositions of picturesque music or the occurrence of musical themes in paintings are not uncommon in the history of art. This list includes Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Mondrian’s Boogie-Woogie, as well as the recurring visual theme of baroque angels with trumpets, and cubist still-lifes

depicting guitars. There are "musical paintings" of the seas (Debussy), rivers (Smetana’s Vltava), thunderstorms (Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony), the seasons of the year (Haydn, Vivaldi), the weather, birds, spinning wheels (Dvořák, Wagner), and so on. One sees countless musical instruments, scenes, and performers on canvases and in sculptures. Even Rabelais in his time could have counted more than one thousand and six examples. But these are not visual music.

Visual music, like music itself, must be abstract and non-figurative. It requires artful assembly and ornamentation, but not symmetry. It should be composed of visual "notes", which constitute elements of seeing. Visual music bears no concrete meaning; it lets the imagination soar. Attempts to

create visual music could have begun only after the development of abstract painting. Perhaps this is not so, but attempts to portray visual music which antedated abstract painting would have been neither understood nor accepted for what they were.

Several modern painters tried. The problems they faced were formidable. One could recall Kupka’s Colour Fugue, as well as the orphists and futurists. The composer Schoenberg painted. The painter Kokoschka composed music. Numerous others also attempted to enter the realm, from Kandinsky to Motherwell. They all faced the same fundamental problem: Music flows in time; but a painting or an ornament, by contrast, remains static. Futurists and kineticists recognized this dilemma most acutely. But even the endeavors of the famous Italian futurists Boccione, Carra, Bella, Gino Severini and others, all of whom sought to portray movement on canvas, remained inadequate. So did the

dynamic paintings of Vasarely and the rhytmic compositions of Mondrian. Duchamp’s famous Nude Descending the Staircase was dubbed by hostile critics as an explosion in a shingles factory!

The invention of film solved the problem of relating an image to motion. Filmmakers, however, quickly became preoccupied with narrative. They connected the visual with literature, rather than with music. As a result, they neglected the relationship between music and image. They failed to exploit the fact that the flow of time, so essential to music, is masterfully handled by the medium of film. With perhaps only one exception – Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in Disney’s Fantasia – film did not enter the realm of abstract art; because of this, it missed the opportunity to enter the

Land of Visual Music.

Luděk Jirousek’s visual music compositions apply the two basic principles he discovered in the Land of Visual Music. This first requires use of an abstract visual graphic motif – which, by analogy, resembles the use of a musical theme of a few bars – and then the evolution of such a theme by variations in color and shape. Through inversions, repetitions, or small modifications, a single "voice" emerges.

The visual motif can be quite simple, but it should also be abstract, akin to a sketch or doodle. A doodle can easily evolve by reproducing it on a Xerox copier, modifying it, recopying it, and so on. Therefore, it is called a "čmárox", (pronounced "chmarox"; the term originates from a fusion of the Czech word "čmárat", to doodle, with the now-common

verb "to xerox"), or "doodlox" in English. A series of chmaroxes constitutes one "voice", which can then be combined contrapuntally with another "voice" or "voices". The problem on the canvas thus remains how to proceed with the series of chmaroxes through time, as if each were on a page of a book or in a series of frames in a film.

How does one make a series of chmaroxes proceed through time on a static canvas? The second principle of visual music confronts this seemingly impossible task. At first the challenge appears insurmountable, since the time dimension is lost when chmaroxes are painted on the canvas as an orderly composition or a collage. However, a thorough consideration of the nature of time focusing on how and why it is perceived, combined with an analysis of the physiology of perception, reveals that time is linear and ceases to exist, if not perceived or measured. Although a painting clearly exists in time, a series of chmaroxes on it can be perceived in time only when

arranged as a linear sequence of visual sensations. As with the visual impact of a linear sequence of film frames, should chmaroxes be projected randomly or out of sequence on a two-dimensional plane, the perception of motion would be lost. A haphazard collection of chmaroxes would lead the eye to zig-zag across the canvas. There would be no perception of time, and thus no motion. This structural challenge prompted the use of a long-format canvas, called a "noodle", to force the eye to move back and forth along a line (i.e., along the long axis of the noodle). The forced, linear movement of the eye permits one to perceive individual chmaroxes as a sequence; the sensation of time flowing is thus generated on the canvas. Time therefore did not have to be added to the two-dimensional space of the canvas; it was

always there. Instead, it had to be made perceptible by the reduction of one of the plane dimensions. Within the length of the noodle, variations of the graphic theme are possible. Herein lies the second principle enabling the creation of visual music possible: Forcing the eye to perceive the painted message in a linear mode. When this occurs, the difficult analysis of the philosophical and physical relationships between time, motion, perception and space loses its importance.

Although the length of the noodle is practically limited (it can, however, be made quite long in a frieze or a similar format), the viewer can nevertheless scan the noodle slowly or quickly, thereby exerting control over longer or shorter periods of time. The viewer’s eyes can move back and

forth and multiply the effect as the evolution of the abstract chmaroxes proceeds. This creates one "voice", or it combines with another "voice" or "voices". An overall theme of the visual composition thus emerges through the traditional media of painting, color and shape. The overall content of the exhibited visual music compositions can be made more palpable with some figurative or suggestive elements. If, however, the chmarox becomes representational, we end up with a cartoon instead of a visual music. Where the two meet remains to be determined.

The two principles described above provide us with a passport into the Land of Visual Music. It should confuse nobody that the canvas does not produce any sound. Why should it? It is visual, not aural. Put differently: Because it is visual it cannot be aural, even though it is musical in the sense that it uses a key attribute from the Kingdom of Music, namely, the process and output associated with it mirror the

use in musical compositions of sound, which is by itself non-musical, but which is ultimately assembled into music.

With passport in hand, trips to the Land of Visual Music are now possible. Art works can be imagined which will one day reach the profound depths already attained by the Beethovens and Mozarts of the Kingdom of Music. The passport also opens up wide vistas in the Land of Visual Music, which may well revitalize the presently tired area of abstract expressionism.

Not all has yet been seen in the Land of Visual Music. Some steps have been made to study the problem of visual counterpoint, or the problem of correspondence of colors (e.g., greens, reds, etc.) with groups of instruments (e.g., strings, woodwinds, etc.) Little has been learned about

what constitutes a visual rhythm. What, for example, corresponds to the musical pitch? Is it the bottom or top position on the "noodle" canvas, or is it the lightness of the color tone? A plethora of problems remains, some of which are intriguing. Prospective followers should perhaps recall, for example, that by discovering how to put perspective onto a canvas, Donato Bramante helped his followers achieve greater fame than he himself realized as a painter. Yet, his breakthrough served as the stepping stone for all of the Rembrandts and Picassos who followed. It is tempting to become a follower.

Luděk Jirousek - Visual symphony No. 2 - The Four Seasons - Third Movement - Autumn - 1986
Luděk Jirousek - Variations on the Theme of Kandinsky, About Life and Death - 1993
Luděk Jirousek - Variations on the Theme of Kupka´s Brown Line, About Life and its Mystery - 1996
Luděk Jirousek - Conic Sections, Fanfare - 1987