Instrumental Abstraction

abstract-underwater25pc

I usually paint figuratively (that means that I paint pictures. Of things. Generally, they are things that I can see). But this is an attempt at an abstract painting. It started as paint left over on the palette from another painting; the colours didn’t suggest anything in particular, so l just tried arranging then in a manner that pleased me. The results are reminiscent of an underwater scene, I think.

Abstract art is a bit of a mystery.  What is it? Does it have to be something? How do I make a “good” abstract painting?

I imagine that abstract art is a little like instrumental music.  The recognisable objects in figurative art are a bit like the audible words in a song; they tell us what it means, what it is.

Much as I prefer figurative art over abstract, I also prefer music with words (especially words that I understand) over that without. But some instrumentals manage to inveigle their way into my literal mind; Apache, Swan Lake (which doesn’t have to be the version played by Madness!), Lily Was Here,  countless TV themes…

And then there’s the semi-abstract music… because the colours in my painting remind me slightly of the album cover, here are the Cocteau Twins:

What do you think of my analogy? What instrumentals would you suggest to someone generally hooked on the words? And is the picture upside down?

This is a cross-post with my art blog.

70 thoughts on “Instrumental Abstraction

  1. Zala, you have posted on a topic near and dear to my heart, and i will surely post a long and involved response. And i’m looking forward to a nice and robust debate with the other arties on here too. (Especially as i gave up on the art threads at the Gruan due to the proliferation of idiots.) Just no time at the present moment, and don’t want to do a drive by. I do very much like your painting here.

    Let’s just say for now that i love abstract painting, and won’t paint again till i find my own language. (As i’m old now, that may never happen.)

  2. Interesting. I find the yellow at the bottom a bit disturbing, but I’m sure that says more about me than anything else, reminds me of water bubbling up out of the ground, an earthy smell and the sound of flutes.

    A friend of mine, doing his Art A level spent longer explaining his piece of abstract art than he did producing it and got a really good mark for it, like poetry once it’s out there any interpretation is valid.

    • “like poetry once it’s out there any interpretation is valid.”

      True. i think it’s a big plus, personally.

      As to explaining it though, i have a hard time doing that. That’s probably due to my own difficulties with anything verbal, but for me a large part of the value in visual are and music (especially the abstract / instrumental) is to go beyone the realm of language.

      • definitely! Now it’s a lighthouse on a rock out to sea during a storm and heavy seas. How strange that completely changes the meaning for me!

      • I got pretty close to the same thing upside down – except the moon and not the lighthouse.

        Right side up i got some glowy thing like a jellyfish or phospherescent thing in the water.

      • Awhile ago was reading about some marine biology grad student who was researchin some ne critter with a weird sort of fiber on it. She thought it looked like an optic fiber, and indeed they subsequently found some sort of weird glow in the ocean that this critter apparently percieved. That’s what this painting reminded me of (and i prefer it in original form), some weird glow in the ocean.

  3. A closer analogy might be between improvised instrumental music and abstract art….
    The likes of Beethoven & co created instrumental music that often delivered emotions and ideas by the deliberate placement of dots and squiggles on staves (akin to the techniques used in figurative art?). Improvisers may have a concept in mind for their performance but what gets produced is, to an extent, created by chance, circumstance and the instruments (colours) available. Skill and technique are required to create something of value (musically and visually) but trust in the unknown is also a significant element.

    • Depends on your abstract art, I reckon. Piet Mondrian? Angular classicist. Jackson Pollock? Chaotic improviser (although I read somewhere that it was all very controlled – still doesn’t look it).

      • …and your musical improviser…. (see previous comparison of Coltrane’s works). The audience/viewer can detect who the artist is from the style/language employed, yet still have their own take on the product created.

      • But hang on – surely everyone has their own take on what’s created (I won’t call it a product!) whether that’s abstract or figurative; with or without lyrics; improvised or played from the sheet music?

  4. I think it is excellent, Zala, I really do. I am not aware of any successful abstract artist who didn’t start out as a competent draughtsperson and figurative artist, and I think this grounding is why you have a success at the first attempt. There is also a lot of twaddle talked about abstract art. I am with Mark Rothko on this one – that it’s all about the emotion the work creates for the viewer, just as classical music stirs the emotions too. Many abstract artists choose titles for their works that avoid ‘leading’ the viewer – indeed most of the titles of Rothko’s work were made up by dealers and galleries, just to enable the pictures to be distinguished from each other. I also think it’s acceptable for the viewer to interpret the image as something figurative, or to see it as invoking the spirit of something (‘it makes me think of the sea’). I think that’s inevitable for some viewers, and so what? A bit like a Rorschach blot, I suppose. And again, music does the same for many people – in many cases the composer deliberately tries to conjure an image in the mind of the listener. What makes ‘good’ abstract art? Well, sadly, it is mostly just the market. The history of art is littered with amazing images that most people have neither seen, nor heard of the artist. That’s capitalist economics for you – money talks. Often it talks crap. But the real answer, in my view, is that enjoyment of abstract art is very personal, and I don’t think there are any rights and wrongs about it. And I like your piece!

  5. I see no empathy at all between instrumental music and abstract art… for me, each appeals in completely different ways; I interpret/enjoy/am challenged by them in completely different ways. I’m possibly more likely to react emotionally to music, and more likely to react intellectually to abstract art, but that is not true in every case.

    Our reading of the visual world is, I think, overlaid to a far greater extent by cultural phenomenon, so we tend to create narratives or make concrete associations while viewing visual art; music is far more able to circumvent preconceptions and speak to us directly, more primally, and in ways we find harder to articulate.
    Both speak to memory, but music often accesses memory in a “secondary” way. For example, we might recall a particular scene while viewing art; when listening to a particular piece of music, we are more likely to recall an experience we had while similar music was playing.

    I think most attempts by musicians or artists to combine the two have failed… Kandinsky, I think, tried to form a visual theory of music but I think it cramped his style somewhat. Bobby Previte has produced an interesting album of music based on Miro’s 23 Constellations, though he explicitly stated in the liner notes that this wasn’t attempting to interpret the art; he says it was just based on what he felt while viewing the pictures.

    Regarding your painting Zalamanda it “seems” to be a fragment of something much larger. In fact it seems like a close-up of a figurative painting, if that makes sense.
    Taking it as is, my attention focuses on the yellow blob in either version; in the original, it appears trapped or threatened by the dark mass above; in the upside down version, floating free. Stylistically I would say the painting resembles the Blaue Reiter school, some of Kandinsky’s transitional works prior to his complete abstraction use similar colours, drawn from southern German alpine/forest areas.

    Recommend instrumental music? If you’re really interested, I suppose you’ll just try things out until you find something you like. As Chris mentioned Coltrane (what comparison, though- or do you mean GF’s monologue on the earworms thread?), I feel everyone should listen at least once to “A love supreme”.

    • “I’m possibly more likely to react emotionally to music, and more likely to react intellectually to abstract art”

      That may depend on the individual person. I’ve been levelled in museums by emotional response to visual art. Long time ago Artnews had an article about people who cry in museums – i was kind of gratified to learn i wasn’t alone there.

    • Nilp: There was obviously a comparison there if you chose to address it, that was the whole purpose of my comments. I didn’t consider it a ‘monologue’, in fact I specifically requested a dialog of you but none was forthcoming.
      +

      • GF- sorry, but your basepoint assumption of mental insanity on Coltrane’s part for producing music you personally couldn’t understand disqualified you, in my view, as a partner for any further reasoned discourse on that particular theme. That’s without considering the fact that you picked two pieces of music I personally don’t like for me to “compare”.

        As you said, it’s pointless to rehash old discussions on free jazz, and in any case I’m a poorer advocate than Abahachi or Japanther- I rarely listen to it. The difference is though, despite hating a lot of it- including Ascension, as a matter of fact- I don’t hold the practitioners to be insane.

        @Zalamanda- While I think of it, there is one analogy I can see between “free” improvised music and abstract art after all… most free musicians speak of having to “unlearn” the figurative styles they’ve learnt in order to reach true “improvised” expression, and I think the best abstract art manages the same “forgetting” of figurative style.

      • Ooh, reminds me of a post that never got out of DRAFT on another blog…

        I wrote:

        The “Knife and Fork Factory” anectdote makes me think of abstract art.

        It seems to me that small children are quite happy with the idea of abstract art; paintings don’t have to represent anything, they are just made for the joy of creation, and displayed for the joy of looking. As we get older (and more able to create representative images), I think we sometimes lose this facility.Some people regain the ability to relate to abstract work, others never quite do. I’m trying to. Some abstract art moves me (the red Rothkos in the Tate; Barbara Hepworth’s organic forms). Some I struggle with (Pollock). I can’t bring myself to paint abstracts, though.

        Guess that last sentence is art of date, now.’

      • Right. I think in the case of children it’s technique which has yet to be developed… they aren’t concerned with getting proportion right, keeping lines straight, delineating or matching colour, meeting any predefined standards, etc, and their paintings are far more spontaneous as a result. I’d argue that artists do need to learn technique and keep it finely honed, but they also have to be able to subsume it to an individual style, which can sometimes mean deliberately abandoning those skills or using other mediums to suppress what they’ve learnt. Some musicians speak of the same thing; Charlie Parker, when asked by a student if he really had to learn all those scales, all those chords, off by heart, said- “Yes. And then, forget ’em.”

    • Thank you, Nilpferd.
      I’m not sure that I was implying direct empathy; it was a sort of “as A is to B, so X is to Y” (maybe “as Scotland is to England, Canada is to the USA” – without meaning to offend anybody). Is that empathy? Maybe empathy by comparison.

      Like Amy, I’m not sure that everybody is inclined to react more emotionally to music than to visual art. As an example, I find Rothko’s work incredibly emotion-inducing, while the search for meaning / visual reference is an intellectual challenge that can be accepted or not, as desired. Music’s use as background noise can deaden its emotional effect – particularly the classical I-might-enjoy-this-If-I-wasn’t-waiting-in-a-telephone-queue muzak.

      I don’t claim to be an artist of Rothko’s stature, but it was the impact of his work that l was contemplating while planning the marks on this little canvas. lf it seems to be a fragment of a figurative work, so be it; figurative work is my normal mode. Its small size would encourage that interpretation too, I imagine. (Echoes of Georgia O’Keefe, whose route into abstraction – or semi-abstraction – always fascinated me.)

      Coltrane’s music l know of, and enjoy when listening, but l do find it hard to truly engage with it.

      • I’ve mentioned this before – I was knocked flat in the Tate Modern by Cy Twombly’s abstracts, i literally had to sit down and couldn’t remain standing.

  6. I don’t make such a huge distinction between instrumental music and music with words. Just for one example, Hendrix. He’s not much of a lyricist (although some might disagree), they seem to kind of sketch out an idea. But it’s the guitarwork that does the heavy lifting and really puts the emotion into it.

    Beth and I are both fans of his instrumental Albert King cover Born Under a Bad Sign –

    My favorite cover of a Hendrix song is Stevie Ray’s Little Wing –

    Neither depend on the lyrics to interpret the song.

    • Such a great song! I love some of Hendrix’s lyrics actually, but they are often eclipsed by his guitar playing which is endlessly eloquent (I was listening to his BBC sessions earlier on today, fab stuff).
      I think I am more of a words person than an instrumental person, maybe because I love writing but have little skill musically, but I don’t think words would improve Born Under a Bad Sign.

    • I was trying to think of music that had words but where the instrumentation was vital to the impact. I failed. Obviously not in the zone (distracted by the need to do boring things). Thank you for supplying an excellent couple of examples!

      • Black Keys would be another for me. Kind of wtf lyrics sometimes, but it’s the music that does it. Kind of Hendrix lite maybe. I’m with Beth – i do sort of love some of Hendrix’ lyrics (ie Machine Gun), but even in that one, it’s the guitar that drives it home. Voodoo Child.

        otoh, something else i’ve said before – lot of eloquent hip hop lyricists, but if it’s musically uninteresting to me, they’ve lost me early on. Same with some singer – songwriters. Kimya Dawson.

      • Well, you kind of need both for a really excellent song – interesting music & interesting words. And for a really excellent figurative work, you need both interesting technique and an interesting take on the subject.

        Possible refinement of the analogy? lnstrumentation is loosely comparable to the technique, to the marks made; singing to the choice of subject and the “message” of a figurative image.

      • Another one that comes to mind is Talk Talk’s I Believe in You – the music after the verses really seems to evoke a spirit passing from life to death. To me, anyway.

  7. I like your analogy, Zala, seems to make sense to me. As for instrumental suggestions I am not an expert, but I do enjoy the Dirty Three’s output and David Bowie’s instrumental songs always find favour.

  8. Like it best on it’s side with the yellow (sun) on the right. Then, to me, it could be earth from space. Earth has looked better, so it’s clearly a “green” statement about the effects of pollution on our environment.

    Think for abstract painting or music to work it has to evoke a mood or emotion, otherwise you can’t connect with it.

  9. I went to see The Tiger Lillies performing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner yesterday and, right side up, this reminds me of some of the visuals from that: very dark and underwatery. Upside down, I find it more optimistic (and am therefore tempted to prefer it like that). There just seems more hope to me with the yellow up top rather than submerged/fighting its way out from under all that lowering darkness. Either way up though, I really like it. Very powerful.

      • You were?! Damn and blast! It was quite a last-minute booking: I only popped in and bought the tickets earlier in the week. Like a fool, I assumed the woman behind the desk had given me what I’d asked for and didn’t check the tickets. Arrived on Sat to find people in “our seats”. I’d been issued tickets for Fri… Luckily we squatted in two unoccupied seats and got away with it, though it rather marred the first half-hour of the gig as I sat nervously expecting to be ejected by latecomers.

        Anyway, what was on in the Purcell Room? How annoying to miss you both!

      • It was Diana Jones and Olivia Chaney…severin and I hadn’t met before and neither of us knew the other was going, but he saw my T shirt and accosted me! What a bummer – you could’ve bribed me with a glass of something to list one of your recommendations. Were the Lillies good?

      • They were very good. Great visuals and the songwriting struck me as very strong. I was cursing myself for not having familiarised myself with the story in advance though – got a bit lost in what was going on!

        How were Diana and Olivia?

      • Oh, Diana was as gorgeously sublime as ever – and I haven’t seen her perform solo before so I was very impressed by that. Olivia I liked, but I preferred her traditional-son-singing to her own songs.

        severin, it’s fair to say, will give you a whole other story!

  10. Nilp: I really hate to indulge in these exchanges on other peoples dimes, in this case Zala’s, previously Ali’s. If you want to discuss Coltrane’s early and late work, lets set up a post for that purpose specifically.
    But regardless you make it difficult for me to ignore your comments, specifically your disqualification of my opinions. Most of us don’t need a doctor’s note re. Coltrane, our ears are adequate to make that decision. I didn’t ask you to compare, I asked you to explain.
    But neither Aba nor Japanther chose to challenge what I said and since you did I thought it appropriate that you support your opinions, sorry you chose not to and that you couldn’t/wouldn’t choose to explain your thoughts re. the rational of ‘Om’, I was looking forward to that.
    I hope that I have nothing more to add on this topic here, if you choose to respond, lets do it elsewhere.

    Zala: Sorry to intrude like this, it wasn’t my intent, but if you take a look in the WP media library you’ll see a modified version of your painting, if you could post it into comments I have few thoughts re. it, none of which relate to the preceding distractions.

      • Zala: Zala: Well as you can see I chose to edit your painting; when I looked at it all the redtones on your pallette were an intrusion, they detracted from the most interesting part of the composition, the lower section comprised primarily of blues, blacks and whites. I chose to edit it into a square excluding the reds. I changed the contrast, increased the intensity of the yellow, green and red and added a couple more elements.
        I must say that I like both versions but since you asked for input I took the liberty of modifying your piece, I hope you’re not offended.
        Chris introduced the concept of ‘improvisation’, which was my first thought re. your initial comment re. art and music, I thought of the jazz musician’s improvisation as similar to the abstract artist’s train of thought when creating an abstract piece. I don’t think chance enters into jazz improvisation, it’s in part carefully conceived but also open to the interplay of several musicians each playing pre defined roles which interact with each other. There may be specific works of art and music that relate but that’s not the issue really, it’s more the creativity and intelligence that each brings to the work. I’m not sure that one must interpret an abstraction realistically, you could say that the shapes and the colors remind you of this or that or you could appreciate it as a composition.
        My undergraduate degree was 50% art so I took quite a few drawing and painting classes and like you my preference is for figurative work though I do admire quite a few abstractionists. My first thought when looking at your piece was that I frequently would create an abstraction as the background for a figurative painting. I tried to imagine a figurative piece incorporated within your piece, possible?

    • GF- my position is purely one of principle. The idea that you label someone insane entirely on the basis of failing to understand their art, for me, undermines any basis for further conversation.

      The tendency to do this (label artists insane) has been especially common with respect to abstract art and music. But what an artist produces does not, in itself, say anything about the mental state of the artist; such allegations say more about the viewer/listener’s own sense of outrage or confusion than about the artist.

      Many great musicians, thinkers, scientists and artists have been labelled insane in their time for what they have produced; some have been incarcerated or “treated” as a result, some have been killed or debilitated in the process. Some were, indeed, somewhat unstable to begin with. But many others were simply the victims of intolerance.

      I think we need to suppress the urge to use such labels when expressing our opinions of art; reference to an artist’s actual physical or mental health is, for me, only relevant when reputable medical evidence is available.

      • May I just clarify that my reference to the ‘previous Coltrane comparison’ was a shorthand way of highlighting the difference between his improvisation on, say, Om and that on his more accessible output (say, My Favourite Things). I’m not getting involved in a debate about his sanity.
        And that my parallel between abstract art and musical improvisation was in terms of its creation, not its impact on the viewer/listener.
        I also feel the need to shout ‘No’ very loudly at gf’s comment that ‘I don’t think chance enters into jazz improvisation’. Apart from the fact that what a musician creates on the spot must be determined by their emotions and thought-patterns at that moment (which will rarely be exactly the same again), the co-ordination with what his/her fellow musicians are playing produces one-off harmonies, discords and rhythm patterns that are unlikely ever to be repeated. And don’t forget the mistakes: an accidental ‘wrong note’ can send an improviser down a new melodic or rhythmic path. Once you’ve imbibed as many modes and scales as you can (and then put them to one side), a chance occurence may trigger something astonishing: isn’t that the wonderful thing about improvisation?

  11. Upside down it looks to me like a shipwreck; the war ship is in the top right corner and the yellow is an exploding shell, or something. The water is icy and churning and you can see sailors or passengers in the water and on a life boat of some sort.

    Right way up it made me think of an underwater wreck with phospherescent sea creatures and fish swimming around it.

    Where (if anywhere) does synesthesia come into this? E.G. some people may associate different musical notes or sounds with a particular colour, or texture. Could a piece of music (instrumental or not) be interpreted in paint, or sculpture? Or vice versa?

    Think I’m disappearing up my own fundament …

  12. First off – is it just me that finds it really annoying that the images on here are faded until you put a bloody awful pointer on the actual picture to get the colours right…. thus leaving an arrow or mickey mouse hand in the way of the bloody picture.. grrr
    (I spend an stupid amount of minutes creating artwork for this place then they go and fade it away to a washed out mush – okay many normal folk wont have screen colour collaborated *yawn* sorry where was I ……. )

    What was the question? – oh instrumentals and abstract art – well, it’s not an attempt at an abstract painting – it IS an abstract painting.
    You have produced an image that pleases you in the ways the colours sat together – if you had painted an underwater scene, rather than the result suggesting that – then it wouldn’t be an abstract. That’s the simple bit out the way.
    I mean, Jeff Koons says he’s an artist – that’s his idea – I might think of him as a shop window display designer having to come up with some crap 10 minutes before the store opens … but he’s a multimillionaire artists and I’m a saneshane – each to their own.

    If I look at this image then I see – lets play battle art:
    1 square down – 2 squares in from the top right hand side:
    a small bird peeking out
    3 squares beneath that:
    is the funky white elephant/anteater in the room – he’s ace, he’s a shy him, not a she, just growing from child to teenage ‘experimental’ years ..

    the yellow scuttling creature that mirror images the peeking bird (in it’s position on the canvas; 2 squares in from the left hand side,and 1 square up from the bottom) is a representation of a 1980’s arcade game re-imagined as an oil painting, the concept links well with your figurative lego paintings – I like that synchronicity, keeping your work connected even when experimenting.

    these three disperate segments connect when viewed as a whole –
    the small shrivelled wise bird looking down; the youthful experimental middle section and the childlike playfulness at the roots.
    This is abstract painting detailing the thought process of a musician creating an instrumental work of outstanding beauty – excellent stuff.

    • P.S in the mid 80’s I got a book called ‘More Dark Than Shark’ that was .. (right, I have search engines – let’s look it up):

      Eno & Mills MORE DARK THAN SHARK [1986]

      Illustrator Russell Mills has used the music and lyrics of Brian Eno’s influential albums of the 1970s as the basis for fifty-seven mixed-media interpretations. Extracts from the notebooks of Eno and Mills illuminate the thought processes and working methods behind the songs and images.

      I had this book and sold it to fund my collage materials/ electricity/ blank tapes / drinking.
      it was a beautiful bit of work (between the two of them) and I always wondered why Mills got classed as an illustrator… or why he classed himself as an illustrator… instead of an artist.

      it kind of fits in with this theme.

    • I’m a rare defender of Jeff Koons – at least one specific body of work – Made in Heaven. The one he did of his wife. He tied to be all 90’s about the marriage – she used her genetalia like he used a paintbrush and they were the perfect pair. He tried to be cheesy and kitchy and ironic and shit in the work, but those pesky feelings kept coming through. Then he was all dismayed and stuff when she continued to be a porn star and strip for dodgy dignitaries. Italy awarded her custody of their kid, and he had to go back to NYC and do massive sculptures of flowery puppies as messages to his kid, at which point he lost me again, probably for good.

  13. I like it.

    Your sky is broken flying Vs and kicked in amp constellations with a spinning-top moon.
    The mountains morph into white snap-teeth dragons.
    Post-earthquake pines slope at 45 degrees .
    Fearful, pessimistic Barney holds tigercub above the icy mountain floodwater, rushing down to the crouching, stalking darkness.
    Maybe he can release tigercub onto the green bank, but I fear the weight behind Barney will drag him away from cub.

    Does any of that make sense?

    It is actually a bit like looking at the shapes under ice when it’s been frozen and cracked at different depths and worked on by different currents in spring.

  14. Chris: I generally agree with much of what you say in both of your comments with the exception of “Improvisers may have a concept in mind for their performance but what gets produced is, to an extent, created by chance, circumstance and the instruments (colours) available.”, and even here the only word that jumps out is ‘Chance’.
    We could go the Google/Wiki route and study every definition of that word, [I did already] or we could consider that it has different meanings to each of us. When I listen to improvised jazz, which I do on an almost daily basis, I don’t consider chance as part of the equation except possibly in an instance where a guest like Zoot Sims happened by the studio [by chance?] and was invited to participate; result, ‘Zoot walked in’. But that doesn’t relate to the process of improvisation which does depend on ability and understanding, imagination, creativity and the interplay of various participants. I’ve strained to think of a musical situation where chance is a significant element and apart from the wrong note possibility I have been unable to come up with anything.

    “what a musician creates on the spot must be determined by their emotions and thought-patterns at that moment (which will rarely be exactly the same again), the co-ordination with what his/her fellow musicians are playing produces one-off harmonies, discords and rhythm patterns that are unlikely ever to be repeated.
    I don’t argue with any of this but I don’t see chance as I understand it being involved in the repeat of thought patterns nor of musical repetition.
    To each his own definition.

    • I was just reacting to your implication that chance plays no part, gf. In my own (inexpert) guitar noodlings – and in my listening experience – I firmly believe that chance takes improvisation in different directions. There are probably fewer ‘chance’ occurences when a jazz standard is being played by a group that has done so many times but, in less pre-formulated music (or perhaps when players are less familiar with each other), random elements come into operation. imho.

      • I’m with GF on this, I don’t see chance playing any role in improvisation, though it’s certainly also a question of definition. Pure chance, in a mathematical sense, means that all possible outcomes of an event are equally likely.
        A piano has 88 keys. To make a bald comparison, If improvisation were down to chance- or even, largely down to chance- a pianist would, during the sum total of their improvised playing, be expected to hit every single one of those keys roughly about the same number of times in total. Or, during a solo, having played note x, the following note y ought to be equally likely to be any of those 88 keys. It’s trivially obvious that neither of these statements are true.
        I only see true randomness in music in explicitly randomly generated electronic compositions, or on the rare occasion that something breaks and a new sound “accidentally” emerges.

        Though what an improvisor plays cannot be predicted, I would take the rationalist view that this is down to the whole system- player, emotion, instrument, other players, environment, memory, etc- simply being too complex to calculate, rather than it being “random” in any sense. In mathematical terms, improvised music is too riddled with bias of all sorts to be anything near random, any of the time.

  15. I remember having a bit of a hissy fit when Jon chose 3 instrumentals for a list – I felt it was at least one too many! Words are very important to me, that’s probably why I like, for example, Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson (he’s pretty good with the music too!!) Karine Polwart etc. Oh and Jake Thackray of course!

    But, but….so often music without words is a pure delight. It wouldn’t help Handel’s Sarabande, or Pachabel’s Canon, or Vaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending, or any of Beethoven’s Symphonies (apart from the 9th which does have words!) if words were added. They would be a distraction.

    Trying to think of music apart from the classical stuff mentioned above. Dave Brubeck. Artie Shaw. Rodrigo y Gabriela. Dave Swarbrick. You’ll notice that these are all virtuosos (or part of a virtuoso group) on their chosen instruments. With no words, you can’t get away with sloppiness or second-rateness. You can’t play even one note not quite in tune because not only will it be noticed, it’ll ruin the whole thing.

  16. (continued) – A voice may be less than perfect but the words can still carry you along (Dylan, Cohen), but an instrumental needs to be perfect in its execution. With abstract art I think you need to let yourself simply respond to it, as you might to a piece of instrumental music, without trying to figure out what it ‘means’. When looking at a piece of figurative art, you do in fact respond to its abstract qualities as well as to the depiction of whatever it portrays. The forms and colours of a figurative composition will affect you directly, perhaps without your really noticing, at least at first. With an abstract piece, you become more aware of the effects of form and colour, because there isn’t a figurative element to distract you. So I’d advise, with abstract art, not to have any preconceptions, but to ‘go with the flow’ and see where it takes you. Incidentally, I can’t help seeing your painting as a landscape!

  17. I never really thought about it much before but the way some of you describe instrumentals it seems clear you regard them as completely distinct from “songs”. I don’t think I view music in this way; for me, it’s always mainly about the music and it either has words or it doesn’t. With songs the lyrics add a level but it’s always intertwined with the music- I see no category split here. Or, put another way, since we first created music by singing, I consider that instruments have merely extended the harmonic range, timbre, and tone of the human voice. Thus instrumentals are “wordless song”. (That of course begs the question of whether spoken poetry is music or literature- I’d say it was both.)

    That’s why I don’t get the analogies people are making between, say, abstract art and instrumentals versus figurative art and songs- for me, all music is essentially one mode of expression, with or without lyrics. And visual art is another, completely different mode of expression. If I had to make one analogy I’d say songs are akin to art with writing, instrumentals to art without it.

    Perhaps this is because I listen to a lot of instrumental versions of songs as well as their lyrical versions- jazz standards with and without singers. At some stage you just hear the voice, and the lyric, as a supplementary instrument. There are also instrumentalists who create very “voice-like” tones on their instruments. I can tolerate meaningless, trite, or clunky lyrics if I find the music compelling, but if I don’t make a connection to the music I’m unlikely to like a song purely for its lyric.

    The new Janelle Monae album is a case in point- fantastic lyrics and concept, but to my ears it sounds dull and derivative musically.

  18. Nilp: Generally in agreement on most counts, well stated and you deal with a topic that’s long interested me. I also listen to a lot of jazz standards and have wondered what would jazz have become had the phenomena of the Great American Songbook never existed. There’s a lot of acknowledgement about the blues and jazz being America’s contribution to world culture, much less credit is given to the songbooks almost all of which were created in a relatively short period in the 20th century and almost totally for theatre and film. I suspect that the majority of the current population are not even aware of them or of the writers and composers who created them, which is sad. I find in many cases that some lyrics verge on poetry and the tunes and melodies, can stand alone, they are beautiful and memorable and can be whistled or hummed in ways that much modern pop can’t. And that may be why they provided such a rich source for the jazz musicians who were evolving at the same period.
    In a related vein I find that I usually like a song based on the musical accompaniment more than the voice or the lyrics; Dylan is a case in point, I think that almost without fail he’s had superlative backing throughout his career and in my case the songs might not have registered without the ‘instrumental’, specifically ‘Desolation Row’.
    And when listening to classical I usually don’t need to understand the religious concepts that prompted the composer, ie. Mahler’s 2nd, “The Resurrection”, I can appreciate it’s sonic tapestry. An exception here though would be ‘Lark Ascending’ , I can’t hear that without literally having visions of the Suffolk countryside of my youth, I always felt that Vaughn Williams must have had the same experiences as me to write it.

  19. like the painting which i’d interpret as seeing beauty or interest in small things, even a puddle with a little reflected light .. one to sit and contemplate ..
    saw a flock of birds catching the late evening sun as i golfed last night, silver flashes in a grey sky .. then all gone
    At the Liverpool Tate last year, there was a turner monet & twombley combined exhibition .. the contrast really helped to show hidden structure such directed eyelines to a point of interest in twombley .. though I could have done with my daughter, who studied modern art, to explain what it was meant to mean .. twomb being her fave too, Amy

    as for music, once the dvd came out i expected a spate of audio visual works .. but there weren’t none .. even from bands like radiohead who seemed designed just for that. This year British Sea Power from the sea to the land beyond did it for me .. very evocative
    other than that its Floyd at Pompeii with the sun setting and lots of jolly noise

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