Cover image: Astrologies 2



 

 

Classical music over the past few decades has undergone an existential metamorphoses that began in 1923 with Arnold Schöenberg's twelve-tone (serial/dodecaphonic) technique of composition, eventually turning viral thanks to its passionate espousal by the immensely influential Pierre Boulez. Serialism became so universal that even 20th Century masters Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland apparently felt obliged to pay their respects. Music lovers rebelled. Concert halls emptied, orchestras disbanded or panicked, rehearsals became overly expensive and classical FM stations, increasingly rare.

This is the milieu in which I as a recent Queens College (CUNY) grad and aspiring composer steeped in the music of the glorious past unhappily found myself. I composed a wind quintet for Queens College's 25th (I think it was) anniversary then shut down for about two decades until one fine day in the summer of 1980 the sounds and images issuing from my newly acquired Commodore SX64 sparked my imagination and a compulsion to know what the heck this little machine could do. I learned to write long and seemingly endless pages of code, dabbled a bit with algorithmic music and finally bought an early Mac along with lots of software for its Classic OS.

By the time I got a dual G5 I'd already created several hours of unusual, often complex, yet accessible electronic music. A keen interest in digital imaging ensued, the software being so similar to what I'd used as a composer: horizontal and vertical flips being like retrogrades and inversions; colors, like waveforms; sizes, like tempos or volume; filters, like equalization. And then there was the ability to copy, paste, duplicate and otherwise edit (indestructibly!) in an infinite number of ways. I currently have on hand too many music and art applications to list, but my favorite for art is Photoshop which does just about everything I require as an artist. I've also worked extensively of late with Flash to create abstract animations set to music, but have a way to go before achieving my goal in that area.

Motifs are small, malleable melodic ideas and key unifying elements in music, where in visual art, line, form, shape, texture, space, and color are what must be judiciously arranged to unify a work. Visual motifs (any simple shape or image) give me a jumping off place just as the notes a-b-c-d could in the music of JS Bach. Most of my digital art begins this way and I seldom have any idea where I'm headed or what the final result will be. But I do try to preserve each motif's identity so that it remain clearly or intuitively apparent. Line and form, etc, remain important, however, if a work is to "hold together".

Digital art lends itself readily to what we call variation technique in music in which there is generally a theme followed by a series of variations that can venture harmonically or otherwise quite remote from the theme. The variations of Golden Sections, for example, are subtly different, while those of the Astrologies are not.

My formal education in music and art was quite extensive, including a BA in music from Queens College, two and half years as a student of architecture at the University of Cincinnati and later at Pratt Institute where I completed courses in drawing, painting, drafting and architectural rendering. I also spent a year as a graduate student at Wesleyan University attending classes or seminars in art, ethnomusicology and experimental music.

Astrologies 2 (cover)
is part of an early series (set of variations, to continue the musical reference) for which I chose the circle, triangle and rectangle as motifs, placed them in separate layers within Photoshop, then resized, rotated, and otherwise edited and assembled them onto a separate layer. A "painterly" textures layer was created and reworked with the Textures filter, portions selected using the Magic Wand tool and applied to the assembled image. This layer was then duplicated, enlarged, reversed, desaturated, recolored and otherwise modified before being finalized and repositioned. I later used the Bevel and Emboss tool on the original to help differentiate it from its clone. Finally, the circle motif was enlarged, sprayed with a greenish color, swirled and appended to the black Background layer.

All of which is a gross oversimplification of how Astrologies 2 was created. Think more layers, more filters, more adjustments, tweaks, etc, etc, etc. Photoshop makes it easy, but it ain't really :-)

Golden Sections 6
The motif here is the Golden Section or Golden Mean of the ancient Greeks. My goal was simply to make each image as beautiful as the mathematics behind this "Divine Proportion". As always, I consider some more successful than others.

Wurms 4
Q. How do you make art with worms?
A. Make them luminescent and throw them into a lusciously mysterious ambience. No geometry in this series. It's all lighting and texture using Lighting Effects and Textures and any other trick I could come up with to create an interesting environment.