Julie Rafalski

Colour and Music

For the opening night of the Projections show, there will be some live music performed on the vibraphone. Most of the pieces performed will be avant-garde classical pieces written approximately in the first half of the twentieth century, corresponding to the time period in which many of the artists referenced in my pieces had worked. The vibraphone seemed an appropriate instrument as it was prevalent in the 50s and 60s in both the more popular jazz as well the avant-garde classical genres.

One music piece was written specifically for this occasion by composer and percussionist Marta Ptaszynska. She wrote "5 Improvisations after J.R." after seeing a few of my pieces. I spoke to her recently about how this piece came about. The idea of the improvisation is that it is a short piece, a miniature that serves as an aphorism or epigram. (I found this quite interesting as I am usually drawn to shortness and short forms.) This form also mimics the relative instantaneousness of visual pieces.

The 5 movements of the piece are named after 5 works: Footnotes, Dear Mondrian, Rip, Ghost IV and Ghost III.

Marta said that while looking at some of my work, she could immediately hear specific musical sounds that correspond to specific visual configurations and colours. The process of writing the music was similar to translating what she saw into sounds and harmonies.

For "Improvisation (Footnotes)", she used the "foot notes" or the lowest notes on the vibraphone which have corresponding high pitched harmonies, which are layered over the low notes.

She said the Dear Mondrian pieces are full of motion and correspondingly the music in this Improvisation is fast and fleeting.

For Rip, which is a cyanotype, the blue hues were translated to chords of the 4th and 5th interval, which Marta describes as cold sounds.

Ghost IV is full of warm colours and the chords are "warm" - built on the principle of 3rd, 6th, and 7th chords.

(I find it interesting that it was the colours from my work that mostly determined how Marta's pieces would sound, as colour does play a large role in my work.)

Marta said she heard the music in her mind before starting to write, as she does all of her composition. The process of composition is for her a process of translating what she hears into musical notation.

We also chatted about seeing music in colour and vice versa. Marta has the capacity for synesthesia- seeing colour in music and hearing sounds via the visual. Specific sounds translate to specific colours. She divides seeing colour into 2 categories: harmonic colours (based on different harmonies) and timbal colours (based on how specific instruments sound). So she sees the marimba as pink, the woodblock as yellow and the vibraphone as greenish blue. As the harmonies themselves have different colours, when both the instruments and harmonies are combined, these sound-colours are mixed as in a painter's palette.

Similarly, when looking at a painting, Marta can "hear" it. For her it is not just architecture, but the visual that is frozen music.

"5 Improvisations After J.R." will be performed on April 12th at the Wooden Studio Gallery between 7-8pm.