Sonism – Laurence Blackwell

THE VISUAL DESCRIPTION OF SOUND

“SONISM IS LIKE A BLIND MAN RUNNING HIS FINGERS OVER AN UNKNOWN OBJECT, TRYING TO IMAGINE IT’S FORM AND TEXTURE.”

“Sonism”. It is pure art straight from the mind with no consideration for other art that has been produced. Each new canvas has no connection with those that have gone before it. If there is a similarity, it is because of an essential affinity in sound.

Most people find the everyday sounds an intrusion on their peace of mind and generally try to blot them out. It would not interest them to notice any differences or variations in their make-up. To Blackwell they mean a different shape, colour or contour for the construction of a picture.

People need to comprehend the vast array of sound that surrounds us, and to use this bottomless mine of subject matter for the purposes of art. So in the most basic form is an explanation of how to understand sonism. For example; take two household items: a cup or class and a tub of butter.

If we strike the cup or glass with a spoon and then thump the tub of butter on the table we will have two different sounds to work with. And this is where the term ‘visual description of sound’ comes in. List all the ways to describe both sounds. The cup or glass first. High pitched so it would be a pale colour. ‘A thin sound1, so the actual shape of the figure would be slim in some way. ‘A sharp definate sound, the figure would have a well defined edge.

And the figure in the painting would be all of these things plus the ‘shape’. This part is more difficult as each person would have a different opinion as to how it should look. The colour of the figure would be a shade of yellow. There would also be internal textures and minor sounds to help obtain the right effect. It is a help to repeat the sound several times so as to register on the mind as you would to memorise music. A tub of butter thumped on the table gives almost the opposite sound.

Listing the definitions is as follows:-

Low in pitch, therefore a dark colour. A heavy sound, so the edge would be obscured or indistinct. The shape of the figure would be dumpy, or more like a doughnut.

And because it is a plastic container there is also a smack as the plastic comes in contact with the surface. This would add character to the figure as there would be higher pitched overtones to allow for, above the sound of the butter bulk.

So, out of the rather shapeless figure there would be lighter shades of colour emiting. And what at the first consideration was a nondescript sound, really good possibilities as a subject for a painting has developed.

Plate 8: Fra diavalo
Fra diavalo’ the overture by Auber. 18″x24″ oil on board dated 1962. visual description of music.
This piece is like an infantry column marching off into the distance, the theme well supported by side drums proceeds in a long diminuendo, finally to a silence, represented by the dark oval. Then it returns in a long crescendo, eventually to explode in an array of colour.

This is a fine example of suspense and expectation with the silence in the centre.

Plate 9: Nocturn in Db Opus 27 No2

Nocturn’ in Db Opus 27 No2 by Chopin. Oil on canvas 20″x24″. Dated June 1974.

The wave effect represents the gentle undulating accompaniment to the main melody line, which is shown as columns. All the other shapes and lines simulate the various runs and embelishments. This painting was my second attempt at painting music and was more planned than the first.

Plate 10: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso

Plate 10: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Seans.

Oil on canvas 30″x20″ dated July 1975. The picture is based on the main segments of the piece. The upright blue ovals represent the massive bass beat at the beginning of the rondo, and all the finer lines the violin part which runs everywhere. The comb like effect is of the violin part which is a passage of heavy chord construction.

Plate 11: Crown Diamonds

Plate 11: ‘Crown Diamonds’ overture by Auber. Oil on canvas 25″x30″. Dated January 1976.

A piece of music more like a fairground, with many themes and ideas happening.

This painting moves anti-clockwise with the music, starting in the centre with a very peaceful movement which seems to drift around crossing over and joining up in a continuous pool of tranquility. It is then followed by an unusual feature of my painting style, an inverted bass. This is a thunderous bouncing passage, and it has been placed at the top of the painting to give a steam hammer effect.

After this comes all manner of figures, like leaves being blown along in the wind of the storm like passage ( which is shown as a heavy cloud effect). The rest of the overture is a repetition of various passages that have gone before

The music of Auber makes an ideal subject for painting as the themes and passages are so distinct.

Plate 12: La Streghe (The witches dance) op 8

Plate 12: ‘La Streghe’ (The witches dance) op 8 by Paganini oil on canvas 24″xl8″ dated Feb 1976.

It is not easy to construct a painting from Paganini’s works as quite a lot of his music is pure pyrotechnics and would fall into a set format of violin sound.

Plate 13: Artists Life

Plate 13: “Artists Life” Waltz by Johann Strauss II oil on canvas 24″xl8″ dated Feb 1976.

A Painting intended to show the movement of the waltz, and defining the beat at the begining of each bar as a column spouting up and outwards.

Out of all the hundreds of Strauss Waltzs this one was chosen just for the title.

Plate 14: Minature Overture
Plate 14: “Minature Overture” Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated March 1976.

 

The first in a set of 8 paintings. This painting is very light and feathery, with the melody starting in the bass and being repeated higher and fainter each time, until it almost disappears

The pearl like necklace represents the flute passage which has a peculiar bouncing effect. And the vertical line work and colours the strings in the higher register. Several of these effects and passages colour the following paintings, which help to bring a completeness to the set. 

Plate 15: March
Plate 15: “March” Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas 20″x24″. Dated April 1976.

It is very difficult to explain exactly what is intended for every painting, as it needs the music to refer to. Basically, in this painting the columns represent the main theme, repeating and increasing in volume. There is a repetition of runs in the background of the music. This is shown as a tide of sound. The step like effect represents the pizzicato passages in scales. This explanation does not cover all figures shown in the painting, the others are of a similar nature.

Certain characteristics occur in other movements of the suite, which will explain similarities between the paintings. 

Plate 16: The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
Plate 16: The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas dated April 1976.

 

This is a figure by figure explanation of a piece of music with very distinct themes. The introduction of pizzicato strings is represented by the green emblems, followed by the chimes or Glochenspiel, being the red globes.

And in the bass, the dark shapes that run into each other. The white wriggly lines is the same theme in a higher register. Hovering strings are shown as inverted pagoda effects, while the white globes are the higher registers of the chimes.

Plate 17: Trepak
Plate 17: Trepak Russian Dance, Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated May 1976.

This painting is almost self explanatory. A piece of music that gradually excelerates, with tambourines shown as yellow stars. 

Plate 18: Arabian Dance
Plate 18: Arabian Dance Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated May 1976.

This is a great piece of music for atmosphere. It gives the impression of subdued light and eerie feelings. The melody winds out of nowhere, which is shown as the centre figure. The tambourines are shown as a perculiar white spiked tracery. This is where the set rules of Sonism give way to just feelings 

Plate 19: Chinese Dance
Plate 19: Chinese Dance Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated June 1976.

Another piece which is almost self-explanatory. The green earing like figures are Pizzicato string passages.

The blocks are the quick moving walking bass line. It is interesting to note the comparison between this painting and the “Arabian Dance” (Plate 18) this picture can be itemised definate figures and the other ethereal.

Plate 20: Dance of the Flutes
Plate 20: Dance of the Flutes Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky. Oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated September 1976.

It is difficult to explain this picture without having the sound to go with it. Except for the heavy central part of the movement with its ominous threatening effect, which is shown as black cloud like shapes moving forward in waves. Tchaikovsky often used this idea in his music of delicate passages backed by massive sections. 

Plate 21: Dance of the Flowers
Plate 21: Dance of the Flowers Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated October 1976.

The central feature is the introduction which is swathed in cadenzas by the harp.

Peculiar worm like forms represent the clarinet section as they range higher and higher in pitch. The Waltz tempo of 3 beats to the bar is shown by the curve from left to right. Compare this with the painting “Artist Life” (plate 13) which has a waltz rhythm as well

On the left top is the string section supported by the brass, shown as a round effect.

Plate 22: The Alarm Clock
Plate 22: The Alarm Clock oil on canvas 20″x24″ dated November 1976.

This painting is the first one based on sound other than music.

It is of the variation of ticks, clicks and spring noises which play on the mind when semi-conscious.

The main feature being the sound of the alarm. The background represents the passing of time from night to day.

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