Untitled (Black & Blood Orange) is inspired and based on Pei-Shen Qian’s painting in the style of Mark Rothko. About the piece (original composer’s notes):
What is art? When does art become art and when does it stop? Does art become art only when someone tells us that it is so, and not before?
We live in a society where the price tag, the reputation of a ‘highly renowned’ gallery, and so-called ‘art experts’ tell us what is true art and what is not. In turn, they are telling us what we should like and what we shouldn’t. But that’s not all. Under special circumstances, the same art experts may find something 'beautiful’, 'one of a kind’, 'brilliant’ and worth millions of dollars one day – and the next day completely worthless and unworthy of attention.
Untitled (Black and Blood Orange) is inspired and based on Pei-Shen Qian’s painting in the style of Mark Rothko. The title is mine and is inspired by the original titles which Rothko would give to his own paintings.
When I first saw this painting, I knew it was not Rothko’s original painting. I knew that it was not a literal copy of an already created painting, but Pei-Shen Qian’s inspiration from the technique, language and visual world that Rothko created, that later on Pei-Shen studied for many years and at the end perfected.
For me, this painting was simply beautiful and extremely inspiring. Proportions, space, abstraction, tone, climate, colours, dynamics, inconspicuousness, warmth, atmosphere… In literally the same moment I saw the painting, a very clear vision of presenting the painting through music came to me. This happens extremely rarely. It’s not simply inspiration (as even that comes rarely) but more like a revelation, certainty.
Post-Impressionism vs Contemporary Art
Everyone’s perception is different. Especially when it comes to art. And even more so when it comes to contemporary art. For me, Pei-Shen Qian’s painting in the style of Mark Rothko speaks more in the hues and style of impressionism than in the rather (very often, but not always) cold, industrial style of contemporary art.
Above all, this Image is warm to me. The main background in desert warm yellow, with warm (even hot) blood orange and warm black (which permeates the purple background) is for me extremely impressionistic, friendly, and therefore tonal. Refined harmonically, but still tonal. Not abstract, not atonal. Therefore, the first element that I 'heard’ in this composition was the atmosphere and harmonic language of post-impressionism.
The picture, its structure and atmosphere, as well as the elements it contains, directly correspond with the music. Since the painting itself is abstract, I knew I had to break with the typical sound, idiom of the classical guitar and find a completely different sound world. Hence, I used a very unusual tuning that I’ve never worked with or written in (4th string down to c sharp). But that’s not all…
In the picture, two almost symmetrical elements can be directly distinguished – two squares. One in a shade of black (top) and the other in a shade of blood orange (bottom). It also had a very tangible effect on my choice of tuning that I mentioned before. The black square represents the first three strings: minor chord (e min), while the blood orange square represents the three bass strings: major chord (A maj). This polytonality (polyharmony) relationship also occurs throughout the entire work (hence my decision to score using two staves).
So far timbre (colour) has been used as a reference to tonality. Tuning (but also vertical chord blocks / harmony) has been used to refer to the two main squares from the painting. The last visual and undoubtedly important element of the picture are the square’s edges (lines). The boundaries between the background and the 'main characters of the picture’: the two squares. The boundaries (these lines) are very irregular, jagged and dynamic. That is why I decided to present them in the form of an arpeggio in a very irregular time signature. Single notes in the form of arpeggios overlap to create harmonies and chords. A very torn, irregular meter brings energy and vibrance to the piece.
My intention to some extent was to create a bridge between the two fine arts – visual and musical. For me it is definitely a representation, an extension, of visual art in music. Those two fine arts which complement each other, in this very case: literally one was created from the other.
I hope this composition will inspire potential performers and listeners. I will show the element of harmony in music as a world of shades and colours. This piece was commissioned by and is dedicated to great physicist, guitar-fan and friend of mine – Tomasz Polak.
Leeds, The UK (January 1th 2022)