“Visual Music Masters”: a whistle-stop tour around the sonic and visual arts
Adriano Abbado’s new book Visual Music Masters examines the many connections between abstract images and sound, with the work absolutely chock full of references.
The first chapter impressively examines the history of music and vision’s inter-relationship. From Plato and Aristotle through Ernst Chladni’s Sound Patterns of 1787, through the synesthesia of Kandinsky and the desire of Duchamp to experiment in new forms of media, the book is nothing but ambitious in its historical frame. However, it’s the moving image that gives the book its real focus, including examinations of the psychedelic light and music shows from 60s icons such as the Mothers of Invention and the films produced during WW2 of the group featuring Max Richter, Alexander Calder, Man Ray and others.
However, the ambition of the work sometimes is its undoing. Because each page offers a real blast of names - of artists, works, and techniques - it sometimes feels like you’re being caught up in a fog. That said, because the book is written in such a way, it offers probably the best possible guide to the relationship between sound and vision, as there’s enough inspiration in here to bounce you off in all sorts of directions after reading it.
It also makes the depth of investigation into each artist rather uneven. There are a few pages on Stan Brakhage, but it would have been great to see more on the mysterious Hy Hirsh, a contemporary of Brakhage who developed films as events, with live performances held to accompany the screenings of visually abstract work.
There’s a lot in the book for students of more contemporary visual culture. About a third of the book features works and artists from 1990 onwards, finishing off with digital artists including Golan Levin, UVA, and Otolab. However, the book finishes rather abruptly in 2008, suggesting that Abbado’s next book should be a deep and thorough examination of multimedia art in the 21st century to date.
Visual Music Matters: Abstract Explorations - History and Contemporary Research by Adriano Abbado is out now, published by Skira.