AUDITIVE AND VISUAL ART TONE
By Rolf Aamot
The score of my auditive work is visual tone films, visual tone art; colour and curvilinear tones in changing spatial constellations. Tonality has been developed historically through many years, but provided an important impulse already in spring 1952 when I took part in a group of art and music students from Bergen invited to the city of Vienna as guests. Thus, we also were guest students at the Art Academy in Vienna at that time at a high artistic level. At the same time as the Viennese art museums gave us a thorough introduction to its collection, our meeting with Vienna's music were equally important.
In autumn 1952 I started at age 17 in the painting class at the National College of Art (SHKS), Oslo. Directly adjacent to SHKS was the Art Museum, where I had access to its unique art literature library. It was a collection with an international range, including the contemporary. It gave me a lasting inspiration to study the colour and curvilinear tones of visual art. Another, and neglected, source of inspiration occurred in the school canteen, where I met an active student environment from the Oslo School of Architecture.
The road to the auditory tone world is short, eg specifically, through concrete music. In 1952 Pierre Schaeffer and his Group on Concrete Music started a development project. Two years later, 1954, it was performed at the SHKS, Oslo, in the school auditorium. This electro-acoustic music, which makes use of natural sounds, often converted electronically, is closely related to film and visual arts. For this reason, French composers and filmmakers collaborated in the Group on Concrete Music. Jon Medböe, arts theorist and musicologist at the SHKS, enriched our art scene with his insightful lectures on the boundaries between art forms. He also opened up our attention to concrete music.
After studying at SHKS (1952-1955) and the National Art Academy, Oslo (1958-1960), I started an intense development with various forms of sound art. The first visual tone concert was launched in Bergen Art Museum, 1965. The following year, under the auspices of New Music, I perfomed another concert at the Munch Museum in Oslo. Parallel to the concerts I composed pictorial tone works for television and cinema. It was, at the same time, breaking and not breaking with musical tradition.
Visual art and the artist's freedom and human presence has always been musical language, colour and line. On the surface we find external content presenting as a mask - eg. the art of the later Rembrandt can also be regarded as a tonal work, with the simple surface structure blurred and lifted into a free rhythm and balance between accented light and shadowy tones, the colours of their overtones ubiquitous. It is in this context one must see the goal I set for myself - a visual tone art, in which line and colour, alone or in interaction with the auditive - the specific sound structures and their electronic transformations - may meld with musics other formal languages. Tone Art in space and time include inner and outer reality.
These issues, outlined above, was part of the philosophy I presented in 1964 to the composer Arne Nordheim and the art historian Ole Henrik Moe. Respecting each other's disciplines, we started a collaboration that led to the work Evolution. After agreeing on the composition structure, I played my part of the work at the NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation). Nordheim received a copy of the recording, then working on the basis of his own world of sounds. The electronic music was recorded in Warsaw, Poland. In its compound form the work was completed in 1966, and was broadcast in the spring of 1967. Later it turned out that this was the first time that television was used as an independent visual artistic expression.
In 1967 I started a new collaborative project, this time with composer Björn Fongaard and choreographer Edith Roger. It led to Relief (as in sculpture), a visual tone ballet for NRK Television Theater. Relief was the thematic basis. It was a close and intense cooperation between all involved in the project. The NRK studio team showed immediate openness to our artistic goals, and our demands. In 1968, Relief was broadcast by NRK-TV. That same year, German television showed a visual ballet of Otto Piene. When the two works were submitted, it was the second time television was used as a medium for direct expression of visual art.
In parallel with the collaboration with composers I created my sound structures / music based on the visual arts. My visual tone works are scores for the auditory: sine tones, specific sound structures, acoustic instruments, and voice and breathing, as sound sources. All of it subsumed under electronic transformations. The auditive and the visual field share a common tonal space. The painter Björg Lödöen and I often recorded the audio for a number of my visual tone films, where the association with colour and curvilinear tones is the supporting force. This includes Kinetic Energy (1967-1968), Vision (1969), Structures (1970), Actio (1980) and Northern Lights (1991).
Through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s I composed pictorial tone works for television. At the same time I worked with film for cinema and exhibitions. In the years from 1964 to 1970 I held visual tone concerts in Oslo, Bergen, Copenhagen and Paris.
Seen in retrospective
In the late 1950s the artistic and technical issues underpinning my visual and auditive tonal language had been established, leading to the development of electronic instruments for image and sound. The instruments for image tones were the precondition for my auditive work. The first pictorial instrument was a prototype. It had control over the colour frequencies regardless of tonal dynamics. In this context, the leader of the Christian Michelsen Institute, Helmer Dal, played an important role. With his background from World War II developing radar in the United Kingdom he immediately grasped the idea of an instrument based on colour frequencies. Thanks to Dal and his technicians my prototype got a crucial boost, and later they were to follow me during my first two visual tone concerts in Bergen.
It began with a concert for the board of the Bergen Art Museum, 1965. The concert opened up a further artistic and technical development of visual tone art, and its dissemination in various media. Bergen Bank, with its director Sjur Lindebrekke, was of vital importance economically, while Norwegian Film led by its director Erik Borge and NRK´s television director Otto Nes assured the practical conditions allowing my art to become part of film and television media.
The Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs invited me to hold a visual tone concert for the Council's board at The Norwegian Academy of Science in Oslo. Director Erik Borge gave a lecture about the film and about visual tone art before the concert. After the concert, the director of the Council, painter Haakon Stenstadvold, turned to me and said: "Will you go abroad?" I replied, "My application to the Council was for a development project, technically and artistically, for my musical language." Stenstadvold responded immediately, "I asked you if you will travel abroad." When none of the other board members said something, I realized there was no place for a question here but a matter of answering yes or no. So I said yes. Stenstadvold said: "We cannot risk building a fiddle in Norway, whilst other European countries might already have pianos." In other words, it was to be as he had said!
With the travel budget commissioned by the Council divided into three, there were to be three trips around Europe, reporting to our embassies in the respective countries. After each trip, I also had to deliver a report to the Arts Council in Norway, meeting with Stenstadvold at his office, which was also his studio at the time he was the dean of the SHKS.
As the Norwegian Council made me their envoy - on behalf of the Norwegian government - I met with open doors everywhere. There were many studio visits including at Le Parc´s, who had won the great painting prize at the Venice Biennale. He and his colleagues lived in old abandoned craft workshops in Paris. The economic foundation of artistic activity did, however, not compare with his fame and glory, forcing him to sell off reflector parts from his light reliefs as independent "art". For the market they were "art objects".
Later, I was a guest at Philips in Eindhoven, Holland. Philips had their main base there, in an egg-shaped exhibition building supposed to represent a vision for the future of electronics. The French artist Nicolas Schöffer had received a commission, with his light sculpture technique, in order to give the exhibition a flight of fantasy. When I later visited Schöffer in Paris at his studio, he believed that his art had been abused by Philips, warning me against signing a contract with the company.
My conclusion after my travels for the Norwegian Council of Cultural Affairs was that the belief that everything would be so much better out in the "big world" was a mere illusion. We so often tend to forget that art in Renaissance Italy, the Baroque in Holland, and the art research of Bauhaus did, in fact, occur in small and medium sized urban communities.
Visual tone films:
The score of auditory tone art is visual tone films.
Visual art tone:
Visual sound art / tone art is colour and curvilinear tones.
Colour and curvilinear tones:
Colour and curvilinear each has its tonal range,
as in music: 5, 7, 12 or quarter tones.
Translated from the Norwegian by Olav Arnold Lödöen