About the exhibitionVIEW FILES: Music as Image and Metaphor
by Michael Kowalski and Allen Otte
Musical Responses to the Kentler Flatfiles Exhibition:
MUSIC AS IMAGE AND METAPHOR
February 11 - March 26, 2023
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 11, 4-6pm
VIEW FILES: Music Sketches and Percussion Photo Documentation
VIDEO MONITOR: Music & Image tour of the exhibition with 41 artworks and 40 one-minute musical responses
Back in the 1970s there was a brief fad of musical improvising based on spontaneous reactions to just about anything: the phone book, imperfections on a piece of paper, elaborate collages of hieroglyphs that suggested standard musical notation but couldn't be read as such, etc., etc., . . . you get the idea. It all became very predictable very fast. As Stravinsky noted in his Poetics of Music, productive freedom is more often to be found in the observance of rigorous constraints. In "Music as Image and Metaphor" we've tried to split the difference between following extra-musical cues wherever they lead and working within strictly musical constraints. There's clearly no single path that leads to such a tricky compositional equilibrium, but for practical purposes, if not necessarily for our own sanity, we settled on three basic approaches to shaping our sonic responses to the works in the show: imagistic, metaphoric, and unmediated-spontaneous (understood as goals, even if, perhaps, unachievable ones).
The imagistic response groove broke into two specific working approaches:
• providing a soundtrack, à la classic Hollywood films; or . . .
• developing musical responses to graphic gestures as if they were the themes in, say, a jazz session or even a Beethoven symphony.
The metaphoric response groove broke into two more specific approaches:
• creating a composition in sound that seems somehow analogous to the compositional approach that the artist might have employed; or . . .
• creating a composition in sound that enters into a dialogue, gesture-for-gesture, with selected figures in the graphic work.
For each artwork we usually tried to make music within just one of the five possible response modes, not so much as a straight-jacket but as a launching pad for our composing and performing. All of which is to say that, quite apart from revealing how we went about our work—which in a real sense is mere background, we hope that a similar spirit of adventure will inform the viewer's listening.
We've worked in many varied formats over the decades, often at the fringes of musical experimentation, but always with an emphasis on a high level of craft. Our approach in this instance actually calls to mind a working plan that we employed in one of our first large collaborations, a thirty-minute realization of John Cage's Music Walk for piano, percussion, electronics, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. For the current show we divided the forty graphic works selected by the curators into two sets of twenty and then proceeded to work independently over a period of two months to create our personal sets of musical responses, each one of approximately a minute's duration. This division of musical work isn't reflected in the arrangement of the show at the Bartlett Center, so the effect in the space is that of a random walk, with our respective musical points of view caroming off the forty graphic works in an unforeseen order. The resulting suite of forty-plus minutes of music includes work newly composed and performed for this show, excerpts from our respective performing catalogs, and re-arrangements—sometimes quite radical—of material drawn from earlier compositions.
—Michael Kowalski and Allen Otte
Composer-pianist Michael Kowalski and percussionist-composer Allen Otte have been collaborating on musical projects since the early 1970s. In addition to his work as a soloist, teacher, and composer, Otte is a founding member of two of the most important multiple percussion groups in the United States, the Blackearth Percussion Group and The Percussion Group/Cincinnati. Kowalski was a pioneer in computer-assisted sound synthesis and algorithmic composition in the 1970s. After years of composing primarily for percussion, dance, and electronics, he turned to theatre and chamber opera in the 1990s. Kowalski's "Gringo Blaster," commissioned and premiered by Otte and the Percussion Group/Cincinnati, is available on an Einstein Records CD of the same name.
MUSICAL RESPONSES: listen online
Press the AUDIO BUTTON under each ARTWORK on the Exhibition Page.
VIRTUAL PANEL DISCUSSION / Recorded FEB. 25, 2021
- Click Link
Panel Discussion with the exhibition Curators: David W. Houston, Director of the Ohr O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi and Artist Florence Neal, Co-Founder/ Director of Kentler International Drawing Space in Brooklyn, New York - in conversation with the Musicians: composer-pianist Michael Kowalski and percussionist-composer Allen Otte and Artist and Professor of Art, Hannah Israel