Music through the Deaf lens

In my BFA and MFA years (2001-2007), my projects explored deconstruction and phonocentrism (much credit to the influences of Derrida's works on my work), synesthesia, language, music, fractals, brain, sign writing, and such. I will also mention other Deaf artists' views on music.

In my BFA year, as I knew that language is amodal, which means that language is independent from speech. It's brain-based language, regardless of the modality (signing or speech), according to a number of neuroscience and linguistics studies. So, my question was "Is music amodal?"

Music as amodal

One day my art college mate, who taught me a weekly lesson in playing bass guitar, once asked me whether I could feel the difference between the cube and sine sounds. To find out, I sat on his large woofer connected to the computer while he generated each of those two pieces of vibration from the computer. First, he told me which of the sounds "cube" and "sine" he was going to generate for me to feel them.

To my amazement, my body could clearly identify a shape of the wave for sine and a shape of the square for cube, as well as I could see them in visual imagery through touch. Then, my friend tested me by playing one of the sounds and asked me which cube or sine was it. I correctly replied them.

This experience brought me to exploring synaesthesia which means that senses are interchangeable. I talked about synaesthesia in another post.

Fractals: Rhythms and Repetitions

Fractals are found in all nature from flowers and leaves to shells. To begin with the concept of music, I started with fractals as the fundamental in my exploration through media arts.

Hence, one of my projects "Fractals in Music" explored what music means, based on the fractal idea beyond phonocentric thinking. I sensed that music can be appreciated or understood in either visual, vibrational, or sound forms.

In attempt to deconstruct sound-bound music, first I see music as a mathematical, that is fractal, form. And, it's a vibrational form in a broader term rather than sound-specific.

My aim was to discover and understand a fractal-based music as a "common denominator" for aesthetics in all art forms. Music can be appreciated through three main sensory modalities: sight, hearing, and touch.

Visual Music

In our visual-vibrational world, I've noticed some musical visuals that I was mesmerized by, such as watching long and deep telephone lines through the train window in my childhood; watching the way my friend repeatedly pulled twice and then held his paddle below the rippling lake water while we sat in the canoe, and watching the way Venezuelan pigeons, sometimes single and sometimes synchronized in group, repeatedly flew off the water surface upward, twisted around, zoomed downward and crashed through the water surface, creating splashes. Those hypnotizing scenes were visually mesmerizing but I also sensed sounds through eye.

In the projects, to disconnect music from sound through deconstruction, I created a few experimental video arts on the concept of visual/vibrational music, such as "Sweet Nightmare" (2004) and "Music Score" (2006) which is a prototype.

The visual poem music score (video above) reflects a childhood memory and experience of "music to the eye" on a number of train rides between my residential schools and family home in my childhood years. I was mesmerized by the black thick telephone lines dancing in motion through the train window and by the rhythmical sideway movement of the train.

This "music score" is also a reflection of the Deaf poet Ella Mae Lentz's ASL poem, "Eye Music" (year unknown -- 1980s or 1990s). Her poem resonates a similar experience of my train rides across the country in my childhood. The first time I watched her poem, I knew exactly what it felt as a participant of direct experience, not an observer or listener to the poem or story.

Not only with the desire of expressing my experience, but also a video was the desire to experiment on the concept of concrete poetry in sign language in the written form.

Redefining music

A working definition of music by Jolanta Lapiak myself is as follows:

"a mathematical or fractal essence, pulsating energy, consisting of rhythms, melodies, tones... embodied in architecture, images, sculpture, nature... and music instruments that reproduce visual music, vibration, and/or sound." -- July 11, 2004 (Journal)

To disconnect music from sound through deconstruction, I created a few experimental videos on the concept of visual/vibrational music.

Posted by Jolanta Lapiak, 2006. Updated 2008.

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