RECORDS //
Dissonance

a 3-staged process multimedia artwork in which the musical performances produce visual artwork and a film. 

RECORDS//Dissonance is a 30 minute live performance of music by Thomas Tallis, Olivier Messiaen, and improvisation yielding a mixed media sculpture and painting. Created for The Morris Museum, RECORDS//Dissonance explores dissonance as it relates to faith and density.

 

Translating sound and movement to texture, color, and tangible mediums, RECORDS serves as an analog means of recording live performance. The final artwork developed throughout the 3 staged RECORDS process is a physical representation of Thomas Tallis and Oliver Messiaen's music. 

Amanda Austin

creator, soprano, visual artist

Taisiya Pushkar

pianist

Michaelangelo Quiriniale  guitarist

Paul Moon

videographer

Cheyenne Sykes

lighting designer

Greer X

lighting assistant

Sophia Gonzales

production manager

Nathaniel Putman

sound

artist's statement

Did you know that certain sounds are considered good, and others evil?

 

DISSONANCE     - BAD, VERY BAD unrest, crunchy chords, leading tones, etc. 

CONSONANCE   - GOOD wide, major, easy sounds, nothing odd here

 

So much so that historically, dissonance was even banned from being composed. 

 

For the sake of understanding our exploration of dissonance sparked by the NJ Arts Annual and now, via RECORDS//Dissonance, we need to rewind history…

(yes, that is a nod to the Guinness collection automata *Morris Museum treasures they are*) 

 

 ~ It’s 17th century England and Thomas Tallis has just shared a new motet ~ 

 

It’s beautiful. Highly consonant, fugal, each line intelligible and easily understood. Nothing unknown and thus fear inducing here. OR IS THERE?

 

Actually, if you listen carefully to that calm consonant sound Tallis creates, it only feels settled because of its dissonance. Suspensions (thin texture dissonance) throughout the music create a tension that makes the release into consonance feel “oh so good”. 

 

Fast forward hundreds of years to the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris, where magical human Oliver Messiaen was wailing away his own pieces on the organ as the cathedral’s organist for an over 60 year appointment.

 

When I say “magical human”, I mean… this genius man who 

  • wrote and premiered a quartet as a WW2 prisoner WHILE STILL IN the internment camp

  • prolific composer who graciously left us with a manual of how to understand his music (“La technique de mon langage musical”)

  • equally passionate ornithologist (who studied  bird sounds so that he could translate their music to manuscript paper and other musicians could play their song (“Catalogue d'oiseaux”)

  • and dedicated husband through a tragic circumstance with his first wife, Claire Delbos. The first song I sing on this program recalls Claire, who was an astonishing violinist and composer, who lost herself to amnesia after a surgery and remained memory-less for the rest of her life. Messiaen was devastated and wrote this 3 years after his wife became “the city that sleeps”.

 

Fun Fact: This same man taught Pierre Boulez and is credited as one of Quiny Jones and John Coletrane’s greatest influences. 

 

When you hear his music (which you will amply in RECORDS// Dissonance), you’ll likely be uncomfortable. The dense chords create thickly textured dissonance that often doesn’t sound like it ever settles. 

 

Dissonance is generally misunderstood as being created through small intervals, narrower sounds, ex. Minor seconds, tri-tones (slightly smaller that the consonant perfect 5th), etc. and Messiaen combats this notion with the full force of the widest sounds he can make. 

 

AUGMENTED (wide) everything… whole tone scales on top of each other, augmented chords, and the tri-tone (“devil’s chord”) create a general feeling of unrest.  

 

His alien sounds were intentional. Messiaen, a devout Catholic, did not believe in the concept of Jesus or God as pantokrator. That fear-based judgment that fueled so many religious leaders of his time couldn’t have been further from his values

 

- universal love, forgiveness, and transformation - 

 

all of which arise in his music in its constellation-like elements (chord clusters that sound like stars and wide intervals like outer-space).

 

In the 9th - 12th centuries, Christians persecuted composers for creating anything that remotely resembled dissonance or THE DEVIL in music. Fast forwarding to the 20th century, Messiaen performs his music, some of the most dissonant in the classical/concert music canon ever composed, in a cathedral - all for God and Christ.

 

      - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Clearly, dissonance and its relationship to faith fascinate me. As someone who grew up cantoring in the church, exploring the way in which God, love, fear, good, and evil translate to sound is now almost an involuntary pursuit.

 

Through this, I’ve come to see, as RECORDS//Dissonance will reiterate, that...

 

Dissonance is only dissonance because of consonance. Tension can only exist because of release. And light is only light because of darkness.

 

Why do we run from this truth? You will never be good always. No one is all evil.

Everything in the universe exists because of its opposite and the sooner we acknowledge this within ourselves and others, the greater balance and truth we can collectively create together. 

 

Both Tallis and Messiaen’s musical message is that of Love (the noun and verb). 

 

Fear exists. Dissonance exists. Both Messiaen and Tallis in their own extreme ways (Tallis extremely thin and Messiaen extremely dense) do not run from dissonance. They use this reality to create tension that when resolved, emphasizes our truest nature - 

 

 ever-flowing transformation. 

______________

I am thrilled you all will join us in transforming the sculpture and painting (representative of two songs by Messiaen) that now will serve as visual “recordings” of the live performance we all will create together during

 

RECORDS//Dissonance.

RECORDS // Dissonance on iTunes

  • iTunes

“It was a transformative experience for all...The collaboration between the Museum, performers, and audience felt like a protest against the distance COVID created.”

—  Mira Prives, Director of Development (The Morris Museum)

"La vie qui dormait, toi // Messiaen",  2021

mixed media plywood sculpture (lid and base)

84" x 60" x 18"

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"Résurrection // Messiaen",  2021

mixed media painting and stone/charcoal mosaic on canvas

120" x 60" x 3"

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