Visual Music, it is an aural/visual installation presented in different forms of “Deconstruction – Reconstruction” of abandoned pianos, and thus becomes the counter-point of visual, music and history. One of the most important piano forms in this installation is “Caged piano”, which is created as reconstructed piano playing my composition by the MIDI system.
Shanghai Gallery of Art, Three on the Bund:
Tan first discovered these “retired” pianos accidentally in a warehouse of a music school in Shanghai. Each piano had been played by hundreds of people to such an extent that a little smooth dent had formed on each key. He began to collect old pianos, to send them for repair and remove all unusable and tattered parts. Utilizing the remaining chords and body, he redesigned, assembled and created a new visual music sculpture. “These are all visual sculptures,” Tan Dun says about the reconstructed pianos, “There’s a message here about deconstruction, reconstruction and resurrection, something we’re seeing all over China today.” The resurrected piano exposes its inner mechanical structure, where metal bars have replaced the original shell. The piano is playing sounds from a MIDI system designed by the artist himself. Tan brings the abstract quality of sound and vision back to their origin. The MIDI pianos echo the video projection of Organic Music as represented by Water Music, which suggests the significance of natural factors during the process of “resurrection”.
Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art:
In an empty bunker, the conceptual and multifaceted Composer/Conductor Tan Dun’s Visual Music features first, an audio track of many abandoned pianos being deconstructed by the artist with sledgehammers, which is shown as the first phrase of the exhibition’s concept: deconstruction-reconstruction-resurrection. An adjacent tunnel leading to a large subterranean arsenal where three video monitors show Tan Dun in the choreographed act of reconstructing and resurrecting the pianos based on the rhythm of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5. There are total five pianos in the exhibition, one of which is partially buried in the dirt inside the arsenal, another is behind bars automatically playing the pure music of Bach’s Prelude in C Major and one other is to be played by the audience. All of these pianos have experienced and are survived from changes of different times, different social periods and different social environments. Most of their outward appearances are destroyed and damaged, however, their internal core structures are still functional and are able to play the most beautiful music as new pianos. It was from that time that the idea of Visual Music began. I started to collect abandoned pianos, send them to the piano factory to demolish the damaged exteriors, and to re-design and re-create pianos based on the existing internal “ruin” and thus, to resurrect them with new birth: a Visual Music Exhibition which can be performed by both human being and computer high technology.
“For me, there are no boundaries between the visual and the audio in art creation itself. They constitute a unified yet circular realm for my thinking”, says Tan Dun as he discusses the topics of inter-disciplinary practice and media. The fact that contemporary art is actively transgressing and manipulating different media and technologies represents a spirit of open-mindedness and a desire to go beyond itself. While not entirely satisfied within the confines of tradition and increasingly rigid models, we are returning to the origins of artistic creation in hopes of rediscovering a new direction. Moreover, these origins are found in our senses and sub-conscious, where different sensory experiences can come together. Ever since the development of modern art, we have witnessed an integration of dramatic forms in the fields of music and visual art. From Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who broke away from realistic representation by using color and composition to express the abstract quality of music, to the music and the performances by John Cage, whose musical notation posed a huge impact on visual arts; from contemporary art forms of the 21st century like new media, to web art and others, audio and visual artistic elements are operating in complete unison and can no longer be separated. Again people are exploring the psychology and aesthetic phenomenon surrounding the amalgamation of different senses that can deliver a similar emotion. Followed by many new forms of sensory perception along with progressive technological means, we are paying more and more attention to the application of “synaesthesia” in the art field. Undoubtedly, individuals across different disciplines perceive the “visual” from varying perspectives. As an artist well versed in international music, Tan Dun’s visual music proposes another deliberate development after the late John Cage.
Tan says of Visual Music, “every abandoned piano has a story behind it. As I look at these solemn objects, deep in my heart, I hear a harmony. The rhythms seem to be continuing an old story, as if it is responding to their faded owners, telling the untold, and answering the unanswered. … History, time, war and nature disaster can destroy the surface of all entities. However, the music and dream is eternal.
Shanghai, May 11 – Tan Dun, the composer, is pacing nervously. He is at a fashionable art gallery here, dressed head to toe in black. And he is awaiting the arrival of a French delegation that includes the wife of the French prime minister. He will not talk about the music he once composed for Yo-Yo Ma or the New York Philharmonic. Nor will he conduct one of his concertos for stone, water or paper instruments. He is the tour guide this day for a new art exhibition. His own.