Kandinsky’s Swing

Electracoustic work around an improvisation to Kandinsky’s painting Swinging  
Commissioned by Dr Tone Roald for the Moving Art conference at the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, 1 September 2018.  
Duration: 5 mins
Year: 2018

I have always been fascinated by Kandinsky’s painting Swinging, ever since I first saw it as a student at the Tate Modern Gallery in London. The suggestive nature of the title, along with the vibrant use of colour and asymmetrical geo- metrical patterns, immediately evoked in me a musical sense of rhythmic swing, improvisation, and variation of repeated motifs. I instantly thought of Swinging when Dr Tone Roald commissioned me to compose a piece of music for the Moving Art conference, which dealt with viewers pre-reflective (i.e. instinctive) responses to visual art, and especially the sense of rhythm that art can evoke in viewers.

I began looking for ways to write a composition that could connect to these concepts. I found myself improvising on a keyboard while looking at Kandinsky’s painting, and realised I could capture these instinctive responses to art by recording myself. Then I took a cue from Kandinsky’s striking use of colour and illustrated the recorded ‘monochrome’ electric piano improvisation with bright orchestral sounds while I composed around it. Composing music around the improvisation allowed me to take the patterns and shapes that my subconscious had created while improvising and make them explicit by subjecting them to the kind of variation I had always associated with the colours and asymmetrical shapes of the painting. Due to its basis in improvisation, the resulting composition is wildly changeable: at times fast and violent, at times slow and sweet. In combining improvised and composed materials, it captures both my post- and pre-reflective responses to Swinging—and hopefully also some of the swing that is so apparent in Kandinsky’s work.

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