A lot of composers like to compare their work to that of painters. For trans-genre resonance I tend more toward filmmakers (Lynch, Linklater, Swanberg...), but lately when I hear the music of my peers and especially their orchestral music with all its flashy instrumental colors, I start to feel a little bit like James McNeill Whistler, who liked to pick a color or two and stretch them around for a while. The famous painting of his mother from 1871 is actually called "Arrangement in Grey and Black no. 1." ("Music for 18 Musicians" / "Composition for Twelve Instruments," anyone?) Whenever I'm at the Art Institute of Chicago, I find a moment to spend with his "Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water," from 1872.
"Art should be independent of all clap-trap," the man said. A tall order. Clap-trap abides.
Evidently he gave his paintings generic titles because he wanted to de-emphasize their narrative elements, but this is not the effect I experience. When I look at the Nocturne, I strive to see these shaded boats more clearly, wonder about the land across the water, conjure the sounds and smells of the docks where I imagine the painter standing. Actually the lack of clarity draws my attention more keenly to the picture's narrative. I find myself wanting to finish the story.
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