The sculpture of Eduardo Chillida — February 4 – June 3, 2018 — Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas, TX and Bruckner and Phillip Glass concert February 3, 2017
How little sound can still be music
How little sound can remain in a concert hall where everyone is quiet and still be music? How low and few notes it takes to keep us hanging on, listening and hearing the melody of a symphony of musicians, expecting the theme to return, until it does. How little sound do we still call music?
After a cool and cloudy Texas winter day spent outside and in the Meadows Museum at SMU campus, we went to the Meyerson to hear the Dallas Symphony play Anton Bruckner’s Symphony #8 – a long, 78-minute piece with movements listed as slow, or as we liked to joke while waiting through the intermission: slow, slower and slowest. I felt the portended dread of this music that might make the long, slow journey up to the highest balcony with someone using a walker seem too short. Before the piece began, I looked forward to the very slow, slowest elevator ride back to our parked car.
Instead, after the music had been applauded someone behind me just let our a really loud – “wild” – and we turned to look at a 20-something woman and her friends still staring at the stage. Bruckner’s 8th was, I agreed, a wild ride and I was standing there sad it was over.
The music diminished very gradually and this diminishment was long.
Those pretentious breaks between movements were hardly noticeable but meaningful. The 99 folks on the stage revved up a sound and then brought it down to nearly nothing, up and back so slowly to just the faintest sound.
I was taken fully by the music to a dream state, involved in the repetition of a difficult task that ends in expiration like the climbing of a mountain, with the regularity of plodding up stairs. So much exertion that no more can be pulled from the body, from the instrument, and sound evaporates until there is no more breath, no more life, yet it starts again, we try that task again until we can no longer breath. How little sound can there be and it still be called music? Not just a memory.
The reason I may have been thinking so much about how little can be done and still be felt as art was the show we’d seen earlier, called Memory, Mind and Matter, at the Meadows Museum of sculpture and collage by the Spanish artist, Eduardo Chillida. Outside the Meyerson Concert Hall, we posed with a public piece by Mr. Chillida.The artist corresponded with I.M. Pei regarding this commission. Pei said that, in the absence of Henry Moore, Chillida was the man for this job. The title of the piece, “De Musica,” is a platonic work by St. Augustine wherein the number 3 is important, Chillida said, and told Pei,
architecture in space, music in timesimilarity between the limit in architecture and sculpture and the present in musicboth limit and present have no size but are the origin of all sizes
Chillida’s very precise work is very beautiful when done perfectly, when the artist takes the subject, the matter, and moves it as it is capable of going because it is this material. The shadow of the piece reflected in the rain puddle in the picture with me, shows what this piece was supposed to be about: the splitting of a large round hank of steel, and drawing it out into these nubbish forms. Most of Chillida’s sculptures are simply beautiful, many are more beautiful than this one.
We chose to come to this performance because of the first piece which was a pair of sisters playing opposing pianos. Their all too similar playing of this Phillip Glass piece was just too little. In the Bruckner piece, the musicians were crammed on a warm wooden stage and included three harps that luminously melded into the wood’s glow when magically, it seemed the flesh stoked the bright strings in harmonies. Four horn players each had two separate horns. As a chorus they took turns playing a similar melody first with the standard French horn, and then with the Wagner Tuba. Each of these instruments used their signature range to play off the trombones and another chorus of modified trumpets. I’m adding a youTube of the Wagner Tuba because it was unknown to me before this.
There was so much music on this stage that it could have been too much. I mean there was not room to walk through the chairs on stage if someone had to dash off suddenly. The slower middle section had me rapt, but counting musicians on stage. With me there, we were 100 – and off in a trance of the music I felt like we each represent one percent, we are each representatives, with a cry here and a cry there.
The first piece, the Glass, was pleasant, but took me back again to the Chillida – tonight the sisters seem like artisans not artists. The piece just another competent number like a sufficient piece of public art. Maybe Bruckner was just a toiling craftsman back in 1800s Vienna, too, but the conductor, Jaap van Zweden, made it art, this night.
When is flower arranging not enough?
Not to be an artisan but to be an artist, Chillida said, about who he is. To be an artist is to strip away all the unimportant parts and get to the necessary – I often say pointing to things like Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which is often called simple. I used to help people choose the design of their wedding rings, and they always said they wanted them to be simple. We were making the rings from our imaginations, so what did they really mean by that word ‘simple’ — considering that they were pointing out widely diverse designs and other ideas from the world and calling them ‘simple. I’d have to get their meaning from what else they identified as simple. This meaning of simple is sometimes called beauty – and is diverse being ‘in the eye of the beholder’. I think ‘beauty’ is only relative to the viewer, on a spectrum that relates to various people in different ways. We enjoy looking at it — nicely designed, doesn’t hurt our eyes — we use phrases like that. When is that just not enough? Is there something more that takes Mr. Chillida from an artisan drawing out steel or carving alabaster to artist? When something is identified by everyone as ‘beautiful”, ‘simple’, whatever term they use as the ‘it’, like E=mc², it transcends the work of the artisan and becomes art. We all know things like this.
Chillida worked with a poet named Jorge Guillén y Álvarez, making small prints of his forms that accompany the poems. The book on display is beautiful and large, becomes an object more than something you hold in your lap to read. Introducing these poems that are bilingual: translated from French to Spanish, confuses this question because now we have to thing about what makes something poetry as well.
The book I’m reading, presently, is a travel journal by poet Joann Kyger. When she wrote this journal she was living in Japan with her then-husband Gary Snyder, who was already a known poet at the time – around 1962. She’s writing poetry, herself, and doing flower arranging while he studies serious Buddism. She writes notes about her poems and reads Gertrude Stein, and wonders like I do, when is flower arranging just not enough.
Chillida’s prints for the book of poems are nice, and you can see the artist working out designs until there is nothing extraneous left. The forms don’t convey anything narrative. Similarly, Chillida worked with drawings to work out ideas and so he sees his goal to reach that idea more than just a nice design – will intent get him there, I wonder.
He also made sculptural drawings by putting together sheets of paper with his object cut out of them. Collage, you might be imagining, but he was an artist who didn’t like glue. He wanted the papers to have presence hold their own layer in space even if they are now framed in a shadow box. So he sewed them. The sewing is beautiful. And practical. The sheets hang from the thread, and are attached just so they balance. I am struck hard by his process of finding a solution to the problem he found with glue.
When I don’t like what’s happening in my web design – the glue – what can I do to solve it? That’s an interesting way to look at design. And then when I think of using HTML et.al. to make ideas, I get stuck having it look like a nice flower arrangement and nothing more. As Gertrude Stein will tell Kyger in the book she was reading, masterpieces are few and far between.