By RUTH MONTGOMERY with CHRISTOPHER SACRE- DEAF CONTEMPORARY/SCULPTURE ARTIST
Harmony happens in music when two or more pitches are combined. Combining pitches together can add sophistication and interest to music. Harmony has a long and very important history which evolved over many years, from the medieval period to the classical; the romantic to the modern. With harmony, there are is an almost infinite number of possible combinations to explore.
As a professional musician, I am very aware of how composers throughout history have thought carefully about sound combinations. Sometimes, a composer will purposely inject notes that clash together (known in music as dissonance), before quickly restoring traditional harmony once more (resolution). Sometimes, combinations of notes are powerful enough to ‘tug at the heartstrings’ and move people to tears (think Rachmaninoff!).
When I was a very young girl, I enjoyed singing and listening to nursery rhymes. I could appreciate the shape of the melodies – particularly how they would usually start and end on the same pitch, giving it the feeling of a ‘perfect finish’. To me, nursery rhymes gave a sense of satisfaction, as though the overall picture of music was complete. It’s rather hard to explain how I sensed all of this as my hearing loss is rather profound, though the analogue hearing aids which I wore in both ears gave me access to hearing these sounds. Nursery rhymes also tend to be predictable and repetitive and I developed a strong intuition for their overall structure.
As I began to learn the piano and the flute, I realised that harmony provides the framework of music and the structure in sound, supported by the use of scales. Reading music is the easiest way for me to access and understand harmonic structure, leading and shaping my sense of direction as a performer on the flute.
My visual nature has always led me to exploring new ways of explaining and depicting different aspects of music. In 2014, I came across an extraordinary art installation by contemporary Deaf artist, Christopher Sacre. Christopher had meticulously poured plaster into 2,000 condoms and allowed it to dry before peeling off the latex and laying it out to display. Each plaster model (which looks somewhat like a lightbulb with a small ‘teat’ at the top) became known as a ‘baby’. The babies were laid out in a way that explored lines, space, and relationships. The teats on the babies gave the installation an interesting angle, as they could depict relationships depending on whether the babies’ teats acknowledged each other or not.
Christopher’s work became the inspiration behind my visual depiction of harmony: the relationships between the babies could also be used to explain the relationships between notes. When Christopher discontinued the installation, I took some of the babies home to use on a large score myself.
The first picture shows the ‘kiss’ where the two babies’ teats touch one another, which, in music, depicts notes playing together in unison. In the second picture, the babies have been placed on the notes D and C respectively, with the two teats facing away from one another. In music, this produces a clash, or dissonance.
The third photo shows how two babies have been placed below and above the musical stave with the teats facing one another. This depicts a long distance in pitch (known as a wide interval) in music.
The final photo below depicts the babies arranged into a perfect cadence – something which gives music an established and strong ending. This fixture shows the chords II – V – I. Notice how the direction of the teats progress towards complete harmony as they face in the same direction at the end.