Music by Nao Masuda
Artists: Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq and Lisa Harker

The word ‘dynamics’ denotes volume: it describes how loud or soft something within music is played.  In music, we generally refer to dynamics using their Italian words, including forte (loud) and piano (soft).  Dynamics are used to create expression, tension, and drama in music.

Two artists and one musician were involved in this project. Whilst solo Taiko drummer, Nao Masuda, performed her 2016 composition, Beyond Winter, artists Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq, who is Deaf, and Lisa Harker, who is hearing, were asked to interpret the music onto canvas.  It would be interesting to find out how the artists would interpret the dynamic contrast within the piece – for instance, would they choose bold colours for loud music, and lighter/paler colours for softer music?  Furthermore, how would the artists use their love of and expertise in abstract painting to portray their personal interpretation of the sound, given that dynamics are made up of levels of intensity and physical energy, and therefore do not conform to any form of ‘visual reality’?

Artist Lisa Harker – ready to start.

Nao Masuda used a large range of instruments in her performance, including large and medium-sized Japanese Taiko drums, Indian Noah bells, Tibetan bells, Turkish Cymbals, and a Nepalese singing bowl.  Taiko drumming is physically demanding, and it is the level of physical involvement that gives the music a wide range of dynamic contrast – felt not only by the drummer, but the listeners also. Nao is also qualified martial arts instructor, so the performance was enhanced further by her striking moves, skill, speed, and endurance.

The artists were ready with their large canvases, paints, tools and paint brushes under the spotlight at the Arlington Arts Centre in Newbury. Neither artist knew anything about the performance nor what they were going to hear. This was an important aspect of the project as I did not want to in influence their raw interpretation of the music. Another important aspect was that they were actually going to hear two versions of the same piece – one loud (forte) version, and one soft (piano) version.

Nao describes this as a “cycle of life”, with a sense of renewal, and how we have to continue to evolve and move on forwards for the future, with growth.

Nao began the loud forte performance by rubbing a thick, solid beater around the metallic Nepalese singing bowl.  This produced a loud ringing sound. This was followed by a thunderous beat on the Taiko drum.  The music progressed into a strong, almost hypnotic blend of powerful sounds and rhythms, accompanied by Nao’s dramatic and fluid body movements.  I noticed that Lisa stood with her back to Nao, canvas placed flat on her table.  Rubbena, however, placed her canvas on an erected easel and faced Nao.

Rubbena simply watched Nao’s performance for several minutes to process what she was watching and hearing.  When she began to paint, she worked quickly, reflecting the power of the performance in her art. It was immediately apparent that Rubbena’s work would be very striking – its centrepiece, which consists of overlapping thick yellow and orange arches, visually describes the strength of sound and rhythm filling the room.  Rubbena associates these bright colours with positive emotions, which she felt was coming through in the performance.  Punctuating the brightness is a collection of darker fragmented lines, derived from the steady beats through parts of the music. The larger patches of earthy, ‘mossy’ greens at the bottom of the finished piece are representative of the vibrations that Rubbena could feel through the floor.

In contrast, Lisa’s painting consists of thin, seemingly chaotic black and golds lines. Her technique reminds me of artist Jackson Pollock’s renowned ‘drip paintings’. Like in ‘drip painting’, Lisa poured and dripped paint directly onto her canvas, rather than using any tools.  Texture is added to the canvas with the use of deeper copper coloured paint, whilst a variety of splashes and specks of yellows and reds finish the work. The artwork can be seen to reflect the high levels of energy in Nao’s composition and performance, and has been highly influenced by the strong rhythmic elements in the music – particularly as Lisa’s to-and-fro movements matched the pulse of the performance. With this knowledge, it is easy to see where Lisa was standing during the creation of this artwork. 

Lisa explained that her colours were inspired by the metallic instruments used – the dull golds matched those of the metallic bowls; the hints of red reflected the bright strings of the suspended Indian Noah Bells; the paler colours complemented the drum skins, and the swirling lines of silver represented the colour and ‘shiny’ sounds from the small Tibetan Bells.