Colour and sound are fundamentals in our daily life, generally considered as separate phenomena, but they have an intimate relationship simply illustrated when under any circumstance, if you hear a loud noise, you will involuntarily shut your eyes.
Sound: Pythagoras, the ancient Greek, recognised that by plucking a bow string (as in bow and arrow) a sound was produced, and by dividing in half the length of the bow string a different sound was produced, and by dividing that length in half again, yet another sound. This was the earliest record of recognition of the harmonies of a note (the note being the full length of the bow string). Harmonies are sounds that reside naturally in any note, and they give that note its “colour”.
Bach in 18th century European musical culture arrived at the “well tempered” musical scale, thus standardizing musical form in the European tradition. There are 12 notes in the scale.
Colour: The natural world offers us all a spectrum of colours in the rainbow. The naming of colours is culturally and individually varying, however Michael Smither has offered an objective description somewhat parallel to science’s description of the magnetic points (north, northeast, east etc.). Michael uses the same method with colour; red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet, violet-red then red again. Twelve colours and an understanding of what the colours look like.
12 notes - 12 colours: Bring them together and let colour and sound work together. Michael has married red to the musical note ‘A’ as European orchestras tune their instruments to the note ‘A’, and the visible rainbow begins and ends with the colour red.
Purpose: A musical tool for composing and a compositional tool for artwork. What’s more, enrichment through the harmonies in art and music.
Michael’s show at ARTIS Gallery, Parnell Road, Auckland that runs until 14th August is called Harmonic Assembly. These are playful works, sculptures and paintings, all with their colours arranged in harmonic sequences.
Gian McGregor 2011