Visual music scores – paintings, drawings, graphs or diagrams that give musical instruction similar to a traditional score – can be found throughout contemporary art. Whether it’s the screen prints of John Cage, the rainbow scales of modernist painter Roy de Maistre, or the visual instructions of musician Brian Eno. Through lines and symbols, colour and geometry, artists have translated musical pieces into artworks. In turn, viewers of the visual score are often prompted to recreate the musical piece in their own interpretation. This process informs the work of Melbourne-based artist Sarah crowEST, whose latest project invites viewers, wherever they are, to create music from her visual scores.
Hosted by Shepparton Art Museum (SAM), crowEST’s newest piece Sound Seen is currently online, sharing five visual scores that, while existing as artworks in their own right, are designed for viewers to create their own musical responses. Free to download from SAM’s website, people are invited to create their own sound and music to crowEST’s diagrammatic scores, and, if you’re willing, share these responses online. Bolstered by crowEST’s colourfully geometric yet relaxed aesthetic, the prompts are open to wide interpretation: “intensify vocals” from “throaty” to “roar” reads one artwork, while another suggests an “insistent bass” followed by a “free wheeling groove”.
Originally commissioned to create a wall painting at SAM, Covid-19 lockdowns instead saw the project move online. “I’ve been slowly and tentatively developing this visual score direction and form of collaboration since 2017, and the need for an online project made this a timely opportunity to experiment further,” explains crowEST. “I had an existing resource of research and ideas in my notebooks to draw upon to construct the scores.”
The artist’s work sits at the nexus between text, painting, sound and performance, and often invites audience participation by prioritising the agency of the viewer. “The thing I like most about working in this area is my continual surprise at the interpretations of the scores,” crowEST says. “I enjoy the fact that I have a level of innocence about sound works – this is not so with the visual with which I’m acutely attuned and educated, and therefore highly critical. This means I’m able to be very open to the diversity of responses and unburdened by my own very particular approach to art making and expectations.”
For crowEST the “idiosyncrasies of translation” involved in musical scores, whether creating or deciphering them, are of great interest. Sound Seen is an opportunity to explore and share these idiosyncrasies.