A whole new way to experience classical guitar

By Fang Yuan

A whole new way to experience classical guitar

By Fang Yuan
Editor’s note: The following opinion piece was submitted as part of the inaugural “Op-ed Challenge” hosted by the University of Miami Graduate School. Open to all graduate students, entries were judged by media professionals.

"Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music.” 

German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe exquisitely describes the relationship between music and art. From the Middle Agesto the present day, the lute and guitar appear often in paintings as a symbol of music. Art’s motivation and inspiration are often adopted in music composition. Art and music express common sensations that mobilize human appreciation to perceive, define, and create beauty. 

Understanding the evolution of the style, shape, and visual elements of music-related art content will help guitarists bring artistic ideas and inspiration to music performances. In addition to using abstract music language to express the beauty of art,perhaps the combination of vision and hearing can make people feel the charm of art and music more directly. 

However, some critics argue that the combination of audio-visual performance will distract the audience’s attention from the music. I will argue from the aesthetic, sensory, and experimental results that the application of synesthesia art has a positive effect. 

Aesthetic is a word that means the philosophy of sensuous perception. In art analysis, it is used in criticism of beauty or taste. Thus, the senses play an important role in aesthetic activities. The process of transcribing the inspirations we get from visual art into musical compositions is the outcome of the audio-visual synesthetic approach. Gaining a scientific understanding ofsynesthesia will help explain the benefits of the synesthetic approach. 

In the psychological field, synesthesia is abnormal cognition. It is commonly used to describe a condition of one sensory stimulation that elicits an additional subjective experience or another sense modality. There are over 80 different types of synesthesia described by science. Grapheme-color synesthesia (colored letters) and chromesthesia (music in colors) are the twomost common.

However, artists and musicians will use this condition as a natural gift. For instance, the French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was a synesthete. His sound-color association is the most important characteristic of his musical language. Hementioned his sound-color synesthesia: “When I hear a score or read it, hearing it in my mind, I visualize corresponding colors which turn, shift, and combine, just as the sounds turn, shift, and combine, simultaneously…” 

Performers can use this association to create a visual musical performance. Absorbing the techniques from the art paintings, or the sensation, color, or spirit that is transmitted from the paintings. Then, the performer can use the techniques as an inspirational source of expression. All the resources from art, such as color, shape, lines, space, shades, etc., can be transmitted to rhythm, tone, resonance, structure, and breath in the musical interpretation. Scientists have also shown experimentally that visual information can help with hearing.

Psychologist Stephen Palmer states that “robust connections between music and color that are widely shared across both individuals and cultures…music-to-color associations were highly related to emotional mediation.” This means that the synesthetic approach can trigger more emotional resonance in audiences and give an influential positive effect. 

More benefit that musicians or artists will gain is synesthetic experiences enhance unconscious learning. It might be said that in the process of designing and creating the synesthetic performance, musicians can improve their aesthetic taste, and gain more inspiration from unconscious learning. 

In the future, we may be able to measure brain activity and the association of the senses with the development of quantum theory. Leading expert psychiatrist Schwartz in the article “Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction” indicates that “brain behavior that appears to be caused by mental effort is caused by mental effort: the causal efficacy of mental effort is no illusion. Our willful choices enter neither as redundant nor epiphenomenal effects, but rather as fundamental dynamical elements that have the causal efficacy that the objective data appear to assign to them.” In general, we can conclude that mental effort will affect brain behavior and emotion, and the synthetic approach tomusic performance will enhance the music experience both for the artist and the audience. 

The development of technology in the 20th century has inspired new ways of collaboration, such as immersive multimedia, and AI technology for music visualizers. They all can be used in the synthetic performance. Exploring the aesthetic value and comparing the relationship between music and art, bringing music and art closer together, increasing interdisciplinary collaboration, and expanding the space for musical development will attract more people to participate in artistic creation and performance. And this will be a great cultural contribution to contemporary music performance. 

Fang Yuan is a graduate student in the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Read more about the inaugural “Op-ed Challenge.”