The Patterns of Paradise
Notes on an intermedia collaboration

Essay by Stephen Dembski, from exhibition catalog (© 2007 Stephen Dembski)

Many have been called to bring the disciplined "arts" back together, but few have been chosen to do so from substantial experience of more disciplines than one. And of those few, only a small fraction have faced the challenge of integrating the essences of several media which may, perhaps, occupy comparable bandwidth, but on the other hand, occupy spectra as discrete as those of, say, sound and light. Gleaning one artifact from among those with which the fraction of the chosen has come up, we might re-appreciate two particular media—the verbal and the visual—that combine famously in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and imagine that, as artisanal printer, William Blake was able to realize his combinatory artistic vision without compromise or even, loosely speaking, mediation.

Taking Blake's vision of poetry fused to image as one point from which to jump off, Paul Hertz has bravely faced not only all the challenges of further extending the mediation (in a different sense) of that vision, but also, in our Fool's Paradise, all the dangers of collaboration—dangers especially acute in the case of collaboration with a musician like me. Hertz asked me to set forty-eight of Blake's Proverbs of Hell to music, and, when I'd agreed, he revealed to me some details of how he'd been thinking about the virtual reality environment in which the Proverbs would reside, details which were relevant to much of his work of the past few decades. I was astonished to find how closely certain aspects of his thinking were congruent with the conceptual tools I'd been developing, during the same period, for music, and I quickly imagined how, with little compromise, I'd be able to make music within the formal universe that he'd constructed.

A tiling pattern informs several of the deepest structural aspects of Fool's Paradise. To represent it as cyclical, with a denser connectivity, the edges of the planar pattern are implicitly stretched and twisted to form a topological figure that can be constructed without self-intersection only in four spatial dimensions: a "projective plane," according to Hertz. The image below suggests in two dimensions how the opposite edges are understood to connect. Many of the individual tiles are treated as "nodes," each of which is assigned one of the forty-eight Proverbs that Hertz chose to include in this work; each node is also assigned to a pitch class (such as A, C#, or Eb), and is connected to several others near it by a variety of line-types: thick or thin, solid or dotted. Colored lines "wrap around" to opposite edges. Each path described by a line-type represents a distinct quality of node-succession with respect to the overall pattern.

projective plane diagram
A representation of a plane that has been twisted through space to form a "projective plane"

In a note to a retrospective exhibition it seems appropriate to observe that such an "intermedia" strategy—one that integrates words and music via a common background structure represented in the visual domain—was, in Hertz, not born yesterday: in his musical composition Domain, which he conducted in 1983 in Barcelona in its first public performance, he was also making "visual and auditory art from a common set of structures" (his words), in that the painting Domain (which has much in common with the image above) on which the musical composition was based, hung over the performance space, while its shapes were duplicated on the floor in tape, with an instrumentalist at each corner. [Domain score]

As the composer of Fool's Paradise, I came to think of the set of pitch-classes closely connected to each node as a sort of mode or scale, with the node itself analogous to a "tonic" pitch, which would give its name to the "key." For brief and simple example, consider the first line of the first proverb—node #0, assigned to pitch-class C (near the middle of Figure 1).

Under each syllable of the "proverb" is the pitch class associated with it:

E - ter-ni-ty is in love with the pro-duc-tions of time.
B   C   C C  B C   A     A    A  A     B     A   B   F

On the tiling pattern, B and C are adjacent, F and C are adjacent, A and C are adjacent, and B and F are adjacent, but A and B are not, and neither are A and F. Thus, using the language developed for the diatonic ("major-scale") system, we could say that this tune proceeds entirely by "step" (adjacency) except at "-duc-tions of," where it moves by "leap"—"leaping" over C, from pitch class B to pitch class A, which are not associated with adjacent nodes (that is, not directly connected by a line) in this area of the tiling pattern.

Because the numbering, and so, the proverb-assignment, generally progresses by adjacent nodes, each consecutive proverb would be set to a mode that included many of the pitch classes of the previous and succeeding proverb-modes, but some of the pitch classes would be different. Thus geographic distance on the map would be reflected by a conventional indication of musical distance: the number of pitch classes in common between the scales of different keys. And the cyclic aspect of the diatonic "circle-of-fifths" would also be maintained—reflected in the quasi-spherical topography—but of course in this case both the modes (the collections of pitch classes) and their cycles (embodying the "distance" relations between those collections) are radically less regular and radically less redundant than the uniquely regular and redundant modes of the diatonic system.

In this way, Hertz, who has written, "I try to make art about the human capacity for creating meaningful systems," has, from one system largely accepted as meaningful—the diatonic "tonal" system of European-tradition music—taken several salient aspects of pitch-structural form at a profoundly abstract level, and, while maintaining those aspects intact, created a system much less regular and redundant, but capable, therefore, of much more complex relational conceptions, and therefore, expressions.

However, the tiling pattern from which this new harmonic system is derived also informs many other aspects of Fool's Paradise, a work of what Hertz has dubbed "collaborative intermedia." And, imagining beyond our collaboration a still more diffuse authorial responsibility, I've been coming to think of the patterns themselves as partly the invention of Hertz, but also, by virtue of the strictures on their structures, partly "found objects." Of course, it is by virtue of those strictures— chosen or invented by Hertz—and by virtue of how Hertz realizes the resultant structures in patterns, and then how he interprets those patterns and their geographies, implicit and explicit, that those patterns become systems, and those systems become relationally meaningful—both within the several domains they inform, and between them: universes within which movement might reflect expression. However, my guess is that Ignotus, Hertz's alter-ego whom he is "at pains to represent.. as a genuine fraud," would find the hint of recursion in the structural strictures informing the design of the patterns themselves to be one of their most sympathetic features.

Composer Stephen Dembski, Professor of Composition at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has created an extensive catalog of orchestral, chamber, choral, solo instrumental, vocal, and electronic works, which have been performed internationally.