This weekend, the Nouveau Classical Project presents their latest installation, Mysterium Novum, at WhiteBox in New York City. Inspired by a project conceived of over a century ago by synesthetic composer Alexander Scriabin, Mysterium Novum pairs composer Paul Haas with visual artist and synesthesiac Anne Patterson to create a multi-sensory environment inspired by synesthesia. Paul and Anne kindly answered our 5 questions about Mysterium Novum.
How does Alexander Scriabin fit into Mysterium Novum?
Anne: Scriabin had a dream of creating this piece that would integrate our senses, for us to listen to beautiful music, see beautiful things… it was way ahead of its time, if you think about it. He even bought land in the Himalayas. I found it really inspirational that a fellow artist could dream so large to the extent that they even bought property to realize their artistic dream.
Paul: This monumental “almost-concert” was a huge inspiration to us on many levels. We initially thought about putting on the actual event he envisioned, but that kind of scale and timeline ended up being something we decided against, in favor of an embracing of the core idea of Scriabin’s vision: a personal, transformative, and even spiritual journey using all the senses. Even if all of the artistic contributions are very 2016, we consider the concert to be very much heir to Scriabin’s aspirations.
Anne, you have synesthesia. How does it inform your artistic process?
A: My form of synesthesia is with music: when I hear music I see colors and I see shapes. I use this deep connection I have with music in all of my work. I always paint to music and it has an impact on my process. For example, I listened to Paul’s music for Mysterium Novum and the sound is going to greatly influence the way we cut the ribbons in the space: the shape that the ribbons take directly correlate to the shapes I see in Paul’s music.
What was the working process like between the two of you and the Nouveau Classical Project?
A: It’s fabulous as always! This is the second collaboration I’ve embarked upon with Paul Haas. His music triggered many visuals in my mind as I listened to it. Figuring out logistical issues was amusing!
Working work with NCP was very inspirational as everyone was so young and talented! It was terrific to work with emerging artists who were so inspired. The organizational side of this project, which can often be a hindrance to this type of work, was not. NCP managed the logistical side of things so well that as an artist I felt we were able to keep the creative flow moving in realizing our creative vision of the project.
P: As always, it was a dream to work with Anne. She is highly sensitive and attuned to my creative process, and we’ve developed a good collaborative relationship over the last few years. Each of us is creating independently, but we share what we’re developing along the way, and her progress very much informs my own. Nouveau Classical has been highly enabling and responsive to my work, able to meet technical and administrative requests, organizing highly fruitful sessions with all of our collaborators and generally fostering a friendly space for the fermenting of ideas and aspirations.
Paul, as a non-synesthetic composer, how was it working on this project with Anne, who is a synesthetic visual artist? And vice versa.
A: What I find positive about working with someone without synesthesia is that I feel I can bring something very unique to the collaboration.
P: It’s impossible for me to think of any of the senses out of context, so in that way I very much contextualize my music in terms of tactile and visual associations. I’m almost always writing to capture and share sensory experiences of my own, after all. On the other hand, I don’t have classical synesthetic responses to music, where a given pitch or group of pitches always triggers a specific color. It’s always a joy to work with Anne – to see how her gifts transform my own offerings into visual realms I couldn’t even have imagined. I look at her synesthesia as a tool in her belt, but her artistic sensibility is what captivates me, her unerring ability to create whole and organic totalities, highly personal and seemingly inevitable.
Is there any chance that this installation will be taken on tour? Anywhere in mind?
A: We’re hoping to finally bring Scriabin’s vision to life! We’re doing a title search on his land in the Himalayas! ;)
P: Hollywood Bowl?
For more information, visit: http://www.nouveauclassical.org/calendar/2016/6/25/mysterium-novum-at-white-box.