In early 1984 I wrote a piece called Winter Trees for three female voices, alto saxophone, bassoon and cello.  The piece is based on a poem by Sylvia Plath, and the vowels from the poem are used to orchestrate the music, providing an array of resonating spectral elements for each pitch.  The voices sing without vibrato. and the voices and instruments often alternate within a narrow frequency range of each other, creating a constant yet continuously changing series of interference patterns.  The poem is integrated with the music in such a way that the ear moves freely from sound to meaning, focusing at times on a single line, following a thread of meaning as it slips from voice to voice and, at other times, allowing the assonances and dissonances to wash through it as the voices become submerged in the overall texture.  The text provides a lexicon of language sounds, as well as a thread of meaning.  The overall shape of the piece is an evolution from a single spectral strand into a continuously changing stream of vowels, percussive vocal sounds and spoken and sung text.

During the time I was working on Winter Trees I was becoming more and more interested in physics and acoustics and the implications of recent scientific discoveries for sound and music.  I wandered into a small art gallery in Vancouver one afternoon and spent hours with an installation piece that forever changed my way of perceiving things and resolved some of my fundamental questions about the relationship of science and art.


 Catharine McTavish’s work Night Vision #14:  Stars in the Eyes—A Landscape (Fig.1, Color Plate A, No.1) is one side of an installation piece called Both Sides [3].  The work is an 8 x 12-ft. canvas that hangs from a rod in the centre of a white room and consists of microscopic points of acrylic paint that are meticulously structured to create a dazzling, web-like patterning.  The work is a landscape—an image of Vancouver Harbour with the ocean, mountains and sky representing the elements earth, air and water.  The visual distinctions between elements are the result of varying degrees of density of the patterning.  The web-like patterning is based on a synthesis of optical patterns and subjective observation.  McTavish integrated her subjective observation of the visual field around the dimmest star in a night sky with interference patterns found in optical patterns in holography, the Fibonacci number series, cell patterns, light physics and colour perception.  The painting contains the entire colour spectrum arranged in a detailed pattern that creates an impression of movement.  From a distance the surface of the painting shimmers with silver, pale pink and blue.  The entire colour range is perceived only from a close perspective.  The painting takes the path of working with detailed patterning based on physics much further that I had imagined possible.  It’s complex yet visually intoxicating use of interference patterns and colour perception conveys a very deep understanding of the materials of colour and light.