Beyond the Score: Jorinde Voigt at the ROM

On June 9th, the third floor gallery of the Royal Ontario Museum became the museum’s sanctuary  — silent and dark,  Jorinde Voigt’s “Beethoven: 1-32” illuminated the room like a sacred shrine.

Voigt’s visual exploration of  Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas accompanied Stewart Goodyear’s performance of the sonatas as part of Toronto’s Luminato Festival. Questioning whether the temporal experience of music can be translated into a tactile medium, “Beethoven: 1-32” attempts to travel beyond the flatness and silence of the score into an a visual experience as moving as the original.

For the exhibition, Voight created 32 drawings that trace the experience of listening to each sonata. The artist describes the work as more of a  “philosophical mind-maps” than a direct “representation” of Beethoven’s sonatas. Each drawing is as much a trace of the idea of music as it is a trace of all of the contingencies and structures that form each musical piece. 


Like each sonata, each of Voigt’s drawings has its “internal center” or “compass” from which all the dynamics and the intonations of the sonatas flow. Individual lines representing the intonations and dynamics of each piece flow as free-hand lines away from a thicker, central line. A forte, for example, might be represented with a longer, dominant line, a sforzando with a shorter, darker trace. The artist spoke about how each line was drawn free-hand and intuitively as she listened to each sonata.  The result is a trail of what would otherwise be called “melody.” Furthermore, each of Voigt’s “sonatas” have 2 or 3 sets of dynamics that sprout from the internal center which suggest the multiple movements in Beethoven’s sonatas.

The artist also spoke about the “external centers” of the piece — 2 or 3 less dominant lines separated from the internal center of each drawing — that suggest the external factors or reference points that, while unheard, make up part of the composition. Voigt points to external factors such as geography, or social factors, or factors such as the mood and demeanor of the composer when creating the work.

Similarily, the “beat” of the music is entirely separated from the lines and axis of the melody and internal center. Red squares and black notations toward the bottom of the page suggest a map’s legend thus further suggesting that a composition is grounded in its rhythm.

Does Voigt’s work succeed, then, at mapping Beethoven’s music? Can sound and time be translated back onto paper while creating its own aesthetic experience? Like lost maps, letters or music, one is intrigued and puzzled by her new system of translation.  Whether or not we can interpret her philosophical map, one certainly can, as with Beethoven’s work, enjoy the playful, puzzling lines, dazzling patterns, and melancholy design of her attempt.


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