Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Miriam Champer - January 9th, 2011


Last year I had the luck to observe my friend Lara working on a painting in her basement.  I know next to nothing about visual art or the processes involved in creating it and for some reason always assumed it to be a fairly linear process with the artist having more or less the final image in their mind before starting.  But in fact visual art can just as easily be *free* and exploratory.  The way Lara would continuously morph the painting was extremely interesting to me.  At several points it seemed like it was completely finished but she would then paint over a huge portion and go in a different direction entirely, constantly working on her palette to create new colors which she would incorporate throughout the piece.  See any parallels to music!?!  I came to realize that art can be just as much *performance* art as music and theater.  And furthermore, because I love combining different types of art, my mission for this session is to work on combining free painting and free musical improvisation into one cohesive piece.

The Racer presentation will consist of musicians (Chris Icasiano, Ivan Arteaga and myself) following the painter (Lara Kaminoff), who is entirely free to do what she wants.  We will have to follow her in style, aggressiveness, direction, etc. as best as we can interpret it as one unit.  She can also choose the degree to which she may be influenced by us when she pauses her painting.  Ivan and I will be further limited in terms of range according to what color Lara is painting with at any given moment.  How I decided to organize this is slightly nerdorific so I will attempt to be brief (not really) and feel free to skip if you don’t like eye-balls and brains.   :)

Unless you are color blind you have three types of cones in your retina.  These are the initial receptors that are activated by light coming into the eye.  Each type is activated at varying degrees depending on the wavelength (color) of light.  The overall pattern of activation sends info to the brain about what wavelength the light is.  There are short, medium, and long wavelength cones which are most sensitive to the short, middle or long wavelengths of the visible spectrum respectively.  The pattern of activation of these receptors is part of our process of perceiving colored light in the environment (remember colored objects just appear that way because they reflect a particular wavelength of light!!).  This is called the trichromatic theory of color vision.  Another important part of our color vision perception is the opponent process theory.  If you’ve ever done one of those illusions where you stare at a color and then look away at a white area and see a different color (the “opposite” color) then you have experienced successive color contrast which supports this theory.  There are opponent neurons in the visual cortex in your brain.  It gets way weirder as the brain sorts things out in its own freakish way which no one really understands yet, but basically we get opposite firings from these neurons to green vs. red and yellow vs. blue and this sorts things out more efficiently than the trichromatic theory process could alone.  And in conclusion, we have pretty awesome (compared to other mammals, but not as awesome as birds) color vision!  I know that this has nothing to do with free improv and you really don’t need to know any of it to absorb the piece, but I was so smitten by the whole visual process when I learned about it in a class last quarter that I wanted to in some way pay tribute to its beauty via music and to share that reasoning with you all.

I/Ivan will “musically represent” both of these processes.  First, I am chopping the clarinet up into low middle and high registers.  In clarinetty speak these are “chalumeau” “clarion” and “altissimo” aka first harmonic, third harmonic, fifth harmonic (clarinet skips every other harmonic).  When Lara paints in reds and yellows I will play in the high register which represents the response of the long wavelength cones to reds and yellows.  I will play in the middle register for green, which is in the middle of the spectrum (M cones) and blue/purple being at the low end of the visual spectrum (S cones) will correspond with my low register.  Ivan’s playing represents the opponent process happening in the visual cortex.  We have also divided the saxophone into low, middle, and high registers which are approximately equal. Lara using blue and thus my using the low register will cue Ivan to play in his high register (yellow, opposite of blue).  And vice-versa.  Lara using red and thus my using the high register will cue Ivan to play in the middle register (green).  And vice-versa.  So because yellow and red both correspond with the high range of clarinet there will not be a completely straightforward “musical opposite” and instead we are representing the color opposites (red/green opponency and yellow/blue opponency).  I realize that this gets totally fuzzy as Lara blends colors and we get in-between colors so we shall approximate as best we can.  Lastly, if Lara uses white we can play in any range we like (white light is all colors mixed) and if she uses black we are to not use pitch.


The rest of the session will be free BUT I would encourage any artists or artist/musicians or just anyone who enjoys doing anything visual-arty to join in for some of the pieces and communicate with the musicians through their art!!!  Also it might be fun to experiment with some of the other ideas from the presentation (leader/followers/opposites) if you so desire.

((pretty please participate artists, I know you’re out there!!!!!!!!!!))


Thanks, love you all!!!

-Miriam “Chomper” Champer