Harmony of wind
The first time I came across the phenomenon of an Aeolian harp I was just a lively and mischievous kid, perky and excited to wander around my grandfather’s secluded ranch in Fremont County, just a few hours’ ride from Denver, Colorado.
This wonderful natural surrounding, with the Greenhorn Mountains in the background, home to mountain lions, elk, bears and mule deer, along with the spring of Arkansas River, is where my grandfather taught me how to fly fish rainbow trout. It is the picturesque, dreamy nest I come back to every summer.
It is also the very place where I learned to enjoy the silence and the stilly murmur of old oak, pine and cedar leaves. But my grandfather, who at that time made use of a walking stick due to his diabetes problem, and for the same reason was partially sighted, began to teach me how to appreciate the sounds of nature on a completely new level. He was a convinced transcendentalist and had a bookshelf packed with books by the likes of Thoreau and Emerson.
One day he was in a particularly good mood. He said he was going to share something extraordinary with me. I was sitting at my favorite place, on a porch swing bed, soaking in the dazzling view of the valley and the surrounding mountains, when he came out of the house with a box. My first guess was that it was a box with a handgun or a knife, but he took out a strange device – two pieces of wood with strings in the middle, attached upright. He said that it was an Aeolian harp with strings made of catgut, all tuned in unison.
The fact that my grandfather knew how to play anything else but the harmonica amazed me. However, as soon as he placed the harp on the table and the melodious humming in a slightly subdued tone spontaneously started, I realized that he was not going to play it. “This instrument is played by the wind“, he said, ”You can hear the music of the wind before sunrise and at dusk, when a light breeze comes down from the mountains“.
Next, he started reading his favorite pieces of poetry to me with a wholly new accent in the choice of topics. Sadly, I can only remember a few lines, “The stilly murmur of the distant sea” from Coleridge’s “Eolian Harp“ and ”For Virtue still adventures there, and freely breathes her native air“ from Thoreau’s “Rumors from an Aeolian Harp“.
Many years later, when I was studying at the UCLA Department of Music, I once again stumbled upon the Aeolian harp. We were listening to some melody composed by Henry Cowell, a well-known American modernist, when a professor played some parts on his piano from a composition called “Aeolian Harp”. Instead of the usual finger tapping on the keyboard, playing an Aeolian harp involves a string-piano technique – a practice of plucking and sweeping the strings inside the piano box.
These very memories inspired the fractal series ”Aeolian Rhapsody”. Besides Turner’s ”Thomson’s Aeolian Harp,“ with its pastoral scenery, or Paul Klee’s surreal ”Aeolian Harp“, I wasn’t familiar with any other similar achievement regarding the topic in the realm of painting. On the other hand, I had a whole specter of abstract and figural painters, and even photographers as an inspiration.
Kandinsky inspired me to create “Festival of Light“, “Syncopations” and “Floral Dance.“ The dark landscapes of James Whistler and gloomy photographs of Alfred Stieglitz initiated “Nocturno.” Lyonel Feininger’s antique brass, camel and chamois palette influenced “Counterpoint.“ Frantisek Kupka motivated me to make “Localization of Graphic Motifs II“ and “Study for Around the Points“. While my picture “Web of Vanity,“ is in a way antipodal point to my Aeolian harp experience – a simple, natural and nourishing life.
“Strange Flight“ and “Over Exposed“ are pieces done in a fractal technique called strange attractor, while “Dance of Aeolus“ includes a touch of surrealism. Nevertheless, the picture that was most successful and the most highly praised by critics, was “Aeolian Harp“. There, I merged an impressionistic play of light, with the lines and shapes, the strings and enchanting ethereal breezy factures found in Agnes Martin’s pictures.