Abstraction – Music in Response to Linear Construction No.1

Programme Notes

Composed in response to Linear Construction No.1 by Naum Gabo, Abstraction provides a setting in which one can view, explore, and reflect upon what the sculpture means to them. Designed to be played on a loop, Abstraction begins by establishing the space within the sculpture’s perspex frame, introducing the physical and imagined qualities of the nylon strings as individual and collective structures. As the piece progresses, the importance of perspective in the judgement of the art drives the music forward. Minute shifts in material encourages the development of a morphing feeling within the piece, reflecting the many angles that the artwork can be viewed from. As the climax of the music passes, a comprehensive and personalised judgement of the sculpture can be formed. This carries forward into a meditative-like state that rounds off the piece, in which you are encouraged to take in the whole artwork not just by itself but within the space of the Barber Gallery. 

Linear Construction No. 1 by Naum Gabo, c.1945-46.

Compositional Notes

From the moment I decided to draw inspiration from Gabo’s Linear Construction No.1, I knew that I wanted to create a piece that complements the visual experience of the sculpture. From my time around the artwork, I learned that the longer you explore the piece, the more you notice within it, with my own perceptions and judgements constantly evolving over time. Without understanding the sculpture to the extent required for this project, I think I would’ve taken it in quickly, in a limited sense, not giving it the time needed to fully embed it in my mind before passing judgement. This is why, in my work, I have focussed on creating a musical space that allows one to explore the sculpture in an environment that simultaneously guides the eye and leaves the viewer with the ability to interpret and understand the piece on their own terms.  

For me, successfully creating a space that enables this exploration can only happen with the careful creation and use of sound material. From the start of my compositional process, I was particularly set on using mainly synthesised sounds to reflect the abstract nature of Gabo’s work. As a result, within my piece, I have used two different types of sounds to represent and reflect upon the tangible and abstract nature of the sculpture and the differences between them.

Firstly, I created a set of “plucking” sounds to represent and bring to life the nylon strings in Gabo’s piece. To create these, I coded a mouse-controlled graphic user interface (GUI) in Supercollider to create a plucking noise, in which the area of the screen I clicked altered the produced pitch and resonance. In turn, this enabled me to have full control of the sounds I was creating, letting me not only create static sounds resemblant to the plucking of Gabo’s nylon strings, but also pitch-based phrases that follow the larger gestural contours of these strings. I also used the same GUI to record resonant background material, using this in the piece as textural material, altered over time using GRM plugins, to support the plucking gestures in a manner that creates a cohesive sound world.

Considering the characteristics of chosen sound materials thus far, I have created material that holds great similarity to focus on developing unitary space rather than structural change. However, in representing the abstract, negative space within the sculpture, I wanted to create material that highly contrasts yet is cohesive in nature. Using Supercollider again to synthesise sound, I coded a sine wave, using GRM plugins doppler and shuffling to create subtle movement that gives the seemingly static negative void in the centre of Gabo’s structure energy and life.

Thinking structurally about the piece, it is this sine-based material that encourages musical change. With the beginning focussing on the introduction of space and the concept of the nylon strings, the slow and steady introduction of this sine-based material leads the way to a highly contrasting meditative section of almost static music. Here, I would like to argue that the sculpture’s negative space is taking over, making the listener/viewer take a step back and see the sculpture for the first time as a whole, rather than its individual parts.

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Construction and Composition – Linear Construction in Space No.1 by Naum Gabo

Out of all the artworks in the gallery, it was this small sculpture by Naum Gabo that captured my eye and imagination unlike any other. Dissimilar to other sculptural works in the Barber Gallery, Linear Construction relies on form, rather than colour, to create beauty and evoke emotion. With mathematical inspiration, Gabo uses nylon strings contained within a Perspex frame to create symmetrical, sweeping visual gestures which interact harmoniously, interweaving to create an image of unity and strength that contrasts its fragile materials. In contrast to this, the negative space left by the artist has somewhat of an inability to speak, acting in a void-like manner in the very centre of the sculpture.  

Linear Construction in Space No.1 by Naum Gabo, 1942-43

Whether seeing Linear Construction for the first or fiftieth time, an individual, unique journey can be traced by the eye of the viewer, noticing, and moving between different lines and gestures in succession. As one begins to move around the sculpture perceptions and interpretations of the work evolve until eventually, an overall judgement can be made of the piece. It is this process of individual interpretation that I want to evoke in my own composition.

A focus on space and time similar as this was key to Gabo in the curation of Linear Construction. As a key proponent of the Russian Constructivist movement, Gabo was consumed by connections between object and time in his work, and how the combination of individual elements, in this case, strings, can contribute to a greater whole. Considering this historically, it is evident that Gabo desired to convey his own political opinions, upholding views of utopianism in socialism held by fellow constructivists during the period of the Russian revolution (1917-1923). Personally, although I am intending to convey a similar view on time and space to Gabo in my own composition, I am not leaning towards expressing a political view. Instead, I want to focus on how the individual perceives Linear Construction in a manner that reflects the importance of both the unit and the whole.

The real stuff of Gabo’s art is not in his physical materials, but his perception of space, time and movement

Gabo: The Constructive Idea – Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings, Monoprints

So far in my compositional process, I have begun creating sounds relating to the sculpture’s form through synthesis, programming a graphic user interface in Supercollider (an open-source software) to control pitch and timbre using my mouse. I have also done the same in a more percussive sound palette to create a mouse-controlled sound I have been calling ‘pluck’. From recording my mouse movements using these interfaces, I have created a collection of sounds that I have begun layering and editing to create a rough draft of my opening section that you can hear below.

If you are interested in the work and life of Naum Gabo and constructivism, further reading suggestions that I have found particularly interesting can be found below.

Christie’s. 2019. A Brief History of Constructivism. Available at https://www.christies.com/features/a-brief-history-of-constructivism-9811-1.aspx.

Newman, Teresa. 1976. The Constructive Process. London: Tate Gallery Publications.

Southbank Centre. 1987. Gabo: The Constructive Idea – Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings, Monoprints. London: The Southbank Centre

Tate Gallery 1987. Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism. London: Tate Gallery Publications.

The Arts Council of Great Britain. 1966. Naum Gabo: Constructions, Paintings, Drawings. London: The Arts Council of Great Britain.