Meditations on a Theme by J.S. Bach
Late last year I found myself repeatedly listening to the music of J.S. Bach while I was working in my studio. The two pieces I just could not seem to get enough of were both collections of brief keyboard compositions: The Well Tempered Klavier and The Goldberg Variations. I played these over and over again. I listened to versions by Angela Hewitt, Wilhelm Kempff, Murray Perahia, Andreas Schiff, and of course, the inimitable Glen Gould. Having both the famous Gould recording of The Goldberg Variations from 1955 and his later recording from the 1980s, I was fascinated with the subtle differences between the two works.
My recording of Gould's later version of The Goldberg Variations included an interview with the pianist in which he discussed some of the structures of the piece as a whole. I found myself somewhat enthralled with the idea of constructing a grand piece of art from a collection of smaller individual pieces which nevertheless acted as a series of variations upon a single theme. I was further inspired by my readings upon Bach's contrapunctal compositions, especially as found in Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, and Bach. While my earlier collage suites had a sort of unity as the result of a common range of colors and materials, what I envisioned now was a suite in which a single theme or motif would be far more rigorously adhered to.
The echo of the formal structure of Bach's music was not to be the end-all of these works. I was not out to merely create a series of variations merely as a sort of formal experiment. I have never been anything approaching a pure formalist. Bach's almost mathematical structures conveyed something quite spiritual... rather like the repetitive forms in a Gothic cathedral or an eastern mandala. I knew that my motif would need to be somewhat geometric... architectural in structure. At the same time... I imagined the works as a sort of fragile paper architecture/cathedral... the perfect metaphor for the fragile spirituality of our time. Abandonning the dramatic colors and contrasts of my earlier collage suites, I sought a somewhat blanched look... the papers suggesting a ghost image or shroud of what once was.
The first of these collages (No. 7 above) were quite minimal. Just a few letters... a simple structure... a little bit of something off-balance... a bit of a stain. Some later pieces employed images... old lithographs or steel engravings from Victorian era books... but often shrouded in semi-transluscent tissue paper and/or turned topsy-turvey in order to avoid too much of a focus upon the image:
"No. 106" and
After nearly 50 individual collages which followed the main motif to a greater or lesser extent... I decided to prsent myself with the challenge of creating a body or group of collages in which the initial motif would be followed in an extremely rigorous manner. At the same time, I began to inject an element of dissonance or disjointedness into the compositions:
"No. 150" and
By the end of this suite the final works had taken on an absolutely "Baroque" quality... becoming more and more ornate and complex...
"No. 163" and