Liminal Space, the Prepared Piano and Indeterminacy – a Quick Note to Myself and Anybody Reading

The subject of this blog was inspired in part by the Liminal States & Thresholds for Change series of artworks by Turtle Moon Impressions blogger Janis Doucette.

Liminal space is that threshold space which is between one state of being and another. It is a necessary aspect of rites of passage. Emotions in the liminal space probably range from curious but anxious to terrified. Artists are regularly in liminal space. They are regularly between one state of being and another. I can’t imagine being happy to be in liminal space.

Or can I? The image on the left is one from a recent set of eco prints from a process I’m trying to develop. It is nothing but a few leaves and stalks, in reality.

There is however another reality that compels me to this image. It is an image of a past landscape yet to be reached. Yes, I know that’s contradictory. It is about a future place that is a return to a certain past. More contradiction. So as my own onlooker I’m standing in liminal space looking across at a place that is familiar to me that I’ve never been before. Contradiction three.

I’m reminded of Schumann’s (1810-1856) Leiderkreis (which I’ve had a go at singing). Here’s a bit of a translation of the lyrics to the opening song of the cycle. The cycle is set to a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff.

In der Fremde (In a Foreign Land)*
Joseph von Eichendorff  (1788-1857)

From my homeland, …,
The clouds come drifting in,
But …,
Now no one knows me there.

My favourite song from the Leiderkreis cycle is the fifth: Mondnacht. Expressed in both poem and musical composition is a liminal state. (It’s also the most difficult in the cycle to sing, in my not-so-humble opinion). Here’s a translation of the last verse of Mondnacht:

Mondnacht (Moonlit Night)*

And my soul spread
Her wings out wide,
Flew across the silent land,
As though flying home.

These sentiments echo the sentiments expressed in my third paragraph above. About how I feel when looking out over, from my liminal space, a new landscape that is yet strangely home. And know this landscape can only be mapped poetically, which prospect makes me, yes, happy. Because I know that the only true map of a place is the poetic one.

I’m reminded also of the work of the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). He advised the painter, ” … close your bodily eye so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye.”

What has all this to do with …”the Prepared Piano and Indeterminacy”?”

The prepared piano is generally considered to have been the development of John Cage. It is a piano which has had objects (preparations) placed on or between the piano’s strings. This results in these strings, when the key is struck, producing a sound that is unexpected. In some cases, a sound will not repeat when the same key is struck again, depending on whether the pedal is used. (Bit woolly on that, look it up for yourself).

Is it that the listener (not having prepared ears?) will not hear what he/she is expecting? Will it therefore be indeterminate, holding our listener forever in liminal space? Maybe unresolved would be a better word to use. Whether indeterminate and unresolved can be termed parallels in Indeterminacy is a different argument.

Please feel free to argue with me. I know very little about music composition. I’ve just moved from that particular liminal space to begin studying it. Is there a Music Composition for Dummies?  Yes, there is and it’s too advanced for me. And so I’m starting here: The Art of Composing. While reading Music Theory for Dummies, which is not too advanced for me.

And I want to study these things in part because the principles of music theory and music composition are the same as those of visual art. For instance, silence in music becomes space in the visual arts.

Is your artwork inspired by music theory and composition?  I’d like to know.

Not a very quick note, then. That’ll teach me a lesson for hanging out with German Romantics.

* Translations by Richard Stokes, co-author with Dr Ian Bostridge of The Book of Lieder

About AnnIsikArts

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16 Responses to Liminal Space, the Prepared Piano and Indeterminacy – a Quick Note to Myself and Anybody Reading

  1. Pingback: Another Journey Shared

  2. Suzanne says:

    Hi, don’t know if this helps. I have just finished reading “What artists do” by Leonard Koren. He writes about John Cage and his four minutes of silence piano composition. Koren regards this work as conceptual and places it within the context of visual conceptual art that was being produced at the same time. I’m not familiar with the piano work you mention but would imagine the ideas behind are very similar to those behind the four minutes of silence piece.

    It’s an interesting idea to consider that conceptual art is endeavouring to take the viewer (or listener) into liminal space. Personally I think that sometimes it works to do that, other times it just confuses.

    I’m a long time fan of Casper David Friedrich too. So many of his paintings do present us with liminal spaces. “The Monk and the Sea” does it brilliantly. Some of the ones where the human figure is the dominant element in the picture don’t work so well for me. These days, with our growing ecological awareness, they often suggest ideas about human dominance of the environment. Both patriarchy and colonialism seem to be implied.

    I love your little eco printing landscape. It reminds me of Chinese ink brush painting – particularly the work of the ‘mad monk’ Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) – now there’s an artist who painted liminal space.

    I’ve no idea if this where your thinking is going but it’s great to have such a conversation on the blogs. 🙂


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      Thanks for taking so much time on me. You’ve given me such an intellectual meal to feast upon here. I’d not heard of Leonard Koren and will definitely be taking a ‘poetic walk’ with him. I’m not generally a fan of conceptual art where it is expressing something belonging merely to contemporary politics and ‘…isms’. And in doing so, also, eschews aesthetics. In a way, much art except for the ‘purest’ abstract, is conceptual. And can’t avoid being part of its political environment. Actually, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as conceptual art, or maybe I don’t understand it. My sole interest in any process is the spiritual. On Friedrich, I identify very much with his ‘solitary figure in the landscape’ at a purely personal level; but it is true that ‘no man is an island’ and ‘woman’ of course, but always too, inserted into a social environment. Like a cut-out cardboard figure placed on a particular stage. Yes, I am a big fan of Chinese, and Japanese landscape painting. I hadn’t heard of your ‘mad monk’ but am delighted to have been introduced to him. I shall feast on him too (in the non-cannibalistic sense). I do have a book about the ‘eccentric painters of Yangzhou’ and have just read that they were inspired by the ‘mad monk’. John Cage’s work came to be inspired by eastern and zen religions. I have been looking at ‘where my thinking might go’ in respect of this development and you’ve opened up some new, and some known but forgotten avenues. Thank you so much in that. Ann


      • Suzanne says:

        Leonard Koren wrote a book for “Wabi Sabi for artists” It sounds fascinating but I haven’t read it yet.
        I can’t understand conceptual art either though it’s interesting to learn John Cage was influenced by Zen. That makes sense now that I think about it. I like that you are interested in the spiritual in art. That’s very much what motivates me too. I look forward to seeing where your investigations take you next. Suzanne


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        I have Koren’s book on art and artists in my Amazon basket. It will have to wait a while. I would like to read all of his work eventually, apart from the ‘Wet’ magazines. I can skip that!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Suzanne says:

        Sounds like you know more about him than I do. I want to read the wabi sabi book but will have to leave purchase for a while too.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        Yes, buying books in my case at any rate is probably a symptom of mental illness.


  3. Great post! As you know, I’m still in and out of existence in my own Liminal State. I’m quite sure that more will come…….


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      Hi, Janis. Thank you for writing. And you reminded me that while it was YOUR work that was the first inspiration for my blog, I hadn’t acknowledged that in my blog. I hate doing that to people and I’ve now added such acknowledgement at the beginning. I was particularly drawn to the work in which you seem to have added a doorway – lintel and two doorposts at least – and it reminded me of the work of the painter Winifred Nicholson, especially her ‘prismatic paintings’ in which she is (my observation) painting light rather than objects. I meant to leave a comment to that effect but I think I got carried away by my blog and then forgot afterwards.


  4. … until this post! The image of the previous post clearly (to me) is a visual rendering of the liminal space you talk about here. The dense and abstract image in the previous post to the figurative spaces (silences) in the image of this post – from John Cage, the conceptualist to the German Romantics. love it. Of course I agree the two disciplines, music and visual arts, have a lot in common. So between music and writing. Compositional elements are becoming more marked in your eco-printing journey.


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      I never thought I’d have to apologise for writing a too-short blog! (Your complaint about my previous blog). I’ve so laughed about that! Anyway, first off: I’ve missed you in my self-inflicted blogging exile. And it’s nice to be in contact again. I’ve popped in on your poetry from time to time. On the long/short blogs. The long ‘poetic walks’ are intellectually exhausting so I’m trying to pace myself by alternating them with short ones. By the way, a walk through one of your poems is also exhausting, it’s like hacking my way through a bramble-tangled wood, though I always enjoy these forays, and of course, the wood and bramble relate to the state of my mind and not your poetry. Thanks for the constructive comments and yes, I’m trying to move from ‘making vocabulary’ into stringing it together to make sentences and concepts. The abstraction of music is helping enormously in this. The idea that a mark on a page translates instantly into a sound. And a series of marks, into a melody. Music and poetry – the poetry of the haiku kind – parallel each other. Your poetry inspires my art. 🙂


      • It means I must be getting better at what I’m doing if someone of your stature likens my poetry to a bramble-tangled wood. Inspiring! I’ll get right back to it. Love your work Ann. Always has. Glad to see you around from time to time. No pressure. As and when it’s appropriate – for you! Much love.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        No! It is not your poetry that is the bramble-tangled wood. It’s my ability to understand it. And as to my stature, good God (or whatever), I am a dwarf. I can hear the hysterical laughter of the intelligentsia at your idea. It’s just that I know you aren’t shallow and so, neither will be your poetry. I’ve recently been directed towards the poetry of Mary Oliver, by the way. And reminded how much I like it. Anyway, see you ‘around’ as they say.


      • I’m about to read her (to study). Be well.

        Liked by 1 person

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