If there’s one thing Beethoven is known for, it’s the use of subtle instrumentation between his enormous thematic sections. This is where the virtuosity of the players and soloists truly shines, as the music gently reinstates a theme or transitions into a new key or melodic mode. The technique of the players is left to the individual, and the results are interpretations that are original and unique.
Western music notation includes a number of symbols known as ornaments that are used to designate a series of quickly played related notes. In many ways, these tiny motifs define the scale and mode of the piece, and are ingeniously used by Beethoven and other composers as a way of establishing a change in a work, by hinting at a key or scale.
The most familiar of these ornaments is the trill, two notes quickly modulating between one another like the call of a canary or sparrow. A turn consists of one note above, then one note below, resolving to the original note and implying almost half of a seven note scale. The mordent is a quick single trill note, either above or below the original note, and is derived from the Latin mordere (to bite).
These are not musical phrases that represent fully defined melodies or themes, but the way they are played can create significant emotion and impact. Indian classical music is well known for its use of ornament and includes several ways to sing the same note of the scale, thus defining the mood and meaning of a raga or melodic structure.
I have personally found that Beethoven’s use of ornamentation, and the embellishments played during the quieter sections of his orchestral works, seem to get stuck in the memory very easily. Sometimes I think of an instrumental phrase during the slow sections between expositional material, and I am fascinated by how easily it can be recalled. I believe humans are hardwired to recognize complex phrases of a certain length and that these are the basis of verbal communication and language.
After spending significant time locating a number of interesting phrases in the orchestral work of Beethoven, I processed the material through a series of audio equalizers that would slowly reveal different layers of the audio spectrum using sine waves to gradually change the frequency. I then created a series of videos called Bonn which are slow moving panoramic views of Beethoven’s birthplace Bonn, Germany using time displacement. Like watching the clouds roll by on a summer day, the eight minute soundtracks slowly emerge and reveal themselves in much the same way as the fragmented imagery. It is worthy as an installation on the wall of a modern gallery.
Not for the impatient or those with a short attention span, Bonn is a relaxing, meditative experience that interprets time and space in an alternate way, thus changing how we perceive the world and providing enhanced insight.