by Luping (Robyn) Xu
Music and Art share similar principles, balance, rhythm, dialogue, intensity, unity, etc. They use universal artistic language to transmit a variety of feelings, emotions and ideas. In my improvisation, Natural Magic, I turn a suite of drawings painted by Karl Stephan into music. I was first introduced to Karl Stephan, artist and educator based in Cambridge, MA, as a guest lecturer in our 2020 Power of Art class. I am very happy to have had the experience to collaborate with him.
“Natural Magic” is an exploration of the intersection between na-ure, art and music. After Karl and I chose the title, we found an early book of science with the same title: “Magia Naturalis” by Giambattista della Porta. This Renaissance era work contains lots of information we now know is wrong however, like our work, it is an “early exploration.” Just like della Porta, we realize that the “magic” power of art and music is not something we fully understand.
Karl’s artwork moves past culture and representation and more toward things that tie us together like music. For him, humans are more similar than they are different but we separate ourselves in a million ways. Art and music are part of the energy of the universe that tie everything together. Like musical sound, these paintings are intended to project that universal energy.
The music is interpreted by the liberal use of improvisation on the piano, like the imitation of a variety of natural and instrumental sounds by using pentatonic scales, whole tone scales, tone clusters, glissando (with/without notes), etc. For me, the most interesting discovery is that each time I play the music it comes out totally different. Everything depends on what comes out in my
mind at the moment. So, if you ask me to play again, that definitely sounds like a new piece!