Milan Grygar: The Picture of the Sound and the Sound of the Picture

By Larvova, Hana | Czech Music, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Milan Grygar: The Picture of the Sound and the Sound of the Picture


Larvova, Hana, Czech Music


The work of Milan Grygar (born 1926) involves an original conception, unique in Czech art, of the relationship between picture, sound and space. It resists established classifications in terms of style or generation, and shows closer links with the ideas of art circles elsewhere in Europe and in the USA than with the domestic scene.

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Milan Grygar first had a significant impact on the development of Czech art back in the mid-sixties with a specific concept of the relation between visual art and music. This concept led him to combine the realisation of visual art work with the phenomenon of sound and its existence in space. On this basis in the course of the following years he was to take his own solitary and entirely original path of development, one that in a highly individual way crossed or at least touched aspects of the work of the post-war avant-garde in Europe and America. In the interpretation of Gyrgar's works we cannot help but see certain links or parallels with the musical principles and art realisations of John Cage, for example, and in [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] mode of musical transcription of certain drawings and scores there are links with the principles of serial music, or--from outside the art or musical field--even with some forms of experimental poetry.

The art of Milan Grygar is many layered. His conception has a fixed, rational order determined by the principles of geometry and its structures. Within this order Grygar strives for the authentic formulation of a purely autonomous work that is not itself a depiction of anything and itself becomes a source of meaning. He thinks it out on the basis of systematic exploration of the mutual determinants of the acoustic and visual image. By integrating sound with line in the unity of space and time Grygar creates bonds that he then modifies into different, often very contrasting relational analogies.

This conception was preceded, in Grygar's early work of the fifties, by an interest in the tradition of modern painting defined by cubism and abstraction. Soon, however, he began to focus in his paintings on the composition and structure of the individual coloured surfaces, and in 1963 this line of development culminated in compositions of a geometrically abstract type in the form of colour structures of abstracted signs.

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At this stage Milan Grygar concentrated on drawing, and it was systematic work with this medium, and emphasis on its character as process and elemental creative gesture, that led him to an interest in the phenomenon of sound. He was looking for a form of drawing that would enable him to express the presence of sound in the picture. A solution occurred to him more or less by chance--while drawing he realised that the process actually had a dimension of sound in the sense of being audible. He pressed on, exploring ways of how to integrate the sound into the realisation of the work on a permanent basis.

In 1965 Grygar created his first acoustic drawings, with sound incorporated into their realisation. To confirm the presence of sound, it needed to be reproducible. Grygar therefore recorded the process of the making of the drawing on tape. The newly defined two-dimensional acoustic-visual form of drawing gave it the new dimension of sound-time. The sound recording became the equivalent of the drawing in temporal correspondence with the process of its making, and so became the "reading of the drawing aloud". Synchronic perception was no longer a condition, since the two elements could exist independently of each other. Grygar used unconventional means of drawing: a wire comb, slivers of wood, a metal box and other objects. Using these he created black-and-white structures of geometrical type, which could be differently arranged on a surface to produce innumerable variations on a composition always based on strong visual contrast between the graphic signs. …

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