By Lisa Kinoshita
With its multi-layered, whirlwind composition and light show of deep, pulsating colors, “The Music Box”, a new installation by Becky Frehse on view at the Woolworth Windows, is a feast for the senses. So strong are the visual dynamics of this artistic arrangement, that although it has no sound component, it still owns a gorgeous musicality that the title infers.
Looking at this multimedia installation brings to mind the neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia, a condition in which certain objects or symbols perceived in the ordinary sense are also recognized with a secondary sense, or are assigned a different kind of perceptual “highlighting”. For instance, a person with “color-movement synesthesia” may experience color and movement in correspondence with the sound of musical tones. Those with “color-graphemic synesthesia” experience numbers or letters in specific colors. Other synesthetes perceive explosions of color triggered by voices, and so on. Artists who are also synesthetes (Vassily Kandinsky was one) often report that their work is enriched by their condition.
Becky Frehse may or may not be a synesthete, but “The Music Box” (which she describes as an assemblage 0f musical instruments “exhibited together as an ensemble piece”) whirls with a musical lyricism. Instruments such as a white violin, an orange/red guitar, a piano, and a Chinese instrument called a Yue Qin, all vibrate together with a colorful intensity.
Frehse says the pulsating light design, by Forrest Rumbaugh, “came about as I envisioned ways to activate the window space with more ‘musical’ notions such as tempo, dynamics [and] rhythm,” while also spotlighting the dramatically impastoed and painted surfaces. “I talk to my husband, Greg Youtz, a lot about musical ideas as he is a classical composer… Composers use the word ‘color’ to describe a variety of sounds-tones-instrumentations working together throughout a piece…I don’t think that color has the same meaning in painting – although I am very interested in the shared concept of ‘pitch’ that I think every painting has overall.”
“The Music Box” brims with visual delights. Meaning can be teased out from elements within the two-window installation: A large painting in one window is called ‘Learning to Read Music’. The violin piece on the branch next to it is ‘Caprice’. Amidst the sheet music carpeting the floor is a charming sculpted bird (made by Phoenix artist Jane Kelsey-Mapel, a frequent collaborator) that pecks at a typewriter typing music; this is “The Composer”, naturally…