Liz K. Miller is an artist who likes to blur the boundaries across visual art, music, performance and psychology. Her most recent works are interpretations of classical pieces of music following her own musical notation system, as she describes in the interview below. The works have been exhibited extensively, not only as works of visual art, but also used as scores for musicians to perform. Liz K. Miller recently won the Flourish Award for Excellence in Printmaking, as well as the Jackson’s Art Supplies Prize at the same exhibition.
Lisa: Can you tell us about the works that you entered into the Flourish Award?
Liz: My project, Circular Score, sits at the intersection of music, geometry, psychology and visual art. Three of the etchings from this series were exhibited in the Flourish Award 2017.
Circular Score is a musical notation system that I created for the Cello and Piano arrangement of Fratres by Arvo Pärt. Radius denotes pitch, circumference is time, and colour controls key signature. The disks both within and outside of the etched score depict the volume dynamics. Each time a musical motif repeats the score forms a new circle, producing diagrams that appear to have grown organically.
The score is performed and re-interpreted in collaborative events with musicians – recasting the role of the artist as not only the interpreter of the musical piece but also as the facilitator of new music: this has ranged from modernist piano improvisations to electronic sound-art compositions. I aim to provide my audience with a rich sensory experience, allowing them to visualize the geometric shapes of the music as they hear it, beguiling them through the bewitching symmetry of the repeated motif.
Lisa: Do anomalies within the patterns you find in music (or nature) frustrate or inspire you?
Liz: I love anomalies! Without them everything is generic and lifeless. I’m a huge fan of errors creating new directions and interesting solutions. I have two examples of this. The first is my use of the backs of etching plates. I always turn over etching plates and re-use them so that I can utilize all of the scratches and marks that were created ‘by accident’ during the creation of the first side of the plate. They are so beautiful and always unexpected. The second example is a performance of my work by the pianist Kit Armstrong in Berlin in 2015. Kit read my score so impressively that he spotted an error. He knew how Debussy had intended Clair de Lune to sound, and saw that my score did not match up on one particular note. It was incredible! We confessed this discovery to the audience before the performance and Kit agreed that playing my anomaly would be great fun. It was a really special moment.
Lisa: How do you select the pieces of music that you work with?
Liz: Selection of music usually comes from collaborations, commissions, or a discussion with a gallery. Whenever I begin working with a new musician or gallery they will generally have a favourite piece in mind that they want to perform or work with. Of course I have my own list – of which Phillip Glass is right at the top – but I may never get round to it, which in one way is sad, but in another I’m always thrilled that the work creates its own momentum and direction.
Lisa: How important is it to you that the concept behind your work is understood by viewers of it?
Liz: I want to draw the viewer in and intrigue them: at first sight I would like the images to be visually striking and from here a dialogue can begin about the content of the work.
I would like my audience to consider the seductiveness of cycles and repetitive patterns to the human condition – how they are ingrained in our psyche, seep into our being and are made manifest in our behaviour and our creations. Within my music maps I hope to illuminate our obsession with repetition by using music as an example.
The best way for my audience to experience the notation prints is at a live performance of the work. Two short films show performances of my work in London and Berlin from 2014 to 2017. They can be seen at: https://vimeo.com/user59505247
Lisa: Can you describe your use of colour in the works, and what role colour plays in your prints?
Liz: Within my Circular Score project I have, for the first time, used colour to think about key signature. Fratres, by Arvo Pärt, is composed in the A minor key: within the colour-as-key-signature system that I am developing, A minor is turquoise. Therefore every piece within the Circular Score series will be some variation of turquoise, modified slightly depending on the intensity of the music within that section.
Lisa: Your prints are very analytical….but do you consider there to also be an emotional side to your work, or does the emotion stay with the music and the performances?
Liz: Music elicits strong emotion. I enjoy the iterative process of playing a piece of music repeatedly in order to analyse its structure and form. I also gain great satisfaction from creating a visualisation for a piece of music that a customer or collaborator has chosen and seeing their enjoyment of the music, that has strong emotional connections for them, come to life in a new sensory experience. Emotion is a powerful word. Perhaps the most emotional aspect of the work is showing an audience something that I have poured myself into, and allowing them to judge it unconditionally. That is very emotional.
Lisa: How closely linked do you think visual art and music are?
Liz: They are linked in so many ways! For example artists inspired by music like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, visual graphic score by John Cage and Cornelius Cardew, or the ever increasing impact of sound arts. In current contemporary art practice the crossover of audio and visual are becoming ever more important, for example within the work of Ragnar Kjartansson.
Lisa: You’re currently studying on a research project at the Royal College of Art. Can you tell us a bit about what you intend to explore during your time there?
Liz: During my time at the RCA I want to move on from analysing music, to focus on the cyclical, repetitive patterns found in the natural world. I also want to consider humanity’s role in altering these delicate systems. The analysis of sound will continue into the new project, but the clean structure of music will be replaced with the messy challenge of visualising the sounds of the water cycle within forests.
Visual dissection and hand-drawn mapping of my sound recordings will remain key, as will the development of multiple images through the print process. And the ultimate aim is to be able to use the new mapping system in a performance or an event in which the experience of the audience generates further discussion about the themes of the project.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Exhibitions in 2017:
Mixing Signals group exhibition at Kobi & Teal Gallery in Frome (1 November – 23 December):
Up and coming in 2018:
I am currently preparing for a solo exhibition in 2018 at the Huddersfield Art Gallery. Keep an eye on my website for more details