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Ganjue Zhui Time

“Looking at a Zhou Brothers painting is like drinking water from a well. The well is deep, as deep and true as human experience itself.”

I walked into the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood for the first time a little more than six years ago for what I thought would be a routine gig evening but that instead led to lasting inspiration.

ACM was performing in one of their galleries as part of an open studio event and I was running late because I had hit an incredible traffic jam on the way down, apparently caused not by any external factor but instead by a kind of collective stupidity, a powerful will-to-delay that would not be ignored.

So I was flustered and annoyed and completely oblivious of my surroundings when I walked in the front door and started looking around for the elevator, and I looked up and saw this gigantic painting that caused me to stop in my tracks and forget all of the petty things I had just been thinking about a certain timid driver behind the wheel of a vehicle laughably named Intrepid.

In front of me was this gigantic oil painting with a color scheme so rich you felt you could fall right into it.  It had a clear composition but was an abstract painting. The inspiration was primordial, an ancient cave painting perhaps, but unlike any cave painting I had ever seen.  It was altogether something completely new in my experience. It was a painting by the Zhou Brothers called Life.

I found out later that the Zhou Brothers work on their paintings in tandem, communicating in real time in what they call a “dream dialogue.”  Because they frequently host live painting events it’s possible to see this in action and it really is quite freaky to watch.  Two guys move around a giant canvas climbing on ladders, never saying a word, making what appear to be random brush strokes that are actually part of a meticulous creation though unplanned in advance.  It’s a form of magic.

Chinese art critics have labeled their approach to painting “Ganjue Zhui” which not surprisingly doesn’t translate very well but which sort of means Feeling-ism or Intuition-ism.  It’s similar I suppose to the Zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind in that they start from a tabula rasa, but in this case there are two minds communicating the same vision at the same time.

I made my way to the fourth floor and we played our show, (which consisted primarily of a new work we had commissioned from sound artist Ben Vida called Liminal Bends that played with electro-acoustical properties in a way that continually tricked the ear so that throughout the piece you were never quite sure what you here hearing,) and then I spent the rest of the night wandering the galleries enthralled by these curious, wonderful paintings.  I decided that night that I would write music inspired by them.

I took pictures of the paintings in the art center and went online and looked at dozens more and finally chose three that I would “set” to music.  I wrote the gallery and requested permission and was very happy to hear that not only were the Zhou’s up for letting me do this but that they wanted the piece to be premiered in the gallery in front of the paintings.

The paintings I chose were Life, the first one I had encountered, Open My Door and Group Dance. I tried to avoid conscious thought as much as possible in writing the music and to adopt a version of Ganjue Zhui so that the music could be free of any distracting surface thoughts.  All three pieces came quickly and were performed a few months later for the first time at the Zhou B. Center with the paintings looking on inscrutably.

“Three for Zhou B.” as I called the piece has been one of my more successful pieces and was performed several times but inevitably I moved on to other projects and so I was very excited when the wonderful chamber group Picosa said that they were going to perform all three movements on an upcoming concert on October 10.

Below are the paintings and links to the music.  Take a break from our mind-numbing day to day reality and head back in time to a primordial past created by two artists who communicate telepathically.

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