The versatile, thoughtful artist Arman left the world a glittering wealth of, among other marvelous things, resonant music sculpture.
One would be ashamed if not for the convenient excuses of ignorance and youth. I well remember coming across a rather (or so it seemed to me at the time) violent-looking example of a music sculpture by the artist who came to be known as Arman and feeling somewhat ill. The vision of destroyed musical instruments, no matter how ingeniously reconstructed and despite their eloquent resonance, was too much for a tender-aged violinist to absorb and appreciate. Objects capable of producing music — most emphatically those belonging to the stringed-instrument family —were, to my then uninstructed mind, meant to be kept whole, fit as fiddles at all costs, and not used for any other purpose than that for which (I believed) they had been intended. It was obvious to me that the instruments involved had not all been wrecked accidentally and then salvaged to be redirected. They definitely had been smashed to provide the raw materials for the music sculpture in my line of sight.
Discovering the music in music sculpture
Exposure to art in general and sculpture more particularly, an early love of poetry, and becoming more consciously aware of the underlying elements in music opened a narrow young mind to take in the message and melody emanating from Arman’s work. Nevertheless, I was stuck in a literal phase for quite some time: due to my overriding connection to the “body parts” utilized by the artist, I was unable to progress past emblematic interpretations until I had experienced a revelation or two in my musical development. Looking back, I am intrigued to note the near-parallels in artistic advancement and remark to myself, for the umpteenth time, that progress is uneven. I wonder how I managed before I was madly in love with this music sculpture in the way one does after finding a soul mate and being unable to recall one’s life previously.
From music to music sculpture and back again
Unexpectedly, I came into possession of a pile of cello bridges — part of an inheritance from a dear friend and colleague, one who played the cello magnificently well and who also brought the fine art of building celli to a personal, elevated height. These bridges, together with some other moving remnants from his atelier, were for more than a year impossible for me to look at; his passing was still too recent and painful a loss. When I finally was able to examine my treasures, I could see that some were examples from renowned makers; a few were respectful copies that had been carved as exercises and searching by my friend; and one was the result he had settled upon as his standard, with touching markings in pencil on one side. It occurred to me that the cello bridges were already a music sculpture without having anything further done to them, and so it remained until one day when I unpacked a newly-purchased electric blender. I lost interest in the machine immediately when I laid eyes on the packaging that had been protecting it: a lost Roman city made of cardboard, full of hills and valleys and just waiting for its bridges. I would not dare to go so far as to call the assemblage that ensued my homage to Arman, but I feel certain that the creation of my own music sculpture had been guided, in part, by all that looking and learning to perceive something of his spirit.