I recently visited the curiously named (In the Days of the Comet) seventh British Art Show at the Hayward Gallery, open in London until 17th April before moving on to Glasgow. My favourite piece in the exhibition was the captivating twenty-four hour video work The Clock by Christian Marclay. Sadly, the real-time sequence of timepieces made up of films clips was completely unrelated to my own research. However, like many people I could have sat an watched the disparate snippets of narrative enacting the passage of time for hours.
My second favourite piece in the show was also a video piece, A Grammar for Listening by Luke Fowler and Lee Patterson. While watching the piece, which was in several parts, it occurred to me that colour has many qualities that are comparable to sound. Sound, like light travels in waves, of a fixed speed, although sound waves are many, many times slower. Like light the brain receives the waves through receptors in one of our sensory organs and is then able to interpret them as sounds. Just as the human eye is only able to see a certain section of the electromagnetic spectrum as visible light, the human ear can only hear a limited band of frequencies in comparison with other animals.
If a tree falls in a forest, it falls silently if there is no-one there to hear it. If the vibrations are not received by an ear and transmitted to vibrations on an ear drum, to be interpreted by the brain then the event will never be heard. This can be compared to the way humans see colour, the human eye has evolved to be able to interpret the different waves of light being reflected from objects as colour through the rods and cones in the back of our eyes. The red in a tomato, is not in the tomato, but in the light bouncing back off it.
We are also able to reproduce sound, through recording in a similar way we are able to reproduce colour through printing. As with colour reproduction across different devices, such as screens, scanners, cameras and printers, issues of consistency and quality arise in the reproduction and amplification of sound across different formats and equipment.
And although, like sounds, colours can be used in combination to create harmonies, as humans, we lack a means to produce our own array of colours in the way our voices can create sound.