Why Twelve-Tone Photography

We have a love affair with contemporary classical music that goes back to when we were high school students in Milan, Italy, in the 70s. At that time the local government organized whole winter seasons dedicated to contemporary classical music, with weekly concerts. The bias in the selection of the pieces was towards European music: the school of Darmstadt was present in force, for instance. The tendency was to focus almost exclusively on music descending from Western tradition. From Nono to Penderecki, from Stockhausen to Berio it was fair game. LaMonte Young or Steve Reich were not. The other so-called minimalists were not. Harry Partch to the best of my knowledge was never performed (very complicated to do it anyway, but not impossible), but Cage did give a memorable performance in Milan that those who attended it (including the two of us) still remember. These are just some examples to explain the foundation on which our passion for contemporary classical music is built.

Our passion led us to knock at the door of Gavin Bryars’ house in London (totally unannounced, of course) only to tell him how much his “Sinking of the Titanic” had moved us. When he opened and saw these two kids who were listening to his music and not to Deep Purple’s his reaction was puzzled at first and amused soon thereafter. He will not remember us, but we do remember his gorgeous cat.

We grew out of a strict (Central)-European appreciation of music when we moved – physically and then intellectually – to the USA. We never gave up on our European heritage, even the most cerebral and opaque composers are still part of our listening, but the encounter with American contemporary music was shocking and intoxicating.

Almost all of these musics, be they from Santa Monica or Prague, so dissimilar from one another in their dealing with structures, tempo, accents, and colors share a common ancestor: Schönberg’s twelve-tone music. They may be very far away musically speaking from it but that huge discontinuity, the relinquishing of tonality as one of  the rulers of composition, has freed untapped creative energies that still reverberate strongly after more than 100 years. Twelve-tone music is the raison d’être for their existence.

Our photography wants to signify discontinuity. We believe that digital imaging technology is the catalyst for this discontinuity and believe that – at least in fine-art photography – it is no longer “business a usual.” It must not be.

Our name represents a humble homage to “the” musical discontinuity of the 20th century, We could have picked any other major discontinuity; we could have called ourselves “Quantum Physics Photography” or “Cubism Photography.” But music and not physics or painting is in our heart and, in spite of all the theories on one side and the technologies on the other, at the end of the day photography comes from the heart.

Leave a Reply