Joy, happiness, bliss, sound, and love. Those are the brushstrokes used by the creators of the Landscape of Guitar to paint the fully immersive multimedia experience layering visual art with an intricate soundscape.
Revered among the top nuevo-flamenco groups in the world, award-winning singer-songwriters Bruce and Julie Hecksel, known professionally as Patchouli & Terra Guitarra, founded the groundbreaking production of art and music on their signature style of painting objects from butterflies to trees in the shape of a guitar.
The Landscape of Guitar is staged Jan. 18 at Thrasher Horne Center (www.thcenter.org). A morning matinee offers an abbreviated performance and a post-show opportunity for audiences to view the gallery artwork up close.
Audiences will experience the lilting harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel, the flamenco guitars of the Gipsy Kings and the kaleidoscopic imagery of a Van Gogh come to life as animated paintings are sung to life as guitar birds fly over rolling guitar rivers and vivid guitar worlds in stunning HD.
“Because everything is composed, both art and music with the same open intention it works perfectly. It shows you the joy we are feeling, the limitlessness of perspective and imagination. For us, music and art are playing, not working. Music and art deliver what is needed to those that need it. For us, it creates an ecstatic performance which is the state we are cultivating for ourselves,” says Bruce Hecksel.
“The animation isn’t meant to complement or illustrate the music. It is there to reveal a much deeper sense of who we are and where the music is coming from and our relationship to the quantum fabric. It doesn’t tell the story of each song. It tells the story of who we are and why we are playing the music that we are playing.”
As both artists and composers, the pair shares intimate knowledge of the paintings and the music. They spring from the same well of creative possibility and the duo offers themselves as portals to channel the infinite ideas that come together to create the big picture.
“The exciting thing about composing is the possibility. Anything is possible. When an idea emerges, it takes on a life of its own and it inspires its own existence. Many years ago after an afternoon of fun with oil pastels, Julie made two pieces. One was an upside-down guitar in a rainbow sunset that looked like a guy standing with his hands clasped behind his back looking at the sunset. She made another which was just the guitar body in a field that also looked just like part of a goddess figurine made of clay,” recalls Hecksel.
“We hung them in our studio and when it was time to make the first album cover for the first Terra Guitarra album, the idea suddenly hit me that the guitar shape can symbolize or be anthropomorphized into many things and the ideas just started pouring out. So, it was that initial inspiration of Julie’s pieces and the context of the emergence of the album that really brought the concept into existence.”
The artists gave each medium its own space for 20 years before creating the Landscape of Guitar project, often incorporating art into the stage production until the boundaries seemed to blur. Surrounded by 30 to 40 paintings, the pair felt cocooned in “the landscape” of the paintings as the quintessential backdrop for the music and created with the same intention, beauty, hope, healing, and wonder.
“For the most part, the idea is to animate an already painted piece. So, we spend time with it and break it apart into pieces. The piece, like every single moment on Earth, is a frozen snapshot in time suggesting the possibility of movement. I feel like the point of each animation is to be able to look deeper into those moments frozen on the painting, and ask what is the texture? what’s behind that hill? where is that bird flying to? It’s like allowing the painting to show itself more fully and give it a voice to show you the infinity present in each moment,” Hecksel says.
“It took me awhile to unpack it and then learn enough about animation to understand what I could do with these paintings and how to do it. Then as I was just getting underway, an Art Center here in Florida was hosting a film festival. They knew I was working on the project and invited us to premiere it during the closing of the film festival, which gave me a goal of finishing it quickly. So we immersed ourselves in the concept and after the first performance which was about half of the project we knew our world had just changed.”
The couple also complements one another on stage. Bruce, who is an instrumental composer, praises Julie’s skills as a lyricist with a ‘bulletproof sense of rhythm’ who plays one of the ‘strongest rhythm guitarists on earth’. She also plays a kick drum with her foot so for Bruce as a guitar soloist and flute soloist and piano soloist, it generates a fully immersive sound.
“With respect to actual guitar performance, we have developed our style together to enable the guitars and Julie’s foot to work together to create a fully percussive sound using just picking techniques. By working together on them, often times seasoned musicians standing right in front of us will wonder where the drum machine is and we have to explain that it’s all just guitars nothing artificial. No loops, no tracks, no machines,” remarks Bruce.
“When you are performing you try to communicate your music and your intention with everything you’ve got, but this is like multiplying ourselves as if we were suddenly able to be another person on stage performing with ourselves. It’s like realizing a multidimensional reality. Once we could communicate sound and the image of us creating it, we simultaneously present color, texture, motion, and composition in conjunction with it. It’s like stepping into a more realized universe as an artist.”