Postcards from Lockdown: Translating Visual Art to Music for Flute and Electronics

Table of Contents

Jean Penny

Throughout her career Australian flautist/scholar, Dr Jean Penny, has pursued a passion for diverse opportunities and activities in performance, creative and academic spheres in Australia and internationally. Her work now revolves around performance of music for flute and electronics and writing that delves deeply into this experience, exploring perspectives such as intercultural exchange, heterotopian performance spaces, phenomenology and performance, place and space, and technology and performance. Webpages:

by Jean Penny

Music & Practice, Volume 9



The year 2020 evolved as no year before it. We are changed in our internal and external lives, our awareness and responses to the world and close environments, as a result of the worldwide pandemic, Covid-19. We endure severe lockdowns, lifted restrictions, further tight rules, separation from others, and limited freedoms, whilst looking towards an unknown future. As artists, many of us turn towards our localities, our homes, and our inner selves, exploring evolving responses to place and isolation. During this period, my chance visit to the Bendigo Art Gallery created a powerful link to these thoughts.[1] Here, alongside impressive collections of Indigenous Australian, colonial Australian and contemporary artworks was an exhibition of Bessie Davidson’s paintings. The exhibition, ‘An Australian Impressionist in Paris’, was immediately engaging; the paintings are beautiful – evocative and idealistically domestic. Images of women, a girl, a bed, flowers, fruit, rooms, gardens, and landscapes, all striking in effect. I discovered that Davidson (1879–1965) was an expatriate in Paris, where she could live as a professional artist, pursuing her career and independent life away from the parochial, judgmental nineteenth-century Adelaide where she was born.[2] Reflecting on her life and work after returning home sparked further thinking about our immediate surrounds, in isolation. The affecting nature of the Davidson paintings reminded me to look more closely at the artworks in my own home – in particular, a set of rather abstract postcard paintings hanging in the music room. These are a collection of nine miniature ‘postcards’ by three artists (Belinda Fox, Melinda Schawel and Ulli Brunnschweiler) created to explore aspects of place: mountains, tropical landscapes and sites of antiquity.

Earlier in 2020 I had undertaken two performance projects related to aspects of walking, the quotidian and interculturality. These two projects had involved interpreting and re-creating a mixed media work for flute and interactive electronics (sound, image and text)[3] and documenting the two experiences from varied perspectives. Because of these experiences, my awareness of connections to place, of interactions with diverse contexts expressed in these two interpretations, had significantly sharpened. A change in thinking about my practice as a flautist and as a writer occurred and prompted a freeing up of my approach. I felt inspired to construct and follow new directions – to create music and construct further transmedia narratives through music and writing. Incited by Davidson’s domestic scenes, and perhaps by lockdowns, where I live and have lived became important, driving curiosity about surroundings, ambience and the familiar; about the potentials of connecting praxis and home life and, in this case, of translating visual art on my wall into music for flute and live electronics.

This essay is an account of a personal journey of artistic practice that traces the development of ideas, processes and creation of three musical responses to three images by Fox, named for the purposes of this article as Echoes I, II and III. A written account of the performance of the works follows, then reflections and, finally, some concluding thoughts are offered. The centrality of the performer is highlighted as I forward my perspective as flautist throughout. In the project I sought an interweaving of praxis and reflection, established through the triangulation of creation, performance and writing processes, to share my personal experiences and understandings. Audio recordings of the music performance are attached below.


Ideas and theories related to creating and performing a musical work from visual art formed a background of thinking that inspired and directed the project. As I embarked on this endeavour, I set out to find texts relating to the ideas and processes that I had in mind. An assemblage of writers and theorists began to direct me towards the meaning of translation I was looking for, the way the music might align to the visual works, and how the feelings evoked could be recognized and re-formed. Such topics as difference and similitude of the visual and sonic, spatiality and temporality, ideas about the nature of sound and gesture, sensation extraction, and definitions of translation itself emerged. Sonification of image (in which the image is digitized and converted to sound) was not the goal in ‘Postcards from lockdown’; the actual paintings were not intended to ‘become’ music and the score is not graphic notation. Rather, the artworks provided material and ideas from which to create parallel works by cross-modal processes and shared abstract qualities. These elements included shared music and visual art qualities such as texture, balance, form, line, and harmony[4] as well as sensation and flow.

Sound is immersive and proximal, according to Christoph Cox.[5] It is also intangible and invisible; it is temporal, often unstable, flowing, and difficult to ignore. Visual art requires a separated field (vision of an object), and presents the complete work from the outset, giving the viewer an immediate opportunity to grasp the subject, content, structure, style, meaningfulness, and affective reactions.[6] A music performance presents pieces that can only be truly appreciated on completion, when the whole is understood, or has at least been heard; it creates a real-time temporality that abounds with sensation. Setting out to deliberately draw out sensations from a visual artwork compels consideration of specifics, about intersections with music and feelings that rarely translate into words. Casting my mind back I recalled some of the most affecting music I have encountered. Much of this has been in the solo flute repertoire, symphony orchestras and ensembles as well as music that I don’t perform myself. A deep feeling of connection has always driven my preference for contemporary flute music, especially works that employ a wide range of techniques and sonorities or inspire new ways of thinking and playing. Some works, of course, have left me completely cold – why is this? Is it personal preference, or a searching for something else? Is it the ability to perceive and ‘get inside’ certain ideas and sensations of the music, to enjoy the processes and feel enriched that gives so much back in performance? What are these sensations and are they replicable?

Sensations are presented in works of art as themselves, avers Cox , as intensive forces that inhere in things, independently of those things and context – they are the sensations, not representations or significations.[7] Gilles Deleuze describes sensation as when ‘a force must be exerted on a body, on a point of the wave’,[8] and says ‘force is the condition of sensation, and sensation, as a relation of forces, produces an “image”, a percept, and an effect’.[9] These ideas relate strongly to the artistic connections and processes that evolved in these translations: feeling the force of the sensations (physically, mentally, emotionally); perceiving the sensations in particular contexts; and extracting, conceptualizing, and developing ideas according to the sensations.

The intensity or force of sensations combined with contexts of art or music performance create connections that relate closely to our response to works and our understandings of performance. Wandering around an art gallery space, one might be caught by a particular work, while others just slip by. On examination, the sensations of a work might draw us in, create an artistic connection which may be a visceral or intellectual experience, or an emotional response to take away. The effect of artistic connection is amplified in Nicolas Bourriaud’s introduction to Michel Foucault’s Manet and the Object of Painting, in which Bourriaud suggests that Foucault’s descriptions of Manet ‘seemed to describe an intensity, an electric field, an event named Manet which unfolds in pictorial language’.[10] Similarly, in a music context, Tim Ingold refers to a fission/fusion reaction, the performative event as an explosion of the cosmic and affective that occurs when the materials of sound come together, forming relationships of lines of sound and the swirls and correspondences that revolve in between.[11]

The potential for sensations and intensities in art to find release in realization – in creation and performance – leads as well to consideration of the interstices of materials and the place of the music score. In this project, sketches of flute gestures that reflected my sense of the artworks came together as suggestions that would take shape with electronic interactions, achieving their potential only in performance. Anne Douglas says, ‘the score is not a representation of what already exists but rather a movement towards an outcome that has the potential to exist’.[12] My score sat in an in-between space, more suggestive than prescriptive, opening up a space for interaction, improvisation and spontaneity.

Along with these considerations arose the question of terminology. Definitions and understandings of ‘translations’ present divergences and ambiguities. Commenting on literary translation, Umberto Eco suggests that translation is concerned with creating an ‘equivalence of meaning’ but also an ‘equivalence in the substance of expression’.[13] Intersemiotic translation – between different systems and structures such as painting and text, or painting and music – is discussed in some depth by Nicola Dusi.[14] She draws together various scholars’ understandings, from Jakobson’s intersemiotic translation and transformation becoming transmutation,[15] to Genette’s hypertextuality.[16] Dusi posits that intersemiotic translation is a ‘trans-cultural, dynamic and functional event’,[17] concluding that ‘transposition’ can include intersemiotic translation, transmutation and adaptation. Given a musician’s understanding of transposition as an intrinsically musical action (that is, from one instrument to another, one key to another, and so on) ‘translation’ seems appropriate in this discourse of painting to music correspondence.


An intention of this research was to derive aesthetic understandings from a cross-modal project that connects visual and musical ideas, creative development, performance and reflection. Multiple choices I made as flautist and writer related to the recognition and experience of sensations and the transformation of those to sound, drawing together a diversity of theoretical ideas, experimentation and artistic practice. Circles of art–sensation–music were interwoven through performance, reflective consciousness and writing. Silvia Henke and colleagues[18] posit that aesthetic praxis involves the intertwining of doing, creating and skill, and that in the knowledge revealed through choices and awareness, it uses ‘forms and types of expressivity’[19] that are significant and pertinent to the arts; that methods need not be strict or predetermined, but progress ‘in leaps, digressions, and detours which continually generate new and unexpected counter-expressions’;[20] and that artistic research ‘asserts undisciplinarity, allows uncertainty, integrates negativity, and searches for clarity’.[21] The experience of this project powerfully confirms this view. The ‘forms and types of expressivity’ in this case include a linking of praxis (music making) and theory (written responses) that took form across a circular process of enquiry, action and reflection.

The concepts and processes of artistic research have driven my work for at least 15 years. At first, the similarities of research and writing to learning and performing music were striking. The following extract from my Doctor of Musical Arts thesis described early thoughts on this:

Exploring a rehearsal-performance metaphor for research establishes references across these startlingly similar disciplines. Processes common to both include project and program design, identifying areas or repertoire for investigation, developing sets of skills, studying the microcosm, trialing techniques or methods to discover solutions and insights, reflection and adaptation, and adding value to personal and broader performance / research practice through greater knowledge and understanding.[22]

I would add to that the value of expressing thoughts in multiple ways, delving deeply into practice, artistic connectivity and writing. Undertaking artistic research was an opportunity that I never expected – but one that added immense enrichment to my work. I felt that how I had lived as a musician was validated in some way, as I was able to explore and articulate many aspects of my playing and life. Others were also beginning to think similarly,[23] and it seemed that a very powerful movement was imminent. This was exciting but required effort and self-motivation to sustain. For me, the triangulation of flute performance, music and writing led to new ways of thinking and to a revitalized approach to my practice. Many influences have accompanied me along the way, including technology, interculturality, phenomenology, and autoethnographic procedures such as a/r/tography.

In this project, autoethnographic processes were present in reflexivity and the documentation and explication of personal experiences. Iain Findlay-Walsh describes autoethnography thus:

By reflexively documenting their own experiences, autoethnographers foreground the issues of their own perspective, role, and narrative voice as representational problems through which to research sociocultural context. As methodology for understanding culture, autoethnography explores the position and perspective of the researcher as the central subject of study, presenting the researcher’s personal experiences, often through layered writing practices which generate interwoven self-narratives.[24]

Unfolding autoethnographic parameters through a/r/tography created an evolving research environment in this project that interweaved creative practice, mindfulness, reflection, the separation of the performance as an epoché and narrative. A/r/tography is about cultivating an aesthetic way of knowing, and revealing meaning from sharing experiences of the self (researcher) through narrative inquiry.[25] It links the artist, researcher, and teacher to ‘promote[s] artistic enquiry as an aesthetic awareness … Through attention to memory, identity, autobiography, reflection, meditation, storytelling and cultural production’.[26] The reflective analyses of a/r/tography often ‘interweave theory, practice and poesis, allowing deeper understandings to emerge over time’[27] or provide first-hand descriptions of insider/outsider perspectives. These principles distilled down to identifiable processes summarized in Figure 1.

Firstly, I observed and immersed myself in the artworks; I identified various sensations and responded by playing my flute, by drawing up sketches of notation, by experimenting with sounds and collaborating with the sound technologist (Andrew Blackburn[28]) as he created the system for flute-computer interaction. Explorations of materials, intensities, textures, and musical flow coupled with intuitive responses to the art; but rather than follow the artwork as if it was a graphic score, a flute score emerged that attempted to capture sensations as musical responses, and a Max patch[29] was developed to augment and respond to those ideas. The choice of electronic effects was made primarily by Blackburn based on aspects of the artworks and an agreed level of simplicity. The performance and subsequent reflections defined and described the experience, leading to the unfolding of new understandings and awareness. Positioning the performance in the middle of these processes corresponded to a phenomenological epoché – a bracketed event from which reflections and conclusions could emanate.

Figure 1 Project processes

The artworks: Echoes by Belinda Fox

Belinda Fox is an Australian ‘multidiscipline artist, working in printmaking, painting, ceramics, and sculpture. Her work … investigates fragility and imbalance in an increasingly unstable world.’[30] Three postcard artworks by Fox, purchased by the author, were created for a project based around ideas of place – Concurrent, Confluence and Crossroads. The exhibition brochure described Fox’s contribution:

Her spirit of place is exemplified by three mountains: two are located in Asia, while the other exists as a drawing by the artist Louise Bourgeois. Mountains symbolize striving for Fox as she searches for clarity and explores new pathways in her art. Her subtly textured lino-cuts and digital prints contain floating shapes that could also be pieces of lost continents cast adrift. Wave-like patterning and rambling lines explore a seemingly unknowable, elevated and refined place.[31]

This evocation of space, of place and of Asian mountains provided a link to my own time living in Malaysia (2011–16), a period which initiated a deep sense of difference, fragmentation, symbolism, and of constructing lines of connection from intercultural understandings.[32] This link established a certain rapport with the artworks, an intensified awareness and memory of place that underlined these processes.

Creating the music

‘We inhabit the space. We make the work with our experience.’[33]

To begin, I studied the art, the three postcards, the lines and movement, the shades, and structures. As I progressed through initial impressions, I gained a sense of content and style, and possible meaningfulness. Responses began to emerge that suggested sonic techniques and materials, forms of the pieces, feelings and thoughts. Lineal gestures suggested musical lines and fragments; shapes suggested textures and structures. I recorded my thoughts as they appeared, then set about trialling techniques and notation. Initially, I was flooded with ideas; I wrote down lines of notes and gestures, the potential sounds bouncing around my head. The second piece seemed to require less notated content, leaning towards suggestions of sounds for digital processing, flicks and whispers from which to build textures and new timbres. The third piece is reminiscent of the first, yet differently defined and shaped; I start with a few suggestive cells, retaining a regular sound field of sonorities. What follows is a collage of thoughts as they occurred, descriptions of my responses to the sensations of the artwork, and how the translations began to take form.

Echo 1

Figure 2 Echo 1. Image, courtesy of the artist.

Figure 2 is a lino cut with a monotype process of printing.[34] To me, this postcard suggests filigree and microsounds. The background is shaded and dark; lines sweep downwards. There is a complexity in the textures – floating shapes are encircled with weblike patterns which suggest interplay, delays, loops and echoes. Five background shapes become linked in my mind with five sets of techniques; crevasses suggest silences and territorial infinities. To clarify my thoughts, I draw up a table to record a reading of visual features and corresponding flute techniques (see Table 1). The notation begins to emerge as scattered sonic cells, suggesting whispers and darting across the page (see Figure 3). Imagining how the flute techniques will combine with electronic effects – reverberation, delay, harmonizer and looping of the flute sounds – my mind conjures up new layers of response, a sonic context, and diverse levels of complexity.

Table 1 Echo 1, key feature translations.

(i) Light, white; small intricate lines; varied density Pizzicato, key clicks, pianissimo, high speeds, high pitched staccatos
(ii) Elongated, darker with wider, changing lines Breath tones, half jets, flutter tonguing, descending gestures, spaces
(iii) Rounded and dark; more open and spacious Multiphonics, fragile but with broader sonority
(iv) Shaded; large, wide, sweeping lineal gestures Sustained notes; tremolos and trills; glissandi; timbre changes
(v) Smaller, lighter; closer, thicker lines Tongue rams, other closed embouchure techniques

Figure 3 Notation sketch, Echo 1 (beginning).

Echo 2

Figure 4 Echo 2. Image, courtesy of the artist.

This postcard is very dark and densely textured. Shafts of light shine through a window-like zone in the lower section; shadows, blurs and fragmented wave formations suggest a shimmering of veiled shapes and reflection. I choose the darker tones of the alto flute to express these sensations, the flow and stasis, echoes and silences. The flute line merges wavering pitches, scattered micro-gestures and indistinct breath tones (see Figure 5). Dispersed pizzicato notes capture spikes of light against a background of long tones of varied intensity. Electronic techniques are chosen to highlight clusters of sounds with harmonizer effects, delays with reverb, and to build textures with capture and looping. This seems not so much a piece to be read, as an experience of light and dark – an absorption of atmosphere and sensation to enact in performance.

Figure 5 Notation sketch, Echo 2.

Echo 3

Figure 6 Echo 3. Image, courtesy of the artist.

The floating shapes in the third image seem more defined – veiled yet open, suggesting simplicity and playfulness. The linocuts have a distinct crispness – there are finite shapes which grow from one to another and imply to me a more direct sonority for the flute and an abundance of energy and flow. I look for a lineal vitality that can be generated by runs and melodic fragments (see Figure 7). These are interspersed with pauses and stillness as textures are built through the electronic techniques – delay, harmonizer and infinite reverb. There are sensations, also, of a shadowy background, tentativeness captured by harmonized repeated notes, then cascades of runs to end.

Figure 7 Notation sketch, Echo 3

The three Max patches were created sequentially to manipulate pitch, velocity, and duration in response to the instrumental sounds (Figure 8). I worked together with my sound technologist, navigating multiple experimentations with sonorities and textures, a correspondence game of trial and re-trial, developing and enhancing flow, accentuating, and augmenting timbres and form. Reverberation, delay, harmonization, and looper become dominant tools that created textures that best reflected sensations and provided context. The looper became an important textural feature, echoing and sustaining sensations of interweaving lines in the images; reverberation shaped illusions of place, especially in Echo 2 where it adds deeper resonance to the alto flute; delay created close lines of sound at times, forwarding sensations of multiplicity and interaction; harmonization added richness and ‘otherness’ – impressions of shadows and additional characters. Interaction with the electronics informed my playing choices and mood throughout, but, as we rehearsed, the challenge to retain a miniature dimension arose – a demand for distillation compelling an attention to economy of expression of visual shapes and musical lines. Rehearsals led to multiple reviews: of the images, parallels and sonic goals.

Figure 8 Max patch presentation view, Postcard 1.


The performance was a live recording event, made in isolation at home in November 2020. The following description of the event was, of course, written when the performance had already past, but I have attempted to portray it here as an in-the-moment account, capturing a moment in time from my memory of the performance and sensations that arose.

With score sketches, constructed Max patches and recording equipment organized, we are ready. I expect these 3 musical miniatures to have a duration of around five minutes. Uppermost in my mind are the feelings of the art, the idea of place – the mountains, the waves, the rambling lines, unknowable futures. I feel an intense curiosity about how this piece will turn out with electronic effects and loosely determined flute configurations. There are two of us in this performance: my colleague is set to activate effects in Max at the computer; I glance up at the artwork then launch into the performance.

Echo 1 (concert flute). I play spaced but spikey tongue attacks, pizzicato, drifting into key click runs punctuated by occasional sustained notes, and isolated staccato. The electronics activate a strong reverberation and soon set up an unexpected ostinato with the 6-channel looping. This affords energy and drive, as wispy sounds, runs and periodic stillness unfold in the music. Shapes and lines emerge, sliding and shifting with the playing. A further ostinato appears, accentuating breath attacks, interior sounds and wavering pitches. The harmonizer expands the flute pitches, creating an enveloping effect before dissipating into a void. Tongue rams and air sounds bring the piece to a close.

Echo 2 (alto flute). I play low, indistinct, deliberately unstable sounds, setting a dark, introverted atmosphere enlarged by the electronic reverberation. The physicality of inhalation/exhalation builds an interior rhythm and space. I imagine an emergence of light with assorted irregular, detached note sequences, where bursts of breath and energy appear to convert into accompanied characters with the delay effects and harmonizer. These quickly converge into a cluster of pitches, dissolving into nothingness.

Echo 3 (concert flute). I establish a more familiar flute sound field for this postcard, with musical gestures that are captured and replayed, creating an accumulation of voices and sense of pursuit. Cascades of runs, crisscross textures and dialogues materialize from the flute lines and effects (harmonizer, reverb, delay, looping). This network of sounds initiates circles of play that seem to come and go, darting, shimmering. Pitch clashes, splitting, drifting segments disclose an ephemerality, culminating in motionlessness.

The brevity of this performance corresponds to the miniature artworks but is startling.


Looking back at the performance/live recording event as an epoché exemplar I hoped to achieve a certain amount of reflective objectivity, aligned to Merleau-Ponty’s posit that ‘reflection is distancing or objectifying sensation and confronting it’.[35] This project had, indeed, been a very personal musical response to sensations and ideas encountered throughout, showing personal biases in use of timbres and gestures that align to my own thinking and preferences. The idea of positioning this event as an epoché also seemed to me to relate well to converging ideas of lockdown in my part of the planet – separation, distancing, fragmentation, creating one’s own world. In performance I let myself become entirely enveloped in sensation and response, focusing on delicacy, fragmentation, techniques that made sounds bloom and stretch, or successfully capture and replay. Feelings that corresponded with previously recognized sensations informed and characterized the performance. Before beginning each postcard, I glanced at the artwork; I then engaged with my flute haptically and emotionally, playing sensations as sound according to intuition and flutistic thinking. How can this generate an objective, distanced appraisal? I will turn to some observations and reflections on processes and performance to attempt to glean further insight.

In the beginning, the sensations implied by the linocuts – blocks of interlinked shapes, lines, shades and veiled shapes of varied potency – emerged as sets of impressions: emergent entities that could be extracted and reformed. ‘To sense is to extract something from a flow, to retain or preserve a series of vibrations’, says Cox.[36] The notation processes revealed and highlighted this capturing (seen, for example, in Table 1), establishing a specific aesthetic progression towards performance realization. Digital sonic techniques further advanced the notion of capture through replication and looping, and an accentuation of flow and intensity. A subtle and nuanced give and take occurred with the visual artworks, as sensations provided the impetus for the shape and sounds of the music. Although a score was created, in performance these notations became hints as much as scripts, allowing for flexibility and improvisation. The piece thus developed through a continuum of intertwined processes from interpretation, dialogue, and the unfolding of the sounds.

As the flautist, I found that immersion early in the project in visual properties of the artwork invoked particular playing and thinking modes. I saw lines, shapes and shadings that suggested specific sounds: breath tones, wavering pitches, percussive techniques, whispered and forthright sonorities, rapid lineal gestures and static tones. Visual zones and gestures suggested structures, pitch, linearity and texture. I felt the sense of linearity in runs, episodes of polyphony and pitch glissandi; I felt fragmentation in isolated sound cells and silences; I felt a sense of blurred shapes in sliding and clustered pitches; I felt a sense of openness and place in reverberated passages and sustained notes, and a sense of correspondence with repeated gestures and invisible voices. The experience of notating these responses shaped the performance as a parallel work heavily derived from but quite independent of the art works. In performance, also, I became aware of an intense physical and imaginative connection with my flute, reminding me of a recent description by Italian flautist, Roberto Fabbriciani of how sound, gesture and the instrument link:

My flute instrument is not limited to the object, but is an infinite means to realize musical thoughts. It is a subject, an orchestra, it is an interpreter who reads through and goes beyond the limiting thought of the instrument itself. The sound is closely linked to the movement, to the gesture, it arises from gestures and therefore has its own intrinsic theatricality. The movement of a finger, a key stroke on the instrument, are theatre.[37]

Sound choices also corresponded to my perception of the interior and exterior in performance. This perspective is derived from performative experience[38] and it may diverge from a listener’s ideas. For example, Michael Filimowicz and Jack Stockholm[39] posit that noise (in music or sound art) evokes the outside, pitch the inside. For me as a flautist, noise (sounds other than a resonant tone) on the flute takes me right inside the instrument, exploring key clicks, alternate tongue techniques and articulations, various breath tones and associated internal physical sensations. Many of these sounds are present to a certain degree in conventional playing (often viewed as interference) but remain inaudible to the audience; amplification and audio signal processing of these ‘noises’ can invite the listener into this intimate, sensational sound world. The use of consonants as articulation (for example, ‘ch’, ‘p’, explosive ‘d’, ‘sh’) add to this inwardness, coming from inside the mouth. The sensations of producing these sounds are both physically and mentally linked to the interior body and attentive listening. Noise theories have, historically,[40] focused on exteriority, something that interferes, or is unwanted, which may be overwhelming or barely perceptible. The noise of machinery, hard surfaces, and electronica might combine with aggression or anti-humanist extremes (such as in works of Masami Akita); soundscapes of environmental noise might present powerful sensations of place (for example, Katharine Norman’s Making Place[41] and Trond Lossius’ field recording Interior/Exterior[42]) or abstract constructs of electronic sounds (such as in works of Bernard Parmegiani or Francis Dhomont). Mary Russo and Daniel Warner suggest that the perception of noise depends on context,[43] and that noise is ‘a differential’ and ‘ambiguity’.[44] Extended instrumental and vocal techniques utilize forms of noise associated with individual performance practice – sounds that have been enmeshed into wide performative contexts. Techniques used in Postcards from Lockdown felt like intuitive responses, internal and personal, reflecting, perhaps, the abstract qualities of the artworks and a certain indeterminacy in translation. To me, the Echoes I and II images implied an introspective, meandering space, and compelled an expression of interiority and uncertainty. Degrees of darkness and light fluctuated, and sounds moved into and out of focus. Choosing a more sonorous aesthetic for Echo III implied, to me, a shift towards the outside, as the lineal dialogue and tonal projection was expanded in play. The interchange with the electronics in this section imparted a sensation of pursuit, as fragments of my own playing re-appeared arbitrarily, at times in quick succession, at others widely spaced.

The electronic processing (see Figure 9) amplified and re-configured the flute sounds, shaping the structure of the piece, and adding an expanded spatial dimension. All the raw electronic sound material of the piece was generated by the flute/flautist, then processed by the software. Flute sounds thus became computer sounds representing flute, perhaps in the manner of Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, or something of a sonic calligram, shaped in the form of flute sound – ‘to show and to name; to shape and to say; to reproduce and to articulate; to imitate and to signify’.[45] Fragmented flute ‘cells’ digitally captured and replayed, breath tones enlarged and spatialized, harmonized pitch clusters forming multiple voices and points of textural complexity – all these added layers to shapes and structures, influencing material choices, temporal flow and performance intensity. The computer input thus corresponded to Jonathan Impett and Juan Parra Cancino’s description of digital technologies as ‘modes of inscription’ which ‘determine the shape of the space and the nature of the role afforded the performer’.[46] Performative roles, both improvisatory and reactive to each other, felt equal as the flute and effects merged, reflecting Ingold’s ‘individuation of parts’ that come together but remain themselves as they correspond with each other to create the piece.[47] In transitioning to a shifting, improvisatory modus operandi I felt a freedom to respond intuitively to body and mind sensations, to confluences of breath, performance and technology manifest in the temporal event and transient moment in time.

Figure 9 Electronic sound techniques and effects.

Reflecting on the experience of this project has required stepping out from that experience, re-living it retrospectively, describing it through re-living, and constructing an introspective account highlighting my own position as creator, musician and writer. Whilst John McCarthy and Peter Wright contend that ‘we can never step out of experience and look at it in a detached way’,[48] descriptions and reflexive responses here aim to bring together first-hand accounts of my experience, forging new understandings and aesthetic awareness cumulatively from pre-performance ideas to creation, performance and reflection. The writing became a crucial element of the whole project, as composition and inscription, memories, praxis and poesis emerged over the project through a/r/tographic intermingling. Sensual, emotional, compositional and spatio-temporal categories (McCarthy and Wright’s Four Threads of Experience)[49] merged, interacted, coincided and informed each other through the process. The epoché, detached yet fundamental, created a pivotal event – the outcome of pre-performance actions and an exemplar from which to glean communicable information. These reflexive processes validated ideas of Stephanie Springgay and colleagues[50] that the ‘creation of art and words that … are interconnected and woven through each other … create additional meanings’ as they move through engagement with the performative self and the writing self, through the real-time experience and evaluation. My experiences as author/performer and author/researcher thus created a narrative that clarified and expressed my own tangible, existential and embodied thoughts and allowed a sharing of these experiences through both performance and words. To quote Peter Gouzouasis, the process became ‘a story … It becomes a play, as well as an interplay and intraplay, of words and music – a play in motion that the music evokes in the language, and vice versa.’[51]

Concluding Remarks

This exposition has traced a development of ideas and practice of intersemiotic translation through the creation and performance of an original work for flute and electronics. What began as an impromptu visit to an art gallery led to a deeper observation of art at home, to an awareness of and curiosity about what is at hand, and an enriched connection to my living space. The various iterations of pandemic-motivated lockdown had created a need for newly crafted practice and artistic expression, where different significances arose within myself and in relationships with home. When I look at these miniature artworks on the wall, I have a renewed understanding and appreciation of them, I am more aware of their construction and more easily feel their intensity and flow. I remember the musical translations differently – as separate entities, as temporal experiences, transient and ephemeral.

In creating three miniature musical works as ‘translations’ of three miniature postcard artworks, I have drawn together intuitive experiences of visual art and musical practice as I sought to reveal insights through praxis, through awareness of the significance of sensations and by drawing on ideas of aesthetic connections, understanding and transformative thinking. Endeavouring to write an account of these has taken the translations onto a further intersemiotic verbal plane, creating a significant looping of activities and understandings. The seeing, feeling and sounding processes afforded a development of new approaches to playing as I explored so-called noise and melodic sounds, adapted to electronic treatment of my sound, and allowed the music to materialize according to instinct and experience. This was an organic rather than pre-determined performance, in which the two parts evolved according to individual attention, and correspondence with each other. The experience of isolating the characteristics of a visual art experience to a music performance modality (Duthie and Duthie’s cross-modal abstraction[52]), is somewhat encapsulated in Foucault’s description of Magritte’s play of words and image: ‘And yet in this split and drifting space, strange bonds are knit, there occur intrusions, brusque and destructive invasions, avalanches of images into the milieu of words and verbal lightning flashes that streak and shatter the drawings’.[53] Ultimately, the sensations of artworks, the suggestions of music, of flute sounds with electronic modifications, and individuated shapes, lines and textures coming together in a particular moment of time, created the space for the music as a felt involvement and experience of sound.

In the unprecedented isolation of 2020, this was a unique opportunity to engage with an unexpected but revelatory extension of practice. As I write now, in 2021, the days draw in, autumn leaves begin to float to the ground, and rain becomes a little more present; lockdowns come and go, vaccinations begin. The way I think about my work has changed; I note shifts in my sense of connection to the near and distant, to the concrete and ephemeral, and new emphases in my performance and writing. My hope was to undertake this artistic research to ‘affect the aesthetic and its practices themselves’,[54] to work precariously within unfamiliar territory, to explore new intensities and connections, and to seek knowledge though reflexivity. As we anticipate the challenging emergence from pandemic lockdowns, this opportunity to rethink praxis has been intrinsically rewarding, kindling opportunities for renewal, re-engagement and fresh potentials.


[1] See

[2] Tansy Curtin, ‘Bessie Davidson: Painter of the Domestic Avant-Garde’, in Bessie Davidson: An Australian Impressionist in Paris, Tansy Curtin and Catherine Speck (Bendigo: Bendigo Art Gallery, 2020), 2–15. Bendigo Art Gallery catalogue (Keysborough: Southern Colour (Vic) Pty Ltd), (2020) 8–11.

[3] More information on these projects can be found here:

[4] A. Catherine Duthie and A. Bradley Duthie, ‘Do Music and Art Influence One Another? Measuring Cross-Modal Similarities in Music and Art’, Polymath: An Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Journal 5/1 (2015), 1–22, esp. 3.

[5] Christoph Cox, ‘Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism’, Journal of Visual Culture 10/2 (2011), 145–61, esp. 148.

[6] Paul J. Locher, ‘The Aesthetic Experience with Visual Art “At First Glance,”’ in Investigations into the Phenomenology and the Ontology of the Work of Art: What are Artworks and How Do We Experience Them, ed. Peer F. Bundgaard and Frederik Stjernfeld, 75–88 (Cham: Springer, 2015).

[7] Christoph Cox, Sonic Flux: Sound, Art, and Metaphysics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018), 38.

[8] Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith (New York: Continuum, 2003), 56.

[9] Anne Sauvagnargues, Deleuze and Art, trans. Samantha Bankston (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), 141–42.

[10] Nicolas Bourriaud, ‘Michel Foucault: Manet and the Birth of the Viewer’. In Michel Foucault Manet and the Object of Painting, trans. Matthew Barr. (London: Tate Publishing, 2013), 13.

[11] Tim Ingold, ‘Training the Senses: The Knowing Body’, Talk given at the Van Eyck Academy, 11 May 2016. Available at Accessed 7 March 2021.

[12] Anne Douglas, ‘Drawing and the Score’, in Sound & Score: Essays on Sound, Score and Notation, ed. Paulo de Assis, William Brooks and Kathleen Coessens (Ghent: Leuven University Press, 2013), 206–217, at 215.

[13] Umberto Eco, Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003), 30.

[14] Nicola Dusi, ‘Intersemiotic Translation: Theories, Problems, Analysis’, Semiotica, no. 206 (2015), 181–205.

[15] Roman Jakobson, R., ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation’. In On Translation, ed. Reuben Brower (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), 232–39.

[16] Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 7–8.

[17] Dusi, ’Intersemiotic Translation’, 4.

[18] Silvia Henke, Dieter Mersch, Nicolaj van der Meulen, Thomas Strassle, Jörg Wiesel, Manifesto of Artistic Research: A Defense Against its Advocates (Zurich: Diaphanes, 2020).

[19] Ibid., 32.

[20] Ibid., 13.

[21] Ibid., 18.

[22] Jean Penny, The Extended Flautist: Techniques, Technologies and Performer Perceptions in Music for Flute and Electronics. Doctor of Musical Arts thesis, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, 2009, 17.

[23] For example, Kathleen Coessens, Anne Douglas and Darla Crispin, The Artistic Turn: A Manifesto (Ghent: Orpheus Institute, 2009).

[24] Iain Findlay-Walsh, ‘Sonic Autoethnographies: Personal Listening as Compositional Context’, Organised Sound, 23/1 (2018), 121–30, at 122.

[25] Sinner, Anita, Carl Leggo, Rita L. Irwin, Peter Gouzouasis, and Kit Grauer, ‘Arts-Based Educational Research Dissertations: Reviewing the Practices of New Scholars’, Canadian Journal of Education 29/4 (2006), 1223–70.

[26] LeBlanc, Natalie., Sara Florence Davidson S. F., Jee Yeon Ryu, J., &and Rita L. Irwin R. L. (2015)., ‘Becoming Through A/r/tography, Autobiography and Stories in Motion’. In International Journal of Education through Art, 11(/3 (2015), 355–374, at doi:10.1386/eta.11.3.355_1, 2015, 355.

[27] Ibid., 356

[28] For further information about Andrew Blackburn, see

[29] Information on Max can be found at


[31] Belinda Fox, Concurrent, Confluence and Crossroads. Exhibition Brochure (Melbourne: Port Jackson Press, 2002), n.p.

[32] See Jean Penny, Electroacoustic Music as Intercultural Exploration: Synergies of Breath in Extended Western Flute and Malaysian Nose Flute Playing. Performance Studies Network International Conference Proceedings 2013, University of Cambridge, UK,; Andrew Blackburn and Jean Penny, ‘Imaginary Spaces: New Malaysian Performance Contexts for Intercultural Exploration’, Organised Sound 19/2 (2014), 164–172; and Jean Penny, ‘Unraveling Intercultural Knowledge Through Performative Contexts: A Flautist’s Perspective’. In Sustainability in Music and the Performing Arts: Heritage, Performance and Education, ed. Clare Chan Suet Ching and Jean Penny (Tanjong Malim: Penerbit Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, 2014), 37–56.

[33] Douglas, ‘Drawing and the Score’, 213.

[34] Belinda Fox, personal email, 22 October 2020.

[35] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2009), 280.

[36] Cox, Sonic Flux, 85.

[37] Roberto Fabbriciani, ‘Introduzione e Finale’, in La Voce News, 6 August 2020. Online at Accessed 16 February 2021.

[38] See Penny, The Extended Flautist, 83–85.

[39] Michael Filimowicz and Jack Stockholm, ‘Towards a Phenomenology of the Acoustic Image’, Organised Sound 15/1 (2010), 5–12.

[40] See Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises: Futurist Manifesto, Trans. Barclay Brown (New York: Pendragon Press, 1986) and Jacques Atalli, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985).

[41] Katharine Norman, Making Place, for instrument/s and live electronics, 2013/2016. Available at See flute performance at

[42] Trond Lossius, Intérieur / Extérieur. T. 2019. Available at

[43] Mary Russo and Daniel Warner, ‘Rough Music, Futurism, and Postpunk Industrial Noise Bands’. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, ed. In Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (New York: Continuum, 2007), 55–76, at 48.

[44] Ibid., 53.

[45] Michel Foucault, This is Not a Pipe, trans. James Harkness (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 21.

[46] Jonathan Impett and Juan Parra Cancino, ‘Thought, Technology and Performance: Lessons from the Future’, Music and Practice 6 (2020),, para 7. Accessed 24 Nov 2020.

[47] Ingold, Training the Senses.

[48] John McCarthy and Peter Wright, Technology as Experience (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), 15.

[49] Ibid., 79.

[50] Stephanie Springgay, Rita L. Irwin, and Sylvia Wilson Kind, ‘A/r/tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and Text’, Qualitative Inquiry 11/6 (2005), 897–912, at 899.

[51] Peter Gouzouasis, P. ‘A/r/tographic Inquiry in a New Tonality: The Relationality of Music and Poetry’, Handbook of Arts Based Research, ed. Patricia Leavy (New York: Guilford Press, 2017), 233–46, at 241.

[52] Duthie, Amanda Catherine and Duthie, Alexander Bradley Duthie, ‘Do Music and Art Influence One Another? Measuring Cross-Modal Similarities in Music and Art’, POLYMATH, 5/1 (2015), 1–22.

[53] Foucault, This is Not a Pipe, 36.

[54] Henke, et al., Manifesto of Artistic Research, 51.