“I’ve always been fascinated by the visual aspect of musical scores,” says Samson Young. “I used to spend a lot of time trying to make my musical scores beautiful, to the extent that if I made a mess in the middle, I’d start all over again. It took a lot of time but I found so much enjoyment in that.”
It’s understandable that Samson Young might find fascination in the musical. While he might be one of Hong Kong’s most exciting multimedia artists, Young’s work always tends towards music, drawing on his compositional studies at Princeton University and his continuing work as a composer. He’s explored musical themes such as ambient sound sketches, the rhythm in spoken words, and the global significance of the bell in his work – and one concept he keeps returning to is musical notation. This is at the heart of Notating Beauty That Moves, an exhibition showing at the new ArtisTree that he has co-curated with soundpocket founder Yang Yeung.
Young’s fascination with notation started with his compositional hat on, producing graphical scores, as well as sound drawings using stencils, colours and text. “Musical notation is a system of codes as ideologies,” says Young. “It includes and excludes, sets boundaries, and makes judgements.”
In Liquid Borders (2012-2014), Young recorded the sounds of Hong Kong’s Frontier Closed Area and transformed them into graphical notations. With To Fanon (2015), he took original scores and “defaced” them, exploring the ways that musical notation could be altered in both appearance and meaning. And with his ongoing For Whom the Bell Tolls project, the Hong Kong artist chronicles bell sounds from five continents and, amongst other things, transcribes their sounds into graphical notation.
But in Notating Beauty That Moves, Young looks at notation from a different perspective – not something that is merely instructional, but as something that can be seen, read, felt and interpreted. The exhibition contains 36 scores ranging from the classical to the avant-garde, showcasing the evolution of notation as well as a diversity that many visitors might find surprising. “Usually when we think about scores, we think of them as functional plans. But I think notation can be perceived as art with a certain kind of beauty,” says Young.