Series - Chiyoko Szlavnics

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Chiyoko Szlavnics

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6cm of textual records and other materials

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(1967 -)

Biographical history

Chiyoko Szlavnics was born in 1967 in Toronto and is a composer and visual artist currently residing in Berlin. Her parents, maternal grandfather, and experiences from her childhood have greatly influenced her musical and graphical works. Born to two artists, her mother, Aiko Suzuki, worked with painting, textiles, sculpture, and designing dance sets, and was of Japanese descent; her father was a highly analytical artist, something Szlavnics says she inherited, and was of half-Serbian and half-Hungarian descent. Her maternal grandfather was an avid nature lover, and when Szlavnic would visit him they would often spend time at the beaches on the north shore of Vancouver where they would explore the life cycle of salmon. This time on the beach would influence her interest in beating sounds within her compositions, as she often reflected on how the light bounced and reflected on water.

Her musical endeavors started at the University of Toronto where she originally studied flute and saxophone in the Faculty of Music where she graduated in 1989. Post-graduation, she worked under the direction of Nic Gotham at Hemispheres, an improvising ensemble based in Toronto. In 1993, she was asked to compose a piece for Hemispheres, and that is when she used her line drawings for the first time to organize and create the sound. In 1994, she took private composition lessons from James Tenney, and during this time she began to start her own composing. She moved to Berlin in 1997 after winning a scholarship to attend the Akademie Schloss Solitude. There she began collaborating with various other musicians and developing her unique, experimental compositional approach to music. In her compositions she explores: states of harmonicity, beating and rippling sounds, exceptionally slow glissandi (gliding between pitches), intonation, and combing musical instruments with sinewaves. Her compositions are composed for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, percussion, among others and can be found throughout her 30+ works. Szlavnics says her main goal when composing is to take risks and be surprised by her music.

As a visual artist, she predominately creates line drawings using a fine line pen. Drawing is an integral part of her compositional process, as a way to map her preliminary ideas for the music. The lines represent how the tones are extending though time, or could also represent specific instrumental intervals. These lines are an abstract way for her to represent her imagined sound world since she is not inclined towards the traditional graphic score. Similar to her musical compositions, the unexpected is central to Szlavnics’ drawings. The drawings consists of lines, dots, and how they connect; there are some drawings that are in a in a moiré fashion as well. Later in her drawing career, she focused more on the visual arts aspect of the drawings instead of drawing for musical composition.

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Series consists of original drawings, scores, handwritten notes and revisions, book/booklets and other materials relating to Szlavnics’ Gradients of Detail. Gradients of Detail was composed by Szlavnics in 2005 especially for Montreal-based string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. Szlavnics compositional process is closely affiliated with her line drawings which became the graphical representation of the score. This visual score was essential to represent the slow sustains and glissandi found throughout this work. The scores are meant to be read from left to right as time (in seconds) and from up to down as the high to low frequency range of pitch, though she cautions against reading this visual representation as exact pitches. These visual artworks must also serve to be art in and of themselves, as that would guarantee that the musical score translated out of it will be strong, according to Szlavnics. She says the forms in Gradients of Detail line drawings are related to the seed pods of the milkweed plant which she drew in Canada in the fall of 2004 just after her father passed away.

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