Martin Parker

Chiaroscuro / Pentimenti


Chiaroscuro / Pentimenti is the culmination of a collaboration between poet JL Williams, composer Martin Parker and artist Anna Chapman.

The two painters’ terms came to our attention in 2006 as intriguing starting points for the making of work that crossed the boundaries of each of our artforms. Chiaroscuro (Italian, ‘light-dark’) is an artist’s technique for synthesising form through casting shadow, while pentimenti (Italian, ‘repentances’) are traces of the artist’s earlier decisions or outlines, revealed as layers of paint become translucent over time.  We took these ideas as departure points for excursions through text, image and sound.


On the disc, published by Fogbank Projects in 2009 and available from me as a limited edition, all sounds you hear were generated from recordings of JL Williams reading her poems.  In ‘Chiaroscuro’ [Track 01], the music is synthesised by literally beaming simple sound sources like white noise and sine tones through the spectra of the voice. this technique was devised in response to the beams of light described in the poem, ‘You, chiaroscuro’.


‘Pentimenti’ [Track 02] was constructed by playing back Williams’ readings of her poem ‘Pentimento’ in many different locations and layering hundereds of recordings on top of one another.The result is a piece composed of the parts of the spectrum usually removed when cleaning up location recordings. As the piece progresses, the noise becomes too much for the sound processors and they begin to clip and beat rhythmically. Through this litter of broken audio, a chorus of voices seems to appear but is just the debris of filters and compressors. A mistake made in the reading during one of the recording sessions has been kept in as a deliberate reference to the technique of painting over (repenting).

The drawings you see here and on the limited edition release were made in response to the content of Williams’ poems, together with some of the processing characteristics of the music described above. Specific references to things, places and events that occur in the poems, including a view from a shop, a fresco in Padua and experiences of light were taken from the text, but their visual source is something relayed through other media rather than seen directly. Here chiaroscuro may be a more private drama of black-and-white dots composing an image for halftone printing; pentimenti the uncertain edges of objects affected by image compression.

The development of the project was supported by the Scottish Arts Council, now known as Creative Scotland.