Landscape and Cinema

The sound of rain on pavement, breeze lifting muslin drapes and disarranging curls of hair, birds calling in the morning sun, cicadas en masse in the heat of the day, avenues of European trees, mirages in the desert; all evocative in landscape and cinema. 20th C film director, Andrey Tarkovsky, called film a “mosaic of time”, revealing the deep connection between landscape, or in my case gardens, and film. He calls rhythm the formative element in cinema¹, the rhythm of seasons, breathing, wildlife cycles, coming and going, creating and destroying, night and day, psychological variations, learning and forgetting, living and dying; rhythm is the formative element in life.

Gardens are well placed to reveal the language of rhythm. The stories which become possible via the client’s brief through design, metaphor, imagination, and the application of art in thought may fall together to illuminate more (or perhaps less depending on its success) than was intended. Luis Bunuel understood filmmaking as a process of discovery, of revelation, it is not always as one intends²; “The story you tell isn’t the same as the story you hear.” In the development of a new language for gardens one can disengage from what has been done and reimagine elemental threads which include psychology, fiction, metaphor, story, touch, arcadia and the wild as an ennobling gift to the user. Plants initially become servants of ideas creating unintentional perspectives until time folds them into the fabric of the story.

Of course the early experiences of such a garden may elicit vertigo, obfuscation or irritability. This could be a marker to its success – we love our comfort zones, and gardens have traditionally been places of comfort and rest – but as life experience tells us, the best outcomes very often take the most effort. These are gardens for explorers, thinkers, ‘wild’ people, those who don’t expect things to be “handed to them on a platter”, they require interpretation and understanding with the passage of time.

This is not about an arbitrary process or determinism. The process is best suited to, as Ingmar Bergman says, “accepting something ill-defined and leading it toward definition, preserving along the way the equivocal moments, the secret passages: for if given free reign, the distinct often tends to become too clear cut, too dry and cold and uncompromising.” We owe it to ourselves and those we serve and care about to think. Film can be toxic for sure but also it very often serves to ennoble us and nudge us in the direction our hearts are heading. Secret passages and cerebral intoxication may well be waiting for us if we give gardens more latitude for the cinematic!

¹Ed. Salim Kemel & Ivan Gaskell, ‘Landscape, Natural Beauty and the Arts’, CUP         ²Jean-Claude Carriere, ‘The Secret Language of Film’, Pantheon Books








Bach, Beethoven and Composing Landscape

Only recently have I found a new Bach piece, BWV 140¹, a cantata, which renews my admiration for his inventiveness. It begins with a divisive cantus firmus which continues through the first movement and over which is laid the altitude and vigour of violins and oboes with the whole receding into a choral reflection of the base. It is a master’s treatment of rhythm and harmony and as often happens, simple enough. Bach’s work, well known for its mathematical order, can be sifted to leave sophisticated, remnant design opportunities for gardens.

Many years ago I listened to an ABC RN programme, ‘Into the Music’, in which Australian conductor and music educator, Richard Gill, dissected the first movement of Beethoven’s 1st Symphony and Piano Concerto No.3. It was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the compositional techniques Beethoven used to construct the works and it occurred to me that these techniques could be similarly applied to landscape or in my case garden design.

While being aware that, more than likely, life has more reading to it than you might want to invest in this article I will try to be brief. Gill extrapolated the following from the 1st Symphony with my apologies to him for accuracy – I give it to you in notation:

  • Changes in the scale and repeated notes to their harmonizing into octaves giving the tune real direction.
  • Beethoven took an ordinary tune with but 2 elements and changed the key to create momentum in the whole movement – the tempo affecting the key
  • A cadence would signal the end of a section
  • Brief references to the baroque in the minuet
  • Shifts in key, and transitions become opportunities for the spectacular
  • He used big slabs of repeated sound and revisits the beginning of the minuet
  • The music goes back to the original key and unfolds in a related and sequential order
  • The arpeggio in the strings creates the coda in place of the scale, and new characters and ideas at the end of the story wind up with the brass taking over from the strings
  • He draws a hidden tune from out of the blue
  • There becomes an evident understanding of proportion
  • Through repetition the ear is given an opportunity to understand the journey

Cryptic perhaps. Nevertheless, if we hold onto the pragmatic needs and desires of our client who presents the design brief it is relatively easy to translate many of these compositional elements into a garden. Would you, dear reader, having grasped this opportunity which music composition presents to garden design, consider that a garden framed with these techniques might be most able to give the client an emotional harbour of reflection, intellectual nurturing, feeling? Garden Studio, a garden design practice, can institute interested clients with a garden which moves from, but includes, a pragmatic response to need and place to one yielding cerebral depth and imagination.

¹ John Eliot Gardiner’s version with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir I’ve found to be the most expressive.