Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Unravelling Bolero"--the art of Anne Adams

Unravelling Bolero, 1994--a bar-by-bar representation of Ravel's Bolero

Anne Adams was a Canadian biologist-turned-artist who died in 2007. Her best-known piece, the "Bolero" above, I think fits well into our recent discussion of visual representations of graphic rhythms. It seems that her interest in this approach may actually have been awakened by the early stages of the brain disease that ultimately killed her. Here is how her case is described in New Scientist:

When Adams completed Unravelling Boléro in 1994, her brain was starting to be affected by a neurodegenerative condition called primary progressive aphasia. It later robbed Adams of speech, and eventually took her life.

In its early stages, however, the condition seemed to unleash a flowering of neural development in a brain area that integrated information from different senses. In part,
Unravelling Boléro may be a beautiful symptom of a terrible disease.

Here is how Unravelling Bolero is described in a piece in The New York Times:

Dr. Adams, who was also drawn to themes of repetition, painted one upright rectangular figure for each bar of “Bolero.” The figures are arranged in an orderly manner like the music, countered by a zigzag winding scheme, Dr. Miller said. The transformation of sound to visual form is clear and structured. Height corresponds to volume, shape to note quality and color to pitch. The colors remain unified until the surprise key change in bar 326 that is marked with a run of orange and pink figures that herald the conclusion.

Here's one more piece by her:

Migraine, 1998

Apparently, according to these articles, Ravel himself suffered of the same disease.

More information, and a gallery of more works, here.


  1. wow, that's pretty heavy w/ the aphasia,
    yet out of dire circumstances comes artful
    speech...according to Timothy Leary's model of
    concsciousness, most humans have their final
    "peak experience" upon first sexual experience,
    usually another "peak experience" will not occur
    unless thru heavy drug use or a traumatic experience, just makes me think, i believe it's
    possible to induce a "peak experience" via
    prolonged cognitive creative challenges etc,
    ...wait, i dunno what i'm talkin' bout...

    ...i've always been fascinated by horror vacui, maybe 'cause i got traces of it
    myself...but for someone clinically diagnosed
    w/ it, artful abundance abounds, most noticeable
    off the top of my head is Nick Blinko, leadsinger
    for Rudimentary Peni, he's got some seriously
    amazing artworks...

    ...also, brings to mind outsider artists, esp.
    to me, Frank Jones & his "devilhouses", in fact,
    his devilhouses could qualify as abstract comics,
    not much of his work online tho...regardless,
    i totally identify w/ him, his whole procedure
    seems near to my own...

    ...the entire corpus of the Art Brut thing
    fascinates on so many levels, most strikingly
    in many cases is the otherworldly originality,
    then i guess the obsession... i was very lucky
    that the ABCD: A Collection of Art Brut made
    a stop in Atlanta & i was able to see it,
    it's always different to experience art in the
    flesh & that showing just blow'd my babybrains out, incredible stuff...

    it's wild to think of our large moon,
    how it allows our 23° stability, the
    stats involved w/ planetary collision,
    how Orpheus collided w/ Earth but hit
    sideswipe, gifting us our glorious moon,
    it's only life afterall,
    & life only.

  2. Beautiful amazing work. I heard her story on Radiolab podcast and had to see for myself. RIP, Anne.

  3. Anyone know if Unravelling Bolero has been made available for purchase as print?


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