Excerpt on Music: Jesús Soto in conversation with Ariel JiménezSunday, April 18, 2021
The following text is an excerpt from the book Jesús Soto in conversation with Ariel Jiménez, published by Fundación Cisneros/Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in 2017. Jesús Soto was born in Venezuela in 1923 and is well-known for his participation in the development of Kinetic Art in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as his subsequent involvement in the Geometric Abstraction movements in Venezuela. Soto is recognized today as one of the most important Latin American artists of the twentieth century.
Jesús Soto: I discovered the new musical structures, the twelve-tone system, and the serial experiments through a book by René Leibowitz. He had been a disciple of Anton Webern and wrote a book on the twelve-tone system that I read and studied religiously, trying to understand the new musical systems and looking for a strategy to translate them to the visual arts.
When I understood serial music, I found a fabulous world where sound was not used as a function of taste; the assemblage of sound values was perfectly codified. Every musical value was a number, and using parameters whose measures did not correspond to the traditional ones, a totally different kind of music could be produced. Following this example, I decided to codify pictorial elements and restrict myself to the use of eight colors. Every color had its corresponding number. I wanted to eliminate any subjectivity linked to personal taste, including my own. That’s why I restricted myself to perfectly defined colors. It was not an olive green with reddish accents, nor a dark pink, colors that lend themselves to confusion, but the three primary colors, the three secondary colors, white, and black. (I later introduced ultraviolet, which was considered a sublime color. For this I prepared a relatively light violet, which I introduced into the series). White was number 1, yellow was 2, orange was 3, red was 4, green was 5, blue was 6, violet was 7, ultraviolet was 8, and finally, black was 9. After codifying them, I decided to perform a permutation, as is done with notes in serial music. I didn’t make permutations of colors but rather of very simple numerical series: 4-1, 4-5, 3-7, and so on.
So you can imagine my surprise when, by starting from these basic elements and respecting the established permutations, I could produce a set of structures that functioned from the pictorial point of view. In some of them, even, the dots started moving and vibrating in an Impressionist, almost Pointillist way. All those dots that descend vertically come from that study I did in Rotación, that is, a projection of the point into wherever there is space. Then I understood that I had encountered an amazing world, and that it was possible to codify pictorial elements as musicians had done with sound.
 René Leibowitz (1913–72). French conductor, composer, and writer of Polish extraction. At the end of World War II, when Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music was still largely unknown, Leibowitz began to teach this new musical language to a small group of musicians that included Pierre Boulez, Michel Philippot, Jean-Louis Martinet, and Serge Nigg. He is the author of Introduction à la musique de douze sons (Paris, 1949), which was Soto’s starting point for the serial experiences he created between 1952 and 1953.
 It is important to note that, based on the example that serial music offered him, Soto devised a strict codification method for color and form, so that its distribution across the space of the canvas did not respond to personal and discretionary criteria. In this sense, the established numerical structures were determined without knowing what the visual, pictorial result of such permutations would be. This was the reason for the surprise he says he felt upon discovering the final result. This was, in a way, a method of distancing that, of course, could only be effective for an instant. In Estudio para una serie [Study for a Series], for example, one of the permutated numbers corresponded to color, while the other corresponded to the number of lines of circles.