The Harmony of Difference project came about out of an invitation I received from the Whitney Museum of American Art to be a part of their 2017 biennial. The Whitney Museum was gracious enough to essentially let me do whatever I wanted to do and did not give me much direction or parameters for what my exhibit should include. This was a blessing and a curse because I went around and around for awhile trying to figure out what my contribution would sitting next to some of the most influential visual artists of our time.
Right around the time I was figuring this out was at the time the 2016 presidential primary elections was taking place and topics like immigration and the diverse make-up of our country was the cause of so much animosity and source of division. I struggled knowing that the very thing that made America one of the most beautiful countries in the world was being used to cause fear and there was no voice in the media saying how ridiculous this was and that this was all motivated by a political agenda. I thought it was important to talk about this issue and that’s when the idea of using the musical concept of counterpoint came to me.
In the creation of music, counterpoint is one of the most important techniques to have as a composer. It is a skill that gives the composer the ability to bring multiple melodies together in conjunction with each other. When used skillfully, counterpoint plays on the balance of similarity and difference to create harmony between different melodies. Though the word counterpoint is most often used in European Classical music the true idea of this balance can be found in all music. The counterpoint between the melody, chords, and bass line found in jazz and other modern music is just as paramount as it is in the counterpoint found in classical music. Even in the case of a melody being play by itself there is most often an implied harmony that creates a kind of phantom counterpoint. Because of this I feel that the relationship between similarity and difference is a fundamental part of what makes music what it is.
I wanted to create a new piece of music that is in fact made up of five pieces of music that each can stand alone but who’s true beauty comes to life when played together. It would be a kind of extreme version of counterpoint. Each part of the piece would have its own melody, harmony and structure. It would be a six part suite that would go through each five parts and the in the sixth part combine all of the pieces together.
I had two motivations in wanting to create the six-song suite using the extreme concept of counterpoint. First, from a purely artistic and musical place it would be a fun and exciting challenge for me to create five different pieces of music that could be played simultaneously in a harmonious way. Secondly, I feel that the human fear of difference is rooted in ignorance. Witnessing the amazing beauty that comes from the merging of difference would help people realize the beauty in our own differences. I believe that there are levels of creativity that come from the meeting and mixing of contrasting and sometimes opposing forces that cannot be found in uniformity or conformity.
As part of the Whitney museum exhibit, I was lucky enough to have my sister Amani Washington who is an amazing artist create six pieces of art that went along with each of the six tracks and the amazing director A.G. Rojas created an amazing short film that depicted the beautiful culture that exists in the city of Los Angeles because people from all four corners of the world are represented in the city I was born and raised in.
My hope is that witnessing the beautiful harmony created by merging different musical melodies will help people realize the beauty in our own differences.
- Kamasi Washington