Milford Graves: Heart Harmonics: sound, energy, and natural healing phenomena

Fridman Gallery, New York, United States
25 May 2021 - 07 Jul 2021

Milford Graves, Untitled 14, 2020. Acrylic on paper 18h x 24w in. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery

Milford Graves, Untitled 14, 2020. Acrylic on paper 18h x 24w in. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery

Fridman Gallery presents a solo exhibition of the late free jazz percussionist and visual artist Milford Graves. Heart Harmonics: sound, energy, and natural healing phenomena brings together three bodies of work comprising the most recent (and last) artistic output of his research.

A set of four hand-painted wind gongs will resonate throughout the gallery, activated by the sounds of Graves’ unreleased Heart Music recordings. The artist spent nearly 40 years establishing a healing correlation between the vibrations of percussive instruments and the rhythms of the human heart, which he termed “biological music, a synthesis of the physical and mental, a mind-body deal.” These works not only represent his scientifically recognized research, but also the deep, artistic connection he shared with his wife Lois who has painted two of the gongs in the exhibition as a tribute to her late husband and his work.

The exhibition will also feature a series of recent works that explore sound vibration as a painting technique. This process involved placing palettes of paint between black vinyl covers and attaching to the outside of the covers a transducer playing unreleased, intimate recordings of instrumental experiments. Graves would slide the transducer around the surface, like a brush along a drum skin, causing the paint to blend into organic shapes and natural patterns.

In the downstairs media room, the gallery will present a four-channel audio-video installation of Graves’ Labview Animations based on electrocardiogram recordings made in his basement laboratory, where he studied the intricate melodies generated by the human heartbeat. Graves customized software that recorded the voltages produced by the electrical pulses of the heart, capturing the frequencies at which the heart vibrates. These frequencies could then be translated into the audible spectrum and analyzed as sound and melody, which he called Heart Music.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a program of events, and a catalog with essays by Rhea L. Combs and Niama Safia Sandy.

Milford Graves (1941 – 2021, Jamaica, Queens) was a percussionist, acupuncturist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, and professor. A pioneer of Free Jazz, he was a member of the New York Art Quartet, whose iconic first recording in 1964 featured LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) reading his poem Black Dada Nihilismus. In 1967, he played at John Coltrane’s funeral. A consummate autodidact with a syncretic approach, Graves invented a martial art form called Yara based on the movements of the praying mantis, African ritual dance, and Lindy Hop in 1972. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Black Music Division at Bennington College, where he taught for 39 years. To many, he was known simply as “Professor.”

In 2000, Graves was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and began to study human heart vibrations to better understand music’s healing potential, and in 2015 he received the Doris Duke Foundation Impact Award. He is the subject of a critically acclaimed feature-length documentary, Milford Graves Full Mantis (2018), directed by his former student, Jake Meginsky, and Neil Young. In 2017, Graves premiered his sculpture work at The Artist’s Institute, and went on to show his visual art at the Queens Museum in 2018. A retrospective of his work, Milford Graves; A Mind-Body Deal was exhibited at ICA Philadelphia in 2020.

Notable recordings include In Concert At Yale University (with Don Pullen, 1966); Dialogue of the Drums (with Andrew Cyrille, 1974); Babi (1977); Meditation Among Us (1977); Real Deal (with David Murray, 1992); Grand Unification (1998); Beyond Quantum (with Anthony Braxton and William Parker, 2008); and Space/Time Redemption (with Bill Laswell, 2014).

Milford Graves was diagnosed with a rare heart disease, amyloid cardiomyopathy, and was given six months to live in 2018. A healer and lifelong student of the human heartbeat, he continued to research and self-treat his condition until he passed away in February 2021.




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