an electronic zen garden
an immersive spiral experience by kristi allik and robert mulder


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Staging of An Electronic Zen Garden in the Aula of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, Canada.




An Electronic Zen Garden is a combination installation / live performance featuring a “light column” on which images are projected in real time, along with live performance electroacoustic music performed by members of the electronic music ensemble LEARK.

Project Description: An Electronic Zen Garden
History: Zen gardens were first established in 1191 A.D. in Japan. Their function was “to realize a perfect fusion of aesthetic perception and noumenal awareness, of stillness and motion, of utility and grace, of conformity and spontaneity”. The Zen garden, primarily an aid to meditation, encompasses a fourth dimension, that of time.
One could say that Zen’s most valuable lesson is in how we perceive and negotiate encountered “accidents”. In An Electronic Zen Garden this manifest itself in how the artists utilize the impermanence of accidents / incidents in synchronicity between image and sound. The genius of Zen artistry is in the use of controlled accidents, something that goes beyond the discovery of unexpected beauty but lies in being able to express the realization of that ultimate standpoint from which “everything flows” and at which point all things interconnect as a singularity. It is Zen’s ultimate lesson: “though things may appear different, everything is part of a continuum”.

Electronic Zen Garden aspires to generate a similar environment as the Zen garden by utilizing contemporary and non-permanent means. At the hub of the audience circle is a ‘shima’ or island in the form of a lumia column. The inner surfaces of this column become radiantly illuminated with textures and colours reminiscent of moving colour flowing in natural textures. The imagery of the column is shaped during the performance.

What we are Aiming for In this performance we aspire to combine musical and visual elements in such a way that the visual component becomes integrally related to the auditory. To help the audience set aside traditional concert expectations, Allik and Mulder use a novel environment by using a non-standard seating arrangement with the audience positioned in a circle around the visual focal point. To reinforce the unconventional atmosphere further, the music will travel through the audience area emanating from the exterior perimeter of the performance space.

Concept. The initial idea for this work dates from 1983/1984 when Kristi Allik and Robert Mulder pursued the concept of a live inter-disciplinary performance work using lumia and electroacoustic music based on the “impermanence in Zen”. However, they were unable to realize the work with an acceptable level of “Zenness” due to the difficulty to generate a “live” image and sound with the technology of that time. The project was subsequently shelved until 2004/2005, and resurrected with a commission from New Music in New Places.

LEARK: The Live Electro Acoustic Research Kitchen group (LEARK) was created on September 2001 at the School of Music, Queen’s University, for the purpose of creating and performing live electroacoustic music, primarily in an improvisatory context. The originating members of LEARK are (in reverse alphabetical order): Adam Tindale, Aglaia Lessard, Mike Cassells, Robert Mulder, David McCallum, and Kristi Allik. The most recent published CD is their CD: EXPURGE.(2004)

The creation and/or performances of Electronic Zen Garden was generously supported by:

  • The Music Gallery, Toronto. (2006).
  • The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston. (2005).
  • Queen’s University at Kingston. (2005).
  • New Music in New Places, which gratefully acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Music Fund, administered by The SOCAN Foundation. (2005).
  • The Canadian Music Centre (CMC). New Music in New Places is a national project of the CMC. (2005).
  • Bowdens Media Monitoring Limited. (2005).
  • Canada News Wire Ltd. and The Communications Group Inc. (2005).
  • The Canada Council for the Arts, Exploration programme (1984).

1) Zen is derived from Zen Buddhism (Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Ch'an) it originated in India about 2500 years ago with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. In a nutshell, Siddhartha, after 6 years of reductionist reflection, realized his personal “Enlightenment” and so attained the state of “Buddha” (One who is awake). He became acutely aware that everything is subject to change and that suffering and unhappiness are the result of “permanent” attachments to conditions and objects which, by their nature are impermanent. According to him, by purging oneself of these attachments, including attachment to the false notion of self or “I” one can be free of suffering. It could be said that Zen is neither a religion, nor a philosophy but could be both. To this day it is passed on from teacher to student as it is applied to all-and-anything from fly fishing to motorcycle repair.

February 9, 2010