Untitled, 1955

John Mclaughlin
United States, 1898-1976
Los Angeles County Fund

Listen: Music Selection

Read: Liner Notes

The Japanese concept of ma is elegantly expressed through its kanji symbol 間, a merging of the figures for door 門 and sun 日. When combined, these characters depict sunlight seeping through the crevices of a doorframe. Ma gracefully sums up the duality of structure and space—where emptiness is not vacancy but rather a potent, ephemeral zone. A lifelong aficionado of Japanese art, John McLaughlin harnessed the power of the void in his paintings. By balancing form and formlessness, his works don’t dictate meaning but instead provide reflective frameworks for viewers to fill with their personal impressions. This was an inclination shared by Japanese composer Satoshi Ashikawa, a pioneer of the Japanese kankyō ongaku or environmental music scene that coalesced in the early 1980s around his Tokyo-based record and book store Art Vivant. Ashikawa’s oeuvre was inspired by Erik Satie's early 20th century concept of furniture music, an idea embraced by John Cage for its non-subjective nature, and one that laid the groundwork for Brian Eno’s ambient music innovations. Ashikawa remarked that his audio compositions were, "Intended to be listened to in a casual manner, as a musical landscape or a sound object... not something that would stimulate listeners but music that should drift like smoke and become part of the environment." This is a spirit that would have likely resonated with McLaughlin who composed spatial fields of infinite possibility.