Quilted Music: Caris Burton and Birds in Warped Time

A photo of Caris Burton's quilt inspired by Somei Satoh's "Birds in Warped Time II" - see it in person at the Genesee Valley Quilt Club Show at RIT, May 31-June 2.

Hearing a piece of music on WXXI's Classical 91.5 inspired quilting artist Caris Burton to create a new work. I love the connections she made with this music and its composer, and I'm glad that she took some time to write up this story to share here on the WXXI blog. Read Caris's story below, and you can see two music inspired quilts by Caris Burton on display at the Genessee Valley Quilt Club Show at RIT May 31st through June 2nd.


I think it was about a year ago that I was listening to 91.5 in my sewing room, as usual, when you played “Birds in Warped Time II” by Somei Satoh. Normally I’m concentrating on what I’m doing and listening is mostly in the background, but this piece somehow captured my attention and made me actually stop what I was doing and really listen. It’s not even the kind of music I generally gravitate to- the usual suspects, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, etc. It’s contemporary for sure- and in a GOOD way! I went right to the website to look at the play list, and not only found the title and composer, but ever so conveniently placed- a button to purchase the recording! So I went for it and got the MP3 and later went back for the CD.

Meanwhile, my fiber arts group- Rochester Area Fiber Artists, was presented with an opportunity to participate in a proposed exhibit of art quilts with the theme “Nature Behind Bars”. The quilts would be exhibited at the Genesee Valley Quilt Club show in 2013, and then possibly travel to other venues. I had no idea what to do- mundane images of animals in a zoo kept popping into my head. Then it hit me- Nature behind bars of music!

Birds in Warped Time II” seemed perfect for this- but I had to get permission from the composer, Somei Satoh. This was a bit of a challenge. He is Japanese, with a website all in Japanese. I did attempt to contact him through the website, then got help from a Japanese-American friend of mine who translated my questions and sent an e-mail in Japanese. Then you got on his trail for me, also trying to contact him, even through the violinist Anne Akiko Meyers who is a champion of his music in the U.S. There even is a Somei Satoh Facebook fan page, though it turned out not to be helpful.

I was getting nowhere, and the deadline for entering the exhibit was approaching. I still wanted to go with the “bars of music” and there are so many musical possibilities. The “Trout Quintet” by Franz Schubert seemed like fun, so I got to work on that. A friend of mine, also a RAFA member, has a business printing computer images on fabric, so she scanned and photo-shopped music of the “Trout” and also “Birds”- just in case. It was printed on a yard of silk organza and ready to be one of the elements of my art quilts.

Not long after work was begun on “Trout”, I was totally shocked to check my e-mail and find a message from Somei Satoh himself! He was so gracious and gladly gave permission to use images of the music (which he included in the e-mail, though I had already purchased it) and to use a sound recording. (I would love to include that in an exhibit, if I had the means and the know-how.)

So now I was able to go ahead with “Birds in Warped Time”- not in time for the special exhibit, but fortunate that now there was no size restriction. Translating music into a visual art form is certainly a very personal labor. Clearly no two people would do it the same way, and even the same person might do it differently in a different time. I’m not sure I’m done with this piece.

My hope is to have this music performed locally sometime soon. Much as we love WXXI radio, we need the live music experience too.

Both of my quilts are part of the GVQC 2013 show at the RIT Gordon Field House, May 31-June 2. GVQC is one of the oldest quilt guilds in the country- 77 years! We have over 400 members, of all ages and skill levels, though to be sure, some are right up near the top. We have many top prize winners in very prestigious international quilt shows, and feel lucky to be able to view their work and learn from them.

-Caris Burton