By Eric Herman
Sometimes it’s the most ordinary experiences that yield the most sublime memories – the pleasant surprise, a beautiful view, the warmth of the sun after a dip in the ocean. For me (and I suspect I’m not alone), these experiences occur
more often than not with some involvement of water.
Not long ago, for example, I was enjoying dinner with a dear friend at a particularly enjoyable Indian restaurant in Los Angeles. We ate terrific food, drank a great bottle of wine, were comfortable in a great ambiance and engaged in relaxed conversation.
As we entered, I noticed a small fountain trickling away in the corner of the dining room. It wasn’t much, but it completely suited its surroundings. I also noticed the strains of an authentic Indian Raga playing softly over the room’s sound system. It may strike some as unusual, but I’ve always enjoyed the sounds made by sitars.
As we were eating, the owner stopped by our table to say hello and ask how we were enjoying our meal, and I mentioned how much I liked the music. His face lit up, and he offered me an insight I’d never considered: “The tonality and rhythm has always reminded me of the sound of water,” he said. “It seems to play right along with the fountain.”
I listened to the music again with his observation in mind, and I couldn’t help noticing an almost mesmerizing intermingling of the fountain’s gentle splashing and the cascades of the musical tones. There was an order to the interplay, a distinct aesthetic experience and what seemed to me an obvious connection between the natural element and the human consciousness.
This revelation is nothing new, as music has often been inspired by the textures of nature. Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote songs while listening to birds singing in the forests above Rio de Janeiro, and Claude Debussy said he was inspired by the sounds of wind rushing through the meadows of Southern France.
I don’t want this to get too high-flown, but my experience in the restaurant that night helped me see that watershaping is an art form that, like music, is quite often inspired by the dynamics of the natural world and also depends on the momentary participation and perception of the viewer/listener. When it all comes together, the experience is just as elevating and engrossing, whether it’s the work of a musical composer or a watershape designer.
In this issue, we’re proud to present a profound example of the artistic power of watershaping in the work of Anthony Archer Wills, a true master of the use of water in landscapes. Please enjoy “Echoes of Enchantment,” in which he shares his formative water-related experiences as well as patterns of observation that form the heart of his extraordinary works in water, rock and plant material (click here).
His experiences don’t involve music in a literal sense, but there’s a poetry and rhythm to what he does that makes his work sing to us just the same. As I worked with him in preparing the piece for print, I was struck by the fact that, although he often works on projects with enormous physical scale and great complexity, it is the small details that capture his interest and form the core of his endeavors.
As is true of many accomplished watershapers, Wills is a devoted student of nature. If there’s something that may set him apart, however, it is that he also plies his trade with beguiling wit, delightful whimsy and a sense of “enchantment” – to borrow his favorite word.