Monday, 5 August 2013

On Art and Music: Making Dance Music & Producing Artworks

Keith Haring: Untitled (Palladium backdrop), 1985

At the birth of, what is now usually referred to as, 'dance music' at venues such as The Loft and The Gallery in 1970's NYC, it often inhabited a cultural arena congruent with the city's art scene and artists, along with both New Wave and nascent Hip Hop. Arthur Russell, for instance, one time musical director of avant-guard downtown performance space The Kitchen, made disco records with early innovators Nicky Siano and Francois Kevorkian, Keith Haring decorated the interior  of The Palladium nightclub and Jean-Michel Basquiat executive produced an early electro-rap Lp.

As both a producer of dance music and art the relationship been the two has always sat comfortably with me. My art work is conceptual, idea-based, de-skilled (de-crafted would be a better term) so an artwork's creation, bar the practicalities of some perfunctory post-production, may only take a fraction of second (while obviously the background that enables an idea to pop-up i.e the *research* - reading and thinking about that which interests me, is continuous). Therefore my practice is generally a very cerebral thing and a non-craft based thing. The music on the other hand, being 'dance music' (I dislike the term), is ultimately located in the body. Therefore while a viewers engagement with the art is extremely subjective/contingent/contextual, with the music it operate at a more primordial, visceral, and in a sense 'pure' level i.e a person will either 'feel it' or they won't. While language, discourse and discussion are integral to a viewers engagement with the artworks they are, to a large extent, superfluous in relationship to the music. So to be a little bit simplistic one is 'mind' - the other ‘body'.

On a practical level while I find making art (as opposed living life!) very easy - this leaves me with a pervasive feeling that maybe it has no value. While having a basic 'feel' for music is something one is born with I've enjoyed the challenge of learning the technical aspects that are essential in modern dance music production, and cultivating the skills to listen analytically and craft sounds - 'sound design' and getting these sounds to sit together is very much a *craft* just like a carpenter developing a feel for different timbers or a painter developing an understanding for how different oils mix.

Having said there are also projects where the two have come together: In a piece I did for my MA show at Central Saint Martins with Paul Abbott, we performed a live audio/visual 'set’ mashing together randomly selected youtube clips with software we had developed ourselves. In a recent piece I performed at the Vibe Gallery I mixed 'spiritual' music from around the world, such as Japanese rieki, Tibetan singing bowl music and Estonian sacred classical, in a dj set applying the techniques and effects of Jamaican dub such as delay, frequency modulation and extreme reverb. ‘Live Sonic Arts Event’ was a performance evening I curated at Chelsea College of Art. The evening aimed to explore the space between the divergent audience expectation’s of a dance music event and and a sonic arts performance. It included performances by Julian Doyle AKA Filter Feeder and Pete Caul AKA Pseudo Nippon. One of my earliest pieces consisted of 5 wall mounted 12" x 12" panels each coverd in a different coloured layer of hi-gloss paint, each titled below after an underground dance record from early 1980s NYC.