Tuesday, April 16, 2019

sound and vision

An answer to a question on the relation between music and the visual arts (from an interview with me for the website of the Corcoran School of Arts in Washington, D.C.)

"Again, books have been written, etc. A very good one is Simon Frith and Howard Horne’s Art Into Pop, which is all about the British art school tradition of forming bands. And I explore the same kind of connections in my own books like Rip It Up and Start Again, about postpunk, where so many of those groups, in the UK and in America, were formed by art school graduates. Ian Dury is a great example of this—a pupil of Peter Blake (of Sgt. Pepper’s cover fame), Dury did art teaching himself in his pre-fame days.

"However I would flip the question and argue that music—or at least pop music—is a visual art in itself. The instances of popular youth music that are purely about the music are quite rare instances—even Deadhead culture, which would seem to be not very style oriented, has a lot to do with light shows and trippy colors (not forgetting the whole tie-dye thing). But specifically in terms of capital A “Art,” pop music has always been as much about clothes, stage moves, theatricality, spectacle… about packaging, album covers, posters, T-shirts, logos, promotional campaigns … about videos and films too.

"Pop is a messy hybrid of music, visuals, lyrics, business, discourse. In the early decades of pop and rock, pop stars usually had teams of experts providing these elements: a group would have favorite photographers, or fashion designers they worked with, promo directors, graphic artists doing the logo and the album covers. Groups that took a very active and informed direct involvement in directing all of that were quite unusual—the David Bowies and Roxy Musics and Talking Heads. However as the years have gone by it’s more and more the case that bands involve themselves intensely in all the para-musical aspects of the band. Look at a group like Vampire Weekend, who design their own record covers and clearly have firm opinions about typography and such like. The new DIY artists in underground music often create the whole package themselves—the music, but also the record covers and the little abstract or weird promos they put on YouTube. I guess the software used in all these processes is not only affordable, but the skills required are transferable."


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