Posts Tagged ‘David Bowie’

Exhibition | Ear (+ Eye) Music

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Radio – Rural Electrification
Administration poster,

Lester Beall, 1937

Silkscreen print
Gift of the designer
© 2014 Lester Beall Estate /
Licensed by VAGA

Making Modern Music: Design for Eye and Ear
Museum of Modern Art
New York City | USA
Until 15th November, 2015

iPod, Jonathan Ive,
Apple Industrial
Design Group, 2001

Polycarbonate plastic
and stainless steel
Manufactured by Apple, Inc.
Gift of the manufacturer

Radio poster
Hiroshi Ohchi, 1954
Silkscreen print
Gift of the designer

Don’t you wonder sometimes,
‘Bout sound and vision…

… David Bowie asked rhetorically on his album Low in 1977. The unbidden response was encrypted somewhere within the 300+ archived objects, including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, videos, set designs and his own instruments, on show at the retrospective exhibition David Bowie is, at London’s V&A in 2013, that is touring the world’s most prestigious museums. A sequel to the show, the eponymously titled film, was released this month and is currently being screened in over 40 countries across the globe.

This post, and the new exhibition at MoMA, Making Modern Music: Design for Eye and Ear, around which it is based, is not about David Bowie, nor is it about musicians, per se, but it is about the way in which – especially in the 20th and 21st centuries – music, design and technology, combined to produce objects and experiences that greatly altered our perception of what music is.

Sound and Vision is notable for its juxtaposition of electric guitar and synthesiser-led instrumental, overlaid with Bowie’s introverted lyrics. The exact origins of the electric guitar are obscure, but the idea was being played around with as early as the 1920s, and it’s fair to say that it became and remains the most important and popular instrument of the last sixty years. Its introduction signalled a major change in musical technology and has shaped the sound and direction of modern musical styles, as well as the look, presence and body language of guitarists – from Les Paul to Jimi Hendrix, to Slash and Synyster Gates – and the composition of bands, across the world; similar claims can be made for the synthesiser.

Radio-Phonograph (model SK 4/10),
Dieter Rams, Hans Gugelot, 1956

Painted metal, wood, and plastic
Manufactured by Braun AG
Gift of the manufacturer

Théâtrophone poster,
Jules Chéret, 1890
Printer Chaix (Ateliers Chéret), Paris
Given anonymously
© 2014 Jules Chéret /
Artists Rights Society (ARS)

With limited success, the concept of creating synthetic music was experimented with in the latter years of the 19th century. In the 20s, when the term ’synthesiser’ was born, people began to develop instruments that combined electronic sound generators and sequencers. Some four decades later, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1962) had an un conventional soundtrack that featured bird calls and the noise of beating wings, all produced on the Mixturtrautonium, invented by German, Oskar Sala in 1952.

Later German electronic music pioneers, Kraftwerk, were formed in Düsseldorf in 1968, where the original line-up featured keyboards, including an early synthesiser, an electric flute and electric violin. In January, 2013, with reference to the group’s February concerts, Kraftwerk – The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, in Tate Modern’s cavernous Turbine Hall, Neil McCormick, writing in The Telegraph, under the headline, Kraftwerk: the most influential group in pop history? explained that ‘the group’s style was driven by strong aesthetic choices, and a shift towards minimalism.In the same piece he described them as, A four-piece dressed in sober business suits, standing immobile at their technology stations, making synthetic music that was sparse, linear and rhythmic, yet decorated with enticing melody, writing songs that implied an almost mystical reverence for the ordinary objects of an industrial world,‘ an entirely new method of presenting music to an audience, complete with the most advanced technology available. Their first single, Autobahn (1974), however, was met with a mixed response. Nevertheless, Kraftwerk became quickly established as the pre-eminent electronic band of our times. Their ’sound painting’, musical compositions, using innovative looping techniques and computerised rhythms, had a major international influence across a wide range of music genres, paving the way for the DJs, who began to dominate nightclubs in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, the ‘bubble-machines’ that were used to create the immersive light projections of the psychedelic era, were superseded by strobe lighting and later by the mesmeric computer-synchronised laser shows commonly used to create atmosphere for live music events in the 21st century.

I will sit right down,
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude,
Over my head…

The combined gift of sound and vision was delivered, via the avant-garde ideas of furniture and interiors designers, product designers, graphic designers and architects, who made significant contributions in their respective eras to how we experience music, among them Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Serge Chermayeff, Dieter Rams, Saul Bass, Jonathan Ive, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind. Its content drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection, Making Music Modern: Design for Eye and Ear gathers designs for auditoriums, instruments, and equipment for listening to music, along with posters, record sleeves, sheet music, and animation.

All images from the archives of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.
Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

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Photography | Outta Sight

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Night Vision: Photography After Dark

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City,USA, until 18th September, 2011

As I child I was scared of the dark, of the imaginary and the real that lurked within it. So afraid was I that every night I slept with the blankets pulled up over my head and risked a spanking as punishment for wetting the bed that was my sanctuary. Then I grew up. Then I went to pubs, followed by nightclubs and often found myself walking home – sometimes staggering more than a little, in an advanced state of inebriation – the eight miles or so from the city to where I lived. The darkness in the city never frightened me. If I became detached from the crowd I had begun the evening with, comforting noises seeping out from the bars and clubs – American soul music (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye), British rock (David Bowie, Roxy Music) – and looking in through the plate glass windows of the bustling open-late eateries let me know that I was not alone. The further I walked, the more the lights dimmed, the less I could see, the more the familiar ghosts from my childhood reared up from the dark shadows that gradually grew and deepened around me. Once, at around 2 am, a friend took me via a short cut that reduced our walking time by about five minutes. He had not mentioned beforehand that it passed through a graveyard. He was not letting on but I knew he was as afraid as I was. Then all at once we started singing: She says baby ev’rything is alright, uptight, out of sight. Baby, ev’rything is alright, uptight, clean out of sight. And, well, it somehow just was…
©Pedro Silmon 2011

Highlights of the Met’s exhibition include classic 20th Century, black and white, night photography by Berenice Abbot, Bill Brandt, Brassaï,Robert Frank, André Kertész, William Klein, Weegee and Diane Arbus, among many others.

Image above by Sid Grossman (American, 1913–1955)
Image title:
Mulberry Street, 1948
Gelatin silver print. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990 (1990.1139.2). © Estate of Sid Grossman/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Are you frightened of the dark?
Do you want to tell us about it?

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