Disquiet Junto Project 0036: Still Life
The painter Clyfford Still (1904-1980) was one of the great practitioners of abstract expressionism. The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, not only houses a wealth of his works, it also has on display artifacts from Still's daily life and practice, such as his smock, his old paint cans — and his record collection. These records, displayed behind glass, include pieces by Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, among others, and they're accompanied by a small note: "Clyfford Still was passionate about music, particularly classical music. Shown here are several samples from his record collection." In this week's project we're going to take that word "sample" literally.
There's an interesting question inherent here about matters of aesthetic influence: how it is that the man who painted such massive and graphically evocative works was, in fact, listening to music far more figurative than the art he himself produced? The goal of this week's Disquiet Junto project is to take a shared sample of the sort of music that Still loved — a 78rpm recording of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, II. Andante — and turn it into something that might be deserving of the term "abstract expressionism."
So, the instructions for this week are as follows:
Step 1. Please select part of the designated MP3 of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, II. Andante.
Step 2. Then transform that sample, through any methods you desire, into something that you feel meets the definition of "abstract expressionism" provided by the Clyfford Still Museum: "marked by abstract forms, expressive brushwork, and monumental scale."
You cannot add any sounds to the sample, but you can manipulate the sample in any way you see fit.
I looked at Still’s abstract work, alongside his earlier work, and I decided (conveniently for me) that he was doing with paint what I sometimes try to do with sound – going deep inside former works, digging out the hidden elements inside their representational exteriors… reaching into the fractal interior, if you like, trying to pull out and display on canvas the strange misery that is part of the human condition. One of his earlier works, PH-79, struck me particularly. It is a grotesque Pieta, possibly inspired by the events of the Dustbowl, but presciently painted only four years before the outbreak of a war that would end with the revelations of the Death Camps and the generation of images that would change Art and Society forever.
Adolf Busch, whose Chamber Players recorded the piece we are using, was so revolted by the rise of Nazism that he left Germany in 1927 for Switzerland, migrating to the USA when WW2 erupted.
I chose the last twenty seconds of Bach’s moving piece to work with. More ambitious than usual, I wanted to recreate the almost unbearably sad mood of Samuel Barber’s haunting Adagio For Strings, so I stretched the sample using four different methods and tonalities and mixed them together. I then fed the sample into ambient v.3, rode the delay controls as carefully as I could and cut up the resulting track, rearranging it to suit the dynamics of the 8+ minute ambient version that the stretching and mixing had produced. I then interpolated the original sample, with its wonderful aged and shellac-surfaced ambience, near each end of the piece.
This track is a transformation, in honor of painter Clyfford Still, of a sample of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, II. Andante, culled from this recording:
More on the Clyfford Still Museum at clyffordstillmuseum.org.
More on this 36th Disquiet Junto project at:
More details on the Disquiet Junto at: http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto/info