Inspirations I – Music – Soundtracks to landscapes.
Music has always played a massively important part in my work, from the very beginning of my MA when I was convinced I would emulate my heroes in the music poster scene, through my series of pinhole camera concert photography. This body of work on the surface does not seem to have an overtly musical connection (beyond the print titles borrowed wholesale from the work of Explosions in the Sky). Yet these pieces feel far more strongly inspired by music than any of my previous work, something I did not fully realise until I came to title them. The work of three key bands have become and intrinsically linked to how I think about my work, they have become the soundtrack to The Quiet Earth, or more accurately The Quiet Earth represents my response to their work. All three of them share a commonality in their ability to create beautiful haunting soundscapes that in turn conjure tangible, touchable landscapes and worlds, building complex visual narratives without singing a single word.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed sound tracked my journey around Iceland, their apocalyptic post-rock providing the perfect accompaniment to the isolated volcanic landscapes, black sands beautifully bleak horizon. From the first time I heard their music I have been fascinated by the dystopian future world they have created through their slowly expanding crescendo core opuses but also through their careful and delicate use of spoken word and found sound. You only need to listen to the opening passages of The Dead Flag Blues to understand what makes their music so evocative, disturbing and passionate.
the car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel
and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
and a dark wind blows
the government is corrupt
and we're on so many drugs
with the radio on and the curtains drawn
we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death
the sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles
it went like this:
the buildings tumbled in on themselves
mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble
and pulled out their hair
the skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
Explosions in the Sky
Like Godspeed, Explosions create lonely and haunting soundscapes that I have consistently felt the need to attempt to visualise through my work. They too soundtrack an end of days, a sense of epic loneliness and isolation, but this is a far more personal realisation of these themes, less tangibly of the landscape, more of the self. They paint the internal landscapes of heartache, longing and loss writ large as deep valleys and mountain peaks, lost roads and stormy skies. There is something at once epic and deeply intimate about their work, as much about destruction and despair as hope and rebirth.
The Dirty Three
No other artist is has affected my work more tangibly, yet more subtly than The Dirty Three. Warren Ellis’ haunting violin refrains, sorrowful and angry, momentarily heartbroken then joyful. With their rich instrumental scores, The Dirty Three create epic landscapes and intimate backroom scenes at one and the same time. They are a dirt road and a rolling sea, a roaring bar brawl and an intimate conversation with an old friend. I first saw them perform at the ATP Festival they curated in 2007, and was instantly awe struck, not simply by the charisma and energy of Ellis on stage, but with sheer transportive power of their music, loosely shaping a narrative for each song with a brief, rambling, but poignant burst of stage banter, before descending into rich emotional narratives that feel all the richer and tangible for their lack of words, the violin, drums and guitar emoting more delicately and passionately than a thousand voices.
It is hard to point to a specific aspect of my work and say how it has been influenced by the artists and bands I have talked about here. Perhaps most obviously I aspire for my work to evoke the sense of place and time that I hear when I play Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but at the same time there is an intimacy and hope in Explosions in the Sky that I am keen to reflect, a warmth and comfort born from chaos, the sense of the hard journey with a safe and secure end. More so than anything though poignancy and beauty of The Dirty Three is something that I carry with me, a barely whispered soundtrack to my life, never heard more strongly than when I am in the studio, or with camera in hand.