It's not only Rock 'n' Roll, Baby! , Jérôme Sans’s enthusiastically titled 2008 exhibition of art by musicians at the Bozar in Brussels was memorable for many reasons (not least of which that the skinny-jeaned curator’s own band – Liquid Architecture – was booked to play the opening). As well as revealing that the creepy infantilism of Cocorosie was far better expressed in audio than in winsome sub-foundation-year assemblages, and that Pete Doherty drawing with his own blood is quite as grim as it sounds, the show was also a reminder that for every artist nurturing a secret band project (remember Eric Fischl rocking out with Dan Graham, David Salle, Mike Smith and Barbara Kruger in ArtReview October 2014?), there’s a musician dreaming of Fabriano and turpentine.
While we may not all be playing from the same page (in my case, it’s a leaf from Beck’s sheet music only album Song Reader, 2013) one thing all parties across the art/music divide seem to share is a fetish for recordings – be that via vinyl, tape or mid-life-crisis DJ uploads to Mixcloud.
Obsessive crate-digger Allen Ruppersberg’s (officially anonymous) El Segundo Record Club project produces one-sided lathe-cut home disc recordings of old 78s from the artist’s collection, issued as editions in sleeves customised from other records. The 15 available cuts of John White’s Strawberry Roan (1931), for example, are for sale in modified covers plundered from singles by Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg, as well as Hayley Mills singing Jeepers Creepers (1962), the image from which is obscured by the words ‘piss off piss off piss off’ delivered in even, marker-penned caps across its surface. When I directed DJ friends of mine to the project, they sounded quite scandalised: ‘In our world defacing record covers would normally reduce the value not increase it…clearly been wasting our time keeping ’em in good nick…now where’s that sharpie?’ Not one for the Hayley Mills fans, then, but for those who share Ruppersberg’s rejection of reverence, (and are too young to have visited the artist’s earlier café and hotel projects), the record club provides compelling certificates of inauthenticity as well as recorded rarities.
A rather more worshipful approach to recorded material – and the sleeves it comes in – is held by the beyond-fanboy Edition Fieber. Over twenty years as a music journalist on zines, mags and rags, Kaput Magazin-founder Thomas Venker developed a taste for visual art through the relationship between bands such as Sonic Youth and Black Flag with artists including Raymond Pettibon and Mike Kelley. He started Edition Fieber in 2010 with Jan Lankisch, art director and A&R for Cologne’s arty indie-pop label Tomlab, putting out limited runs of artist vinyl in a loving tribute to the unassailable links between the worlds of art and music. The five editions so far have included a recording by Pettibon, (performing with bassist Mike Watt as Sock-Tight) and Terence Koh’s pair of diamond-white discs, on one of which he sings reedily under the influence of mushrooms in the moonlit forest. Soundcloud recordings of the tracks can be accessed on the website for the curious but impecunious / unturntabled.
One recording project that has fascinated from afar is LA’s auditorily 'locovore' artist-run radio station Kchung, which broadcasts from its Chinatown base to surrounding city blocks on 1630 AM, and was featured in the Hammer museum’s Made In LA biennial last summer. Acknowledging that now, more than ever, LA seems to lead the curve on art and social trends, it seems a given that we’ll be listening to ultra-hood-centric shambolic conceptual AM broadcasting by the year’s end – until that point you can make like you’re a Chinatown local and hear excerpts from the station’s archive streaming online. For extra LA cred, support the station by buying one of their mugs, which displays all the authentic design flair of a low-rent FM radio logo circa 1986. Too cool.
Humble, resonant, and distinctly 1980s joys are celebrated too by The Tapeworm, a cassette-only label that publishes recent and historic recordings that celebrate the sonic and textural particularities of tape, united rather satisfyingly by their black and white cover illustrations. Recordings range from a compilation of Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s tape-centric compositions and soundworks, to three conversations with Derek Jarman recorded in 1979–80 in Soho by Richard Torry as research for his dissertation at Middlesex Poly. More recently The Tapeworm has released Paul H. Williams’s Aeroforms (1984–5): recordings of music produced by a generative program Williams wrote for a BBC Microcomputer and Ample software some 30 years ago.
Writing about artist recordings without mentioning The Vinyl Factory is an Oulipo-like game of conscious and perverse avoidance these days – the art-loving London vinyl label has made regular appearances in the pages of ArtReview over the last few years, but it’s still busy breaking new ground. This last month it has sired two exhibition-come-record happenings; gig recordings and record pressings with Christian Marclay at White Cube in Bermondsey, and Trevor Jackson’s new album F O R M A T, which was showing / playing at the Brewer Street carpark in Soho. Marclay’s vinyls are recorded from a series of in situ gigs, including spots from Thurston Moore and Mica Levi (aka the wonderful Micachu, she of the soundscape from Under The Skin, 2013). The editions are recorded, pressed and bestowed screenprint covers at the gallery as part of Marclay’s sonically-fascinated show. Jackson’s album F O R M A T, his first in 14 years, will be a little harder to hear in its entirety, each track being presented on a different format, in accessibility ranging from reel-to-reel tape to USB.
So now you have your recordings – what to play them through? If your regular woofers and tweeters seem a little vanilla for the material at hand, seek out 6. Petr Davydtchenko’s Monster 1 (2014): the hood of a Honda Ibiza, beaten, bent and stripped, then reimagined as a functional speaker (albeit one replete with the kind of violent, macho overtones that would well suit the grotesquely oil-rich or energy-drink pumped).
Online exclusive published 11 March 2015