Music can be so many things at once; for instance, it can be alluring, inspiring, offbeat, otherworldly, challenging, unsettling, uplifting, melodious, and jarring. Thankfully, the music of my life has been extraordinarily inventive, filled with heady creativity, far-reaching, diverse, and jam-packed with spectacular surprises, and, to this day, all of it remains an undeniable soundtrack to my daily existence. There is much to be said about growing up as I did in a pre-Internet world having to work diligently to discover new music organically, as opposed to seeking instant gratification by being spoon-fed so-called original new music according to some streaming music service’s mainstream, programmed, and algorithmic vision of what constitutes good music.
I grew up with my adventure-seeking ears tuned to the airwaves of free-form, progressive, and college radio stations. I was always on the lookout for the apocryphal X, or other fabled border blasters in perpetual search of my own Texas Radio and the Big Beat. Or you could find me hovering over and obsessively fingering through the LP bins in small, independent record stores, in my mushrooming and never-ending search for music I was sure my friends had not heard yet (possibly more to come in a future Blogbook entry on the importance of this seemingly innocent activity). Imagine attending music listening parties where the price of admission was just bringing a single record; with the only stipulation being it had to be a record no one else was familiar with or had heard before. Years spent working for a regional concert promoter in the 1970s connected me with the bands and musicians I had been listening to since my youth. My musical journey never failed to spontaneously reward my ever-growing curiosity and unquenchable sense of exploration with heretofore unheard discoveries. And to this very day, music’s inexorable pull and my love affair with it carries on in frenzied fashion both untarnished and unabated.
Turning to the question presented by this Blogbook entry – Does the experience of music as art intrinsically permeate YOUR life? As designers of rooms and spaces in which to share music with others, this is a question Brooke and I ask our clients quite often. For us, the experience of music is and always has been just that, an experience to be savored and exalted. Same goes for the rooms and spaces in which we listen to music.
In my life, music does not exist in isolation; the beauty of the listening space, the experience of the music, and the sharing of the two with others are eternally haloed together and inseparable. They are essential and miraculous lifestyle elements that I will never compromise. Growing up in a Family that embraced music, my nascent exposure to music as a child gave rise to a lifelong appreciation of the music experience as a communal event and a desire to share this experience with others.
However, during my lifetime, I have also witnessed others (self-proclaimed audiophiles) listening to music as a solitary pastime in a lifeless, unadorned, but acoustically-perfect and technologically-obsessed room, designed not necessarily to listen to music that is loved, but to play only music that showcases the sound of their room and their audio system. Without intending to pass judgment on those so inclined, that, to me, is perplexing and extraordinarily sad because music is created to be loved and shared.
The marriage of music, interior design, listening in the company of others, and lifestyle are widely understood and nurtured in Europe and Asia, but not so much in the United States, at least not in the way it was during the 1950s through the 1980s. As a design house with a specialty in creating music rooms, Brooke and I are mindful of the importance of resurrecting this experience for the benefit of music lovers here in the States. This is one of the reasons why our Blogbook entries often touch upon music’s inimitable nature as well as those bands, musicians, and composers who have created the music we love.
This Blogbook entry found its inspiration, in part, through our ongoing work to restore a magnificent 19th Century opera house located in New York State. For most of this year, we have been steeped in the history of the “opera house” phenomenon taking place during the post-Civil War Gilded Age period in the United States; the history of various modernist artistic secession (sezession) movements that took place throughout Europe in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries; the histories of romance, counterculture, and spiritual movements of the 18th and 19th Centuries; and becoming reacquainted with the early 20th Century pageantry and spectacle of Les Ballets Russes. Of these, it is the Russes that I would like to shine the light on in the context of this Blogbook entry.
Les Ballets Russes, taking an inspired cue from the aesthetic theories advanced in the 19th Century by polemic composer Richard Wagner, epitomized the importance of bringing together various art forms, and it did so in perhaps the purest form of artistic collaboration the modern world has ever known. The Russes, in Gesamtkunstwerk fashion, and with a deft and artful hand, deconstructed everything that came before, all dance, music, and design, and recontextualized all of it, along with their component parts into a revolutionary whirl within an all-embracing and far-reaching visionary framework. Make no mistake about it, the Russes, who fearlessly combined ballet, music, costumes, lighting, set design, and the visual and decorative arts, were the World’s premier creative ensemble and art workshop.
With Sergei Diaghilev as director, Leon Bakst as costume designer, and the ever-captivating prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, over a twenty year period, the Russes collaborated with a veritable “who’s who” of the 20th Century’s most prodigious artistic talents, many of whom have significantly influenced Raven Vanguard's sense of style. The Russes worked with choreographers like George Balanchine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Michel Fokine, Bronislava Nijinska, and Leonide Massine, costume designers like Coco Chanel, Sonia Delaunay, and Natalia Goncharova, stage designers like Alexandre Benois, artists like Chagall, Kandinsky, de Chirico, Cocteau, Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Braque, and Larionov, and composers like Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Strauss, Satie, Debussy, and Ravel.
Taken together, the work of the Russes and its coterie of artistic collaborators has helped to define and shape Raven Vanguard’s sense of style regarding the interconnectedness of art, design, dance, and music, and its aesthetic belief in the importance of synthesizing and harmonizing each artistic element into a panoptic, encompassing experience. We attempt to translate the artistry of the Russes, and other like-minded visionaries, in creating spaces within which to experience music.
Les Ballets Russes designed the whole of each performance to be an interwoven, passionately-intense, and visually rich multi-sensory experience. The composers who worked with the Russes understood fully that the enjoyment of their music depended on more than the aural experience alone, that what one was hearing was also affected by what one was simultaneously seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Knowing the importance of the interconnectedness between stage and set design, lighting, costuming, atmosphere, and visual aesthetics on the observer’s overall enjoyment of the music and dance experience, the Russes unconventionally created a beautiful aesthetic experience connecting the observer to both the emotional essence of the music and the onstage performance.
The Ballet Russes prided itself on delivering performances that lived on the cutting-edge, some would even venture to say specific performances downright abandoned the edge altogether. For example, the May 29, 1913, premier of the very first ballet performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), with its intricate and ominous score, audacious costumes, primitive, almost pagan-like choreography, and ritualistic themes, is the stuff of legend, literally causing rioting in the theater that spilled out onto the streets of Paris.
Had it not been for my introduction to Les Ballets Russes during my freshman year of college, I may never have had the privilege of discovering the artistic and creative brilliance that was Das Triadische Ballet, Oskar Schlemmer, Staatliches Bauhaus, or Black Mountain College, but I digress (note to self – the makings of a future Blogbook entry).
Is the experience of music as art ever present in your life? Do you take time to share the combined experience of art, music, and room design with family, friends, and others that you are close to? If not, please pardon me, but WTF? If a dedicated music room is not part of your existence, you owe it to yourself and to those you spend time with to visit our music room to find out for yourself just how life-changing one of our rooms can be.
Now it is time to recognize Raven’s Cultural Vanguardist of the Month. In October we acknowledged the rhythm and grace of Sera Solstice, and in November we paid homage to musical artists Diamanda Galas and Scott Walker. This month we pay tribute posthumously to Alexander McQueen, whom we speculate may have himself been an admirer of Les Ballets Russes. In fact, not long after McQueen’s death, the fashion house he had founded, then under the watchful eye of Creative Director Sarah Burton, unveiled its Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection at the Opera Comique in Paris. The program notes for this Show proclaim the inspiration to have been – “The ecclesiastical wardrobe, from communion gowns to cardinals’ robes. The high church. Nuns, popes, angels. The Ballets Russes. Virgin Queen.” Here is just a glimpse of this fascinating show -
I became familiar with Alexander McQueen’s work in the early 1990s. Although his fashion creations are now considered iconic, it was not McQueen’s couture artistry that first captured my attention. Instead, it was the uniquely-McQueen aesthetic and narratives on display in his hauntingly debauched and ritualistic runway shows that drew me into the world of Alexander McQueen. His catwalk shows were purposefully designed to affect all of the senses; often taking place within decrepit buildings, accompanied by raucous soundtracks, imagery with quasi-religious, tribalistic, or sinister undertones, diabolically seductive choreography, and finales that were often hell-bent on disturbing even the imperturbable.
Future generations of designers will no doubt study and attempt to mimic McQueen’s transcendent, darkly romantic, and wickedly perverse runway shows like Nihilism, Dante, Irere, Joan, Eye, Angels and Demons, What a Merry Go Round, Black, In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Eshu, and La Dame Bleue, among many others of note. And if you've seen it, I am sure you haven't forgotten the ghostly Kate Moss hologram that appeared during the finale of the Widows of Culloden; masterfully spellbinding, pure voodoo genius at work.
To this day, McQueen is rightfully lauded by artists from all genres, and from all corners of the globe. His rise to prominence took place during a period fashion was fighting tooth and nail to reestablish its relevance in the more massive and rapidly expanding world of disposable commerce. McQueen, like Les Ballets Russes before him, restored the importance of artistic endeavor as a collaborative effort between artists crossing over many unique and distinct artistic disciplines. Raven Vanguard is forever indebted to the spectacle, artistry, and influence of Alexander McQueen.
Since this will likely be our final Blogbook entry for 2017, we will leave you with several LP recommendations based on what we have been listening to over the past couple of weeks. For no particular reason, we have been dialed in on the year 1979 recently, and strongly recommend making time for (in no specific order): Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats; Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports’ S/T; The Pop Group’s Y; Henry Cow’s Western Culture; This Heat’s S/T; Pere Ubu’s New Picnic Time; Fingerprintz's The Very Dab; The Raincoats’ S/T; Tubeway Army’s Replicas; Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures; The Slits’ Cut; William Onyeabor’s Tomorrow; Marianne Faithful's Broken English; Univers Zero’s Hérésie; Black Uhuru's Showcase; Talking Head’s Fear of Music; Chrome’s Half Machine Lip Moves; Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage Acts I, II, and III; Linton Kwesi Johnson's Forces of Victory; Holger Czukay's Movies; Robert Fripp’s Exposure; Peter Hammill’s PH7; Adam and the Ants' Dirk Wears White Sox; Gang of Four’s Entertainment; David Bowie’s Lodger; Bill Bruford's One of a Kind; and Public Image Limited's Metal Box. Very much like the remarkable music of 1959 and 1969 closed out the two preceding decades, the pages of time will prove to be equally kind to 1979's musical legacy.
We also recommend setting aside some free time to deeply dive headfirst into Fela Kuti’s recently released Box Set #4 (containing 7 LPs of music released between 1976 and 1984) which is part of Knitting Factory Records’ massive reissue campaign of Kuti’s storied back catalog. And for something that was actually recorded in 2017, we suggest making time for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Rest; Charlotte is the Daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. The 1969 Self-Titled release by Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg and Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 solo record titled Histoire de Melody Nelson are in our record collection, so we recommend these albums as well. Beyond these, if you covet a French Connection to your music, I urge you to search out a copy of Noir et Blanc, the 1983 collaboration between French composer Hector Zazou, French electronicists CY1, and Congolese vocalist Bony Bikaye.
At the time Noir et Blanc was released, the most obvious musical touchstone I could have given you would have been My Life in the Bush of Ghosts released by Brian Eno and David Byrne two years prior in 1981. Let’s call Noir et Blanc and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts empathetic step-cousins. If you were to close your eyes and imagine Can, Damo Suzuki, Kraftwerk, and Fela Kuti trapped in a recording studio with Conny Plank, when you open your eyes and ears you would have Noir et Blanc.
And you would be mistaken if you thought I would end it there; I just can’t recommend Noir et Blanc without also mentioning Den Sorte Skole’s Lektion III released in 2013. Den Sorte Skole is self-described as being a small collective of “sample-based” producers and composers from Copenhagen. Lektion III can best be described as a crate digging, sample-heavy, genre-crossing, cross-cultural, and seamless pastiche of music that runs the gamut from unknown, to esoteric, to barely recognizable, to somewhat familiar. Here is a link to the mind trip that is Den Sorte Skole
Oh, what the hell, here’s another one, The Sound Defects’ The Iron Horse released in 2008; a forty-five-minute sampledelic journey that shares a kindred headspace with Den Sorte Skole. And finally, we're done.
We wish all of our readers a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season and a bountiful and life-affirming 2018. And, as always, thanks for checking in; Peace, out!
P.S. Something to ponder, is it just me, or did the year 2017 pass by like a whirlwind at break-neck speed unlike any other year in your lifetime? Perplexing indeed, and, justifiably, the cause for much introspective ruminating on my part. Something tells me that while in college I should have paid closer attention to Einstein’s theoretical musings on relativity and Minkowski’s ramblings on the space-time continuum; the answers to this harrowingly rapid acceleration in the elapse of time must be mysteriously buried in their work somewhere.