Article: Sound and Vision at Tate Modern

Gallery looks to contemporary music to attract the next generation

Esther Addley
Friday September 1, 2006

Writing about music, someone once said, is like dancing about architecture. In which case making music about abstract art must be a little like knitting origami in rhyming couplets.
Undaunted, however, eight musicians have accepted that challenge, agreeing to each compose a track in response to a piece of art at Tate Modern that inspires or moves them.

The museum at London's Bankside may be the most popular in Europe but it remains concerned about its appeal to young people and those communities where gallery-going is not a frequent pastime. The gallery has asked artists as diverse as the hip hop singer Estelle, former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and east end rap collective Roll Deep each to select a work in the museum and compose a piece in response.

The tracks will be rolled out month by month, with listening posts installed next to the artworks where visitors can pause, don headphones and tap their feet in tune to such artists as Anish Kapoor, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly.

Yesterday saw a preview of the first work to be installed, a track by the Chemical Brothers inspired by Jacob Epstein's 1913-14 sculpture Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill. Epstein once said that his bronze sculpture, half man and half machine, was "an armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein's monster we have made ourselves into". The response from the dance duo is a dark, pounding bass track that evokes hammers on anvils and chandeliers being flung down staircases.

Will Gompertz, director of Tate Media, said the point of the exercise was to show that "you don't have to have an art history degree to come and enjoy the collection at Tate, you can just come in and take the emotional, the visceral experience away with you".

Despite an early gaffe that suggested that the two worlds are perhaps not yet perfectly aligned, in which Mr Gompertz referred to the Sheffield indie band The Long Blondes as "the long johns", he said he had been surprised at the uniformly high quality of the tracks produced by the artists.

"What's amazed me is they're all bloody good. Because you never quite know. They've all done it out of the goodness of their hearts and because they are interested in the project, and so you're not in a position to say yes or no, you just take what you're given. But they've been amazing."
Flow Dan, one of the Roll Deep MCs, said the group had settled on its chosen work, Anish Kapoor's egg-like sculpture Ishi's Light, because "it was the piece that really got us excited the most. There's a lot of art in here and a lot of nice things, but this one, it's more hands on. You go in and there's an experience, and you come away thinking, as opposed to just staring at a piece and not knowing what it is." Their track, Searching is a response to the disorientating effect of the work's reflections.

Graham Coxon said he had wanted his piece, a 15-minute thrum more reminiscent of a faulty fridge than one of his better known singles, to be as simple as possible so as not to distract from his own chosen work, the 1960 Franz Kline painting Meryon.

"I didn't want to interfere with the meditation that I feel I'm having when I'm looking at a painting. So I didn't chop up the sound, organise it into bars, or use drums or any kind of rhythm. I tried to use the simplest type of sound I could - vibration - and that's really all it is, just a few things vibrating and moving around, and some dissonances. Then it builds, I suppose, and gets a bit catchier at the end. Not much catchier though."

Coxon, now a solo artist and also a prolific painter who has designed all of his own record sleeves, said he didn't think galleries needed to panic about attracting young people. "There have always been people who dig art and people who couldn't care less."

But he added: "Hopefully people will get hooked, if they allow themselves to be hooked by abstract art and not be too self-conscious or believe that they aren't good enough to like it. I know it can be scary. It's not really, it's just paint."

The musicians and their inspiration

September 1
The Chemical Brothers Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill (1913-14) - Jacob Epstein
October 1
Roll Deep Ishi's Light (2003) - Anish Kapoor
November 1
Graham CoxonMeryon (1960-61) - Franz Kline
December 1
The Long BlondesArtwork to be confirmed
January 1
Vavavoom Brillo (1964) - Andy Warhol
February 1
EstelleCommon Sense (1995-9) - Martin Parr
March 1
KlaxonsUntitled (1980) - Donald Judd
April 1
Union of KnivesQuattro Stagioni (A Painting in Four Parts) (1993-94) - Cy Twombly


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