Progressive musician Alan Dweck has “lived a life” as the saying goes – working, living and immersing himself in the cultures of several countries around the world. He took time out from recording to talk to me about the relationship between music and fine art, and his plans to combine the two in a forthcoming live show.
“This goes right back to my early days,” he explained. “The idea came to me when I was living in Paris. I was encouraged to go and play some of my jamming live. I said: ‘don’t be silly, nobody wants to listen to me doodling around, that’s kind of pretentious.’ My flat-mates and some friends pushed me hard to go and do it. I thought: okay, but I need something visual going on. I met this artist and I thought, that’s what we’ll do! You get an interesting three-way communication between the artist, the audience and the musicians. The artist would pick up the atmosphere, the painting itself would be inspirational.”
Later, as part of the band 229, Dweck expanded upon the idea.
“We gave it a go and it was great, so we thought ‘let’s do more.’ We made it less free-form and got a bit of a set together, but we still kept that improvisatory element. David Bizzo (a celebrated abstract and figurative painter from Canada) – he’s fantastic, he came along with us. So we went into Eastern Europe. It was the Summer after the Berlin Wall came down. We went into places like Romania, where literally a few weeks beforehand the people had risen up. The place was called Timisoara, a university town in Transylvania. It was where the Romanian revolution started that successfully kicked out Nicolae Ceaușescu, a ruthless and corrupt tyrant.”
Dweck wtinessed first-hand the evidence of Ceausescu’s crimes.
“There were bullet-holes in the square. The people who lived in the town…they took us round and were saying things like: ‘my brother died there.’ I thought: ‘and you continued fighting? Where does that courage come from?’ They said: ‘You’ve no idea – we had to stop this.’” In the end, Ceausescu was so hated that he was actually publicly executed and it was shown live on Romanian television. Mind you, when I looked at the bullet holes in Opera square and heard first hand how he instructed the army to fire live rounds into the unarmed students, I can almost understand why.”
229s shows were a success.
“They were amazing people and I absolutely loved doing those gigs. They were all outdoors and we had these massive canvases which were painted each time. I really liked how that worked – how artwork and music went together. The whole atmosphere that we got going – it was really special. I want to keep that link between the art world and music. I know a lot of artists and I feel very strongly that striking images and music work well together.”
We talk about the difference between music set to visuals and visuals set to music.
“Film scores are great. I love them, but they basically tell you how to feel in relation to an image placed in front of you. The key thing is the image and the subtext is given to you by the music. I kind of want to turn that on its head. I’d like to have music as the main message and the image being the sub-text. I’m exploring ways I can do that. I’ve got a number of ideas. At the moment I’m working with an artist on a video for (new single) “Before.” I’m also looking at trying to incorporate static images. Let’s go back to the 70s. Album covers. When I was a child I used to get an album and I’d put the music on and I’d sit there starting at the album cover, this single image, and the sound would wash over me and somehow that image would encapsulate what was going on in the music. When it was really good, it was unbelievable. Dark Side Of The Moon (by Pink Floyd) – that cover – the music and the image are totally associated with each other. Physical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin) – that’s another outstanding example. So a strong image can really do something and add to the whole musical experience.
I wonder if, to an extent, the digital age has signalled the demise of that link between the music and the image.
“We’ve kind of lost the album cover these days, with Spotify,” muses Dweck. “I want to recover that. If I can make it happen, I want to incorporate that into a live show. I want to play with these images. I kind of want something to emerge, like the painting, but bring it up into the twentieth century – use the technology that we have to do something that is more interesting. That’s the direction I’m going in.”
The connection between music and the visual arts has a long and vibrant history. Whistler, Paul Klee and Henri Matisse are just three of the many painters who have found inspiration in music. Scott Walker, Captain Beefheart and Syd Barrett, from the other direction, are visionary musicians whose links to the art world are inescapable. Alan Dweck’s desire to unite the two can only bring good things.