PRINT February 1995


What Artists Listen to.

REMEMBER MARTIN SCORSESE’S take on the art world in New York Stories: Nick Nolte-as-macho-painter aping neo-Expressionist brushstrokes—Chuck Connelly’s canvases were used as props—to the deafening strains of “Whiter Shade of Pale” while Rosanna Arquette shrieks to be heard as the beautiful-but-neglected female-artist love interest. We often picture artists blasting a stereo while they work. Some do, of course—novelist Kathy Acker cranks tunes while she writes—but most of the artists and writers we talked with this month don’t seem to pump up the volume with abandon. Still, they are much involved in music. Wolfgang Tillmans snaps pictures in dance clubs; Stephen Prina plays in the band called Red Crayola; Barbara Ess’ collective Drum Core put out a bootleg of women musicians; Kathy Acker continues to embrace rock ’n’ roll as a rebellion against her parents’ entire world.

Though they may not spin vinyl while they work, this group listens to a great deal of fabulous music. Tillmans recommends Hildegard Nef, a vintage German chanteuse. Ess grooves on Moroccan trance music. Critic Tricia Rose recommends Hole’s Live Through This. Stephen Prina’s professional approach to music has him hankering for old Fassbinder soundtracks. And these days Karen Finley likes a Hungarian rock star named Marta Sebastian. Sadly, after hours on the phone with these artful CD and vintage-vinyl junkies, I was all too ready to hemorrhage cash reserves at a choice used-record dive.

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY (artist): I buy lots of records that I use in my mixes. I like a lot of strange, easy-listening music that people find a little tacky: Ferrante and Teicher’s prepared piano, Esquivel, Martin Denny, that type of thing. I also listen to a lot of downtown people I work with, like Elliott Sharp and Bill Frisell, and some string music, like the Soldier String Quartet; also a little jazz—Butch Morris, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Miles Davis. Sometimes I might just listen to classical—Schubert’s string quartets.

I don’t play much music when I work. When I listen to music, I really listen to it-it’s not just background. If I’m tired and I want something to relax to, I won’t put on music, I’ll turn on the TV.

KATHY ACKER (writer): I can tell you what I don’t like, though friends have tried to teach me otherwise: opera. I listen to old jazz stuff—Charles Mingus, Miles Davis—and right now I basically listen to girl rock: 7 Year Bitch, L7. I adore Sonic Youth. For the last month I’ve been obsessing about P.J. Harvey. The people I’ve listened to longest in rock are Van Morrison and Tom Waits. I probably know the words to three-quarters of Van Morrison’s songs.

I love Motown. Whenever I’m down, that’s a flag waving in my inner mind . When I was a kid, there was my parents’ world, which I hated, and then there was rock ’n’ roll. When I hear rock ’n’ roll, I still think of everything that isn’t my parents.

I often write to music. Sometimes, lines end up in my books that I don’t mean to happen; like a kid, I repeat everything I’ve heard during the day. At the moment I have to write some songs. I told some friends of mine who have a band that I’d write some stuff for them.

WOLFGANG TILLMANS (artist): I like pop music. I like house—harder house, techno house, electronic dance. I listen to old German songs, what we call Schlager, like Hildegard Nef, who’s a chanteuse from the late ’50s and ’60s. The other thing I come back to are French monastic songs, which are not like Gregorian chants but sound like new mantra singing. New Order and Soft Cell influenced me most in the ’80s; “Blue Monday” and “True Faith” were like works of art. And all these anonymous little house techno tracks that never get much attention, I often think how much they function like an artwork.

BARBARA ESS (artist): I’m part of a collective with a couple of other women, called Drum Core, and we put out a zine about women and drumming. We also put out a bootleg of music by women, and I really listened that into the ground. I usually fix on one thing and listen to it over and over again. A long time ago it was Patti Smith’s Horses; I actually wore my first copy out. I’ve gone back to listening to that record.

I listen to a lot of Arabic music. A friend of mine gave me some trance· music from Morocco. Then he gave me this tape of Persian love songs. I also got a ton of tapes from a Sufi teacher who’s in town now. But the tapes don’t really have much information. They say things like Good Songs Iran, #2.

I took up running lately, and I’ve been listening to Hole and L7 when I run. I always go back to the Pretenders, Sonic Youth, Glenn Branca. I also like this Minneapolis band Hammerhead. I’m always listening to music in the darkroom, but I’m surprised to notice that when I’m trying to develop an idea it’s usually in silence.

When I’m alone and feel like listening to music, I don’t have standards. I’m not ashamed of listening to Slayer or Sade.

STEPHEN PRINA (artist): Lately I’ve been listening to Peer Raben’s soundtracks for Fassbinder movies, because I’m working on a music project that has something to do with them. I just ran into a CD rerelease of Suicide’s Suicide; I had been looking for “Frankie Teardrop” for a long time. Fassbinder used that song in In a Year of 13 Moons. Suicide really set the foundation for a lot of music that has now become assimilated.

I’ve also been listening to Oasis. Why? Because it’s this year’s Suede. Suede has outlived its usefulness and I needed something to take its place. I’ve also been listening to a tape of the Red Krayola live in Tokyo. One of the guys in the Red Krayola, David Grubbs, is part of this other band called Gastr del Sol; their most recent CD, Mirror Repair, has this beautiful guitar/vocal song called “Photographed Yawning.”

I always found the Smiths challenging. It went beyond the lyrics to the form of the music, the way they would get a melody to go against the accompaniment instead of an accompaniment reinforcing the melody. That’s a current idea in all cultural production—you don’t line things up in parallel, but you realize that things have different kinds of intensities, and that something is produced when they run against each other.

When I was studying music I would put on Schönberg and then the Sex Pistols. And I thought this was a contradiction—that it was a phase I’d grow out of, that I’d gravitate to “music of quality.” But then I realized that this was a wish fulfillment in which I had no investment. My cultural position accommodated both Schönberg and the Sex Pistols. And that’s what I’ve tried to explore in my work, in music and in the visual arts.

DANNY TISDALE (artist): I’ve been listening to James Brown, Green Day-postpunk meets ’90s—and Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits. I’m really looking for voices that educate. I look at rap as a form of international communication, like jazz; I’m very cued into rap. And I listen to Bob Marley—somebody who’s trying to ask about the things we don’t talk about, don’t want to talk about, don’t see the need to talk about—and that’s the work of rap. And Green Day talks about the times, very problematic times. The punks talk about what’s happening in the streets, the rappers talk about what’s happening in the streets. Rap musicians are like any other artists: they’re asking a bunch of serious questions.

TRICIA ROSE (writer): After having listened to hip hop so closely for so many years, I gave it a big break recently. I’ve been trying to listen to other things, or people in hip-hop doing things that break the mold. I’ve been looking at music that is not operating with the same kind of narrative intensity. I’ve been listening to more guitar in general, and to stuff that’s a little more introspective than when I was deep into hip-hop. Even gangsta rap, which has certainly got violence in it, is musically laid back compared to other rap musics. It’s more harmonic, more melodic, even if it’s dealing with explosive subject matter. I think there’s a general trend for young people to try to create a little space, a space of both intensity and a little bit of diffusion.

I’m impressed with Seal and Me’Shell Ndegé-Ocello. Some of the alternative rock folks have got me excited. I liked Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York; Hole’s Live Through This is fabulous. Also I like the Cranberries a lot—some of my friends are surprised. I like Counting Crows. I know Adam Duritz is an asshole—he thinks he’s God’s gift. But he is talented.

RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA (artist): My wife buys all our music. I’ve bought a few: Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis; anything by Chet Baker. There are two Thai bands I listen to—they’re quite old. One is the Karabao, the Sex Pistols of Thailand, who are almost nationalists; they blend traditional folk instruments with contemporary guitar sounds. The other is Guitar T6, the Eagles of Thailand—they use guitar to imitate traditional instruments to make rock music. Both bands’ lyrics are quite political. Thai, as a language, is very difficult to make melodies out of. And these two bands do it well.

KAREN FINLEY (artist): Right now, because of my daughter, I listen to children’s music. I thought at first, Oh God, I’m not going to be able to stand it. But I like Raffi. I like Burl Ives. I love Bob Dylan’s version of “This Old Man.” I really think Dylan should have his own kid’s show.

Right now I listen to Marta Sebastian, who is the rock star of Hungary. And I listen to the Incredible String Band. I remember them from when I was a child; they’re like psychedelic folk music. I also like them because both women and men are in the band. There’s something about the sexuality of these all-male pop bands that really gets on my nerves.

Jeffrey Slonim contributes this column regularly to Artforum.