With artists Marina Abramovic and Ed Atkins releasing limited editions with The Vinyl Factory this week, we’ve put together a brief and incidental history of when artists make records.
It may have been received somewhat sceptically at the time, but when Jay Z stood Up in New York City’s Pace Gallery to perform the Magna Carta Holy Grail track ‘Picasso Baby’ for six hours straight under the guidance of performance artist Marina Abramovic, he was, consciously or not contributing to a long line of collaboration between mainstream and not-so-mainstream pop music and the art world.
Whether it’s Jean-Michel Basquiat warring with Rammellzee or Nam June Paik soundtracking Joseph Beuys bunking with a live coyote, there’s such a breath of collaboration out there, we wanted to give you something akin to a way in; not so much a primer as a taster of what happens when artists make records.
Now, although there aren’t many rules when it comes to the work, we’ve had to set a few for ourselves. For starters, we’ve left out artists who have since become more known for their music than their visual art. Although this is a fine and fluid line to draw, there’s no arguing that the influence of Cage, Kraftwerk and Eno for example has been more keenly felt in the musical sphere. There’s might an argument to be had around Yoko Ono, but let’s not go there.
To give the list a bit of colour, we’ve also opted to include a couple of more mainstream pop records produced by artists, this time drawing the line at Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’, whose long-standing visual collaboration with Raymond Pettibon may have had a formative influence on the band’s identity but who stopped short of actually producing the records. Likewise, just designing the sleeve doesn’t count either. Robert Rauschenberg’s stunning, treated picture discs for Talking Head’s Speaking In Tongues and Keith Haring designing the super rare 7″-come-invite for German princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis’ birthday party haven’t made the cut, are being reserved for another time.
This does not claim to be a definitive list, nor does it claim to touch on all the major players, but it will hopefully provide an insight into a few interesting works by visual and performance artists who’ve been involved in either in the production or creation of music that has ended up on record.
The Vinyl Factory have this month teamed up with The Serpentine Gallery to release very special limited editions with Marina Abramovic and Ed Atkins. Performing a brand new spoken word piece, you can find out more (and order) Abramovic’s 512 Hourshere, and click here for more on Ed Atkins immersive multi-channel video installation Ribbons.
The Velvet Underground & Nico The Velvet Underground & Nico
Prod. Andy Warhol
For what is arguably the most famous record ever to be produced by an artist, Andy Warhol’s active input in the creation of The Velvet Underground & Nico’s legendary debut was minimal. But for the iconic banana peel cover art and the fact that he imposed German vocalist Nico onto the band – she was often reduced to tears, infuriated by her inability to hit the right notes – Warhol’s was a soft touch, described by Lou Reed as simply making it possible for the band to be themselves. “Of course he didn’t know anything about record production—but he didn’t have to. He just sat there and said “Oooh, that’s fantastic,” and the engineer would say, “Oh yeah! Right! It is fantastic, isn’t it?”
Milan Knizak Broken Music
(Multhipla Records, 1979)
Fluxus artist Milan Knizak was among the first wave of sound and performance artists to tamper with recorded audio to create new sonic worlds. As early as 1963 he was doing what DJs would wait another fifteen years to discover, speeding up and slowing down tracks and manipulating the surface of the records to distort the original recorded material. He described the music it created as “unexpected, nerve-wracking and aggressive”, often painting, burning, gluing, or sticking bits of tape across the vinyl. In a nod to tape manipulation and manual sampling he would also physically cut and splice records with other recordings. Released in Italy, the 1979 collection Broken Music is now a sought after collector’s item.
Yoko Ono Walking On Thin Ice
Known infamously as the tape John Lennon was shot holding moments after laying down the guitar line for the title track, ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ was a critical and commercial success on release the following month. Another whose work dovetailed with the Fluxus movement, but whose experimental work had been received with muted praise, Ono was apparently unconvinced by Lennon’s claims he would make the track a hit. She was wrong. ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ was a disco-not-disco classic, and remains one of Yoko’s best.
(One Ten records, 1981)
Another unexpected success, this time for American performance artist Laurie Anderson, whose minimalist, psycho-cosmic ‘O Superman’ reached number two in the UK singles chart. Taken from the larger work United States, the semi-spoken word piece uses vocoders and ephemeral synths to address the disjunct in computerised communication and it has since been covered numerous times, synonymous with society’s growing fears of an over-mechanised future. Had Bowie been asked to soundtrack an Adam Curtis documentary with Brian Eno it might have ended up sounding a little like this.
Christian Marclay Groove
(Tellus / The Vinyl Factory, 1985 / 2014)
Christian Marclay recorded Groove in New York City in 1982 by running multiple layers of the same 7″ single through a basic 8-track recorder and applying stickers directly on the groove so that the needle would skip and repeat. The result was an eerie, penetrating drone that builds in intensity over five minutes of strident and experimental minimalism. Despite being one if his debut recordings it was only released on vinyl last year, in an edition of 300 copies by The Vinyl Factory. Marclay also spent much of the early 80’s creating Recycled Records, cutting and pasting small parts of LPs together to create new discs.
‘Beat Bop’ was initially conceived as a rap battle between Ramellzee and famed NYC graffiti artist Jean Michel Basquiat after Ramellzee accused Basquiat of being a fraud. Having stumped the cash and agreed to produce the record, Ramellzee & K-Rob overruled Basquiat’s written verses, choosing instead to just feature themselves (As recounted by Ramellzee, “he wanted [to] say his own verses… me and K-Rob read them and started laughing, and we crushed up his paper with the words he had written down and we threw it back at him face first.”). Only 500 copies were originally pressed, featuring custom Basquiat artwork.
Nam June Paik & Joseph Beuys Coyote III with Pianovariation
(Edition Bierammer, 1984 / 2011)
Korean artist Nam June Paik is another whose spent a career meddling in the physical ephemera of popular culture, whether in sound, sculpture or video and in the late 60’s, as a key member of the New York downtown scene, he made a looped and distorted early video mashup of The Beatles’ Hard Days Night entitled Beatles Electroniques. Of numerous excursions into music and vinyl manipulation not many made it to record, so his collaboration with Joseph Beuys for Coyote III With Pianovariation 1984 is as good an example as any. It was released on vinyl by Austrian label Edition Bierammer in a run of just 150 copies.
‘Voodoo Ray (Optimo remix)’
(The Vinyl Factory, 2013)
Jeremy Deller has been quite literally trumpeting the broader significance of acid house to British culture for some years now, hammering home a connection between perceived high and low art by bringing colliery bands into art galleries to cover 808 State classics. Las year, he expanded his vision to embrace Britain’s multi-cultural heritage, inviting south London steel band the Melodians to re-cover A Guy Called Gerald’s anthemic ‘Voodoo Ray’. Later that year, prodigal sons of the Glasgow music scene Optimo recast the lilting cover as a full-on acid house belter, bringing the whole project full circle and back onto the dancefloor. The 12″ is adorned with Deller’s equally iconic phonetic sleeve design.