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BETTY at the Stereo Society
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BETTY at the Stereo Society
BETTY And The Peacock Room Remix
‘A request by the artist, Darren Waterston, that the band make acoustic fragments for his installation now showing at the Smithsonian institution in Washington DC, provoked much music. Through a couple of twists and turns, we came up with something unanticipated and unlike anything BETTY had done before.‘
Download/preview a bundle of three excerpts from the eleven-minute Filthy Lucre: Original mp3 | m4a .
Disks and downloads available from CD Baby.
Read Thorne’s comments on the recording and production of BETTY’s Filthy Lucre Soundscape,
released May 2015, view our selection of images from the events and recording sessions.:
Many months in construction, Darren Waterston’s forceful variation on Whistler’s Peacock Room installation premièred at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art last year. Whistler’s original was a room decorated in 1876/7 for a London industrial magnate who wanted a luxurious backdrop to display his porcelain collection: a true gilded age, self-important extravagance. There is a 400-page book devoted to the story.The Peacock Room: A Cultural Biography
Eventually, the room’s decorative furnishing was extracted and set up in the1920s at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. On May 16 2015, it was joined by Darren’s piece… Filthy Lucre a replica of the Peacock Room but in semi-destroyed state: shelves askew, paint spilled, smashed crockery on the floor, mess in the fireplaces. The gilded age is over. The new book is shorter, and combines descriptions of old and new. Darren Waterston: Filthy Lucre
Originally, BETTY were asked to contribute ‘about ten minutes of music’, which they thought would be piped throughout the installation. Sounds might come from the plant pot over there, or out of the fireplace. It could be very unsettling.
We set to work, first sketching the overall structure. This incorporated several instrumental fragments that had been written over time, including that for bass and cello which was an unreleased BETTY piece from years back (Variations In A), along with evolving vocals and cello improvisations from Amy. Several of Whistler’s comments were spoken over wildly varying backgrounds.
There were a few interesting constructions. The most dramatic is towards the end. Tone clusters were first used in the mid-20th century, notably by Ligeti and Penderecki. If you’ve watched 2001, you’ve heard some of Ligeti’s. It’s an extraordinary effect, creating a dense sound by piling up adjacent notes. Even with BETTY’s vocal expertise, this was a hard thing to pull off. The short section took two or three hours, and the transition to a simple wordless tune took careful judgment while watching the clock. The Turner quote over the final resolution to the short vocal figure was largely accidental: ‘the artist is born to pick and choose as the musician gathers notes and forms chords to bring forth from chaos glorious harmony.’ Maybe a little pretentious… but it works wonderfully here.
In another section, many spoken versions of ‘I am a thing of beauty and a prophet-maker forever’ are built up into a mad pile of vocal chaos. That’s how it started. But then we slipped each vocal line so that they all landed together on the very last ‘forever’. You couldn’t have done that in the 70s.
The three cello improvisations early on were recorded without reference to each other, but centered on predetermined related keys. There are some marvelous interactions, not entirely from luck but from Amy’s key choice and her build of the improvisations. Of course, the resulting four minutes are complex, but they make sense with each other – of course we often explain how the section was so carefully and painstakingly scored out beforehand…
With lengthy bookends of breaths, the piece came in at 11’ 7”, and we were quite pleased with ourselves in delivering to specification music that in its odd, slow-moving way makes total sense. We sent it up there. O dear. Communication breakdown.
Darren had envisaged fragments scattered around the room, nothing continuous. There would be periods of silence, the better to make the sounds more startling when they came. Back to the drawing board, to extract a load of fragments with which he could experiment in the museum workshop. Job done.
We were left with eleven minutes of music which doesn’t sound like anything else. So our knee-jerk ‘let’s release a CD’ kicked in, with the addition of an assembly of the pure fragments by the Massachusetts museum and a chat between Darren and BETTY about the music’s genesis. Initially, I thought that we had to put in considerable work to get Filthy Lucre – Original to work, but the band thought it worked perfectly. I stepped back and agreed. The music evolves slowly but surely.
The exhibition of both installations side-by-side opened May 16 2015 and ran for a year and a half.
Disks and downloads available from Amazon.