Calculating the weight of rock’n’roll

With my Sydney Opera House book now complete I’m now thinking about how to continue combining music and architecture criticism, particularly focused on how rock’n’roll is evolving as an artform within cultural institutions.

Two days ago Nick Cave sent out this message to everyone on his mailing list: “I’ve been feeling for a while that I’d like to talk to people about things. I’m not sure what to do with that. I’ve sort of had this idea of doing some kind of interview but I’m not sure that a regular press interview is the appropriate place to talk about certain things … There seems to be some sort of understanding that now exists with our audience. The idea of an open dialogue with them seems a worthwhile thing to explore.”

Nick is among musicians are now skilled at speaking directly to their audiences without the need of journalists as intermediaries. Max Richter included excerpts of a conversation with neuroscientist David Eagleman in the liner notes for Sleep, to discuss how the brain processes the states of wakefulness and sleep, while also describing his musical references, lullabies and trance. Lorde speaks directly to her audience through warmly intimate live videos on Instagram.

While the regular press interview might no longer be a useful form of communication I’ve been thinking about the loss of the big picture that’s come from losing skilled critics and editors. During the 7 years I wrote my Opera House book Fergus Linehan and Ben Marshall’s programming for Vivid LIVE and Ben’s programming for Graphic have created a widespread acceptance for works that combine different art forms and different genres of music. Audiences accept and are thrilled by the collaboration, for instance between New Order and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Free talks during the Festival explain the connections and background the works.

I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to ask musicians technical questions within that area of creating context. I think of Nick’s tremendous curiosity as a centrifuge. As it spins the denser, more important material is concentrated in the centre into Bad Seeds songs but I’m often drawn to the things flung out to the edges, the country music in the soundtracks to Lawless and Hell and High Water, the soundtrack for the National Geographic series Mars, Grinderman. Not all of his collaborative projects are of equal importance. It depends on how much creative input and control he has. I’m able to ask him, how much weight should I give this? By weight I mean consequence. I found a design world analogy in last Friday’s Wish Magazine, a supplement within The Australian newspaper worshipful of a lifestyle defined by luxury goods, featured an interview with designer Ilse Crawford. Expensive though her goods may be — the story is timed to the release of a stainless steel water pitcher through Georg Jensen — she was talking about how to measure value not cost.

“We have been turned into such a visually driven generation because of the way that design has developed over the past few decades,” Crawford laments. Her husband Oscar Pena, an industrial designer who is head of production design at Studioilse, is Colombian and his family’s favourite parlour game is guessing weights and measures using jars of rice or whatever is at hand. “Old ladies and kids are brilliant at it but our generation are useless,” says Crawford. “I did it once with [British architect] David Chipperfield and he was useless at it. His mother-in-law won. We don’t know what anything weighs because we are so used to resorting to other means to tell us.” 

Jeni Porter. Wish. 3/18

This idea of weight, of gravity, of resonance rather than meaning, has been occupying my thoughts. Several years ago, when Nick was writing screenplays, he told me how he approached learning the languages of the other disciplines he engages with, how much that fascinated him. I began looking for seams where different artforms joined up. I asked a lot of technical questions of so many artists and technicians, engineers and chefs during the writing of the book. With the space constraints of pulling seven years of research into eight essays those enquiries were submerged. Now that Instagram is becoming an effective micro-blogging platform for me, I intend to approach writing differently, publishing those technical enquiries, giving weight to the process.


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