by Jean Pierre Müller
The number seven is entwined with the world of dreams. The most spiritual integer of our number system, it has reappeared time and time again as a motif throughout religion, mythology and literature. It organises the world in which we live, representing the number of days in a week, colours in a rainbow and notes in a scale. The principle at the core of the 7x7 project is very simple: to connect the first note of the scale with the first colour of the rainbow, with the first chakra, with the first day of the week. And the process? Seven legendary musicians, each taking inspiration from a particular note, in collaboration with myself, the artist, create new connections of meanings, knowledge and poetry, in order to devise an alternative truth - an alternative world, if you like. 7x7th Street is the materialization of this world with all its narrative threads and associations.
So, what does this new world look like? Well, you will see that each destination on 7x7th Street has a specific geographical setting, each one chosen by the musician after confabulation with the artist. Some choices were very much in line with the 7x7 principle. For instance, A is for Al-Hambra, ‘the red one’; and B, for New York subway’s B-Line, with its icon in orange. Others were made for more obvious reasons: Kassin lives in Copacabana, the setting for E-Blue, and Mulatu is from Ethiopia, where D-Green takes place. These settings happily accommodate alien elements: Moscow's Red Square feels at home in the Alhambra, and Rome's temple of Saturn is located amongst Harlem housing blocks. Like posters covering the palisades of cities, record or book covers and film posters become wallpaper, accentuating verticality and opening the doors to memory and curiosity. Collage reflects life as we enjoy it, consuming both higher and lower forms of culture, and allows us to give visual form to these seemingly arbitrary connections (Beethoven meets Heinz Tomato Ketchup).
Indeed, 7x7th Street is a celebration of the desire to make connections, not least with one another. Through its explosion of iconic imagery, we can find the joy of togetherness in our collective frames of reference. At the same time, though, there is something very personal about the viewer’s interaction with the piece. The inescapable truth is that how one responds to these stimuli will be led by one’s own past experience of them, one’s own personal history. And so, as you know already, the artworks speak as much as anything else about its creators. In an interview for Belgian television, Nile Rodgers talked of the F-Indigo sound sculpture as his autobiography. 7x7th Street also speaks volumes about me, of course, about my dreams for the world and the place an artist and his audience can find within it.
And what else? Is 7x7th Street a political work? Well, most of its composers are highly politicized, and this quality is undoubtedly reflected in their contributions: a plight for tolerance in the case of Robert Wyatt; the remarkable respect that Archie Shepp shows to the anti-hero of his song, this homeless man who still has the will to dream; Nile Rodgers pays tribute to all those who fought for the advancement of equality and created what was probably the most influential culture of the 20th Century, the Black American one - and in particular the one that flourished in Harlem, whose nights we celebrate. One could also argue that Terry Riley's exploration of space, a state above us, is actually deeply political, if by using that term we refer to a commitment to the world's destiny: our humanity would surely honour itself better than it does by aiming at a spiritual dissolution into the cosmos. Sean O'Hagan's contribution is, characteristically, very subtle. Although one of the most passionate politically-minded people I know, he hates his art to be literal, and so the politics are precise but wonderfully poetic.
One last thing: I would hate 7x7th Street to be seen as nostalgic simply because so much of it refers to the past. This is art from and for today, and maybe even for tomorrow. The past is a provider of meaning, and we can gain more acceptance of the present and more hope for a better future if we take the time to reflect upon it.