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The Musical Paintings, 2001
in collaboration with Sean O'Hagan (The High Lamas)

The Musical Painting is a freestanding painting which houses a looped musical composition within. The painting surface comprises of multiple panels, some of which respond to touch. The responsive panels act as remix tools inviting the viewer to alter the music as they encounter the painting. The painted panels offer a storyboard, which may or may not relate to the composition. It is for the viewer to decide and invent. Though the Musical Painting employs advanced digital processing which enables the remix options the interaction, surface and content (musical and visual) are organic and tactile, hopefully making the live encounter unique. To date two Musical Paintings exist, Waterloo to Waterloo, square panelled and the Musical Wheel, a triptych of circles.

1.    Waterloo to Waterloo

The first Musical Painting Waterloo to Waterloo is simply storyboarding a journey between two Waterloo’s. The painting is composed of 78 painted and silk-screen-printed wooden units, of various thicknesses, which fit closely into one another. Sixteen of them are interactive. It’s up to the spectator/viewer to find them.

Let’s see what we have. A storyboard, a vague idea of region or place, a period that one might evoke and a series of connections. These may be mental connections, but still real, perhaps geographical. It might be a mind map or a just a retelling of a series of conversations. There are however two vital missing elements at the beginning and they are images and music. 

Let me tell you about the evolution of the music in this instance. 
Like most pursuits there’s a lot of waiting involved. This stage of the procedure is lonely. Those connections, which are almost abstract on paper or in memory, offer the clues. So we could be a bit clever here and suggest that writing music for pictures might be like looking for the signpost. 

It’s never a good idea to be too literal. If the ideas are strong a glance in the direction should be enough. And so it was that a few people had a conversation and went away with four images. The wheel the city of Detroit Tamla Motown and Kentucky. 

From there on the sign-posts were up and the journey was underway. Many years earlier there were other conversations and two sign-posts, Waterloo and Waterloo. 


I honestly believe that beyond this point the process is beyond words. Wrenching the ideas from the abstract and turning them into a new reality. That’s what’s happening. Writing music for pictures for sure but also creating mental pictures on the way. And you realise this whole pursuit is about stories and pictures. 

I see perfect sense in all of this, maybe because I want to and maybe because at the end of the creative process everything belongs. Perhaps this is just a mental trick, in the same way that a person takes on the visual sense of their own name in so far as you cannot imagine being called or calling yourself by any other name. The name always fits. Whatever the conundrum everything belongs. So long after the mind maps and the days of nothing except instinct, long after the moments when you think it’s all daft, comes a calmness when it is clear that the music and the picture belong together. 

Sean O’Hagan