Maybe i should have been a painter considering how much i love paintings. I love to go to museums when I'm on the road and often go to the same museums to see the same paintings. Some paintings are almost like friends. Late Wednesdays at the Boston Museum of Fine Art is a favorite time—its pay as you wish and you gain admission for whatever you have in your pocket. My favorite right now is the Max Beckman Double Portrait (1946).
"Lillies That Fester" (from Lunar Crush with John Medeski, 1994) was one of my first very visual and colorful pieces. I'm pairing it with a Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Maar (1937). There's no direct connection, but I do "see/feel" shapes and colors when i hear this piece and "hear" music when I look at this picture.
The weird thing is that I have no talent or desire to paint or even draw. (With that said, now that I have a two-year-old who likes to draw and wants me to draw things for him, I'm happy to say that my giraffes and crocodiles have really come a long way ;-) My son, Sky, is progressing from scribbles to figurative blobs that can be anything from circles to the sun or, "A horse, Dada, its a horse!" You just have to use your imagination … Ahhh … colors—I love colors. I always wish I could write harmony that sounds like a Matisse painting. My God, what colors! His goldfish at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow really are alive. I thought there was a spotlight on that particular part of the painting, but the goldfish really do glow!! Stunning!
In a piece called "Pacifica" (also on Lunar Crush), the lyrics are influenced by Anais Nin's House of Incest, a novella in which Nin's surrealist subconscious attempts to escape from a dream in which it is trapped. I love Peter Voulkos' pottery, it's brutally raw, but beautiful. Of course, my solo has influences of James Blood Ulmer, but can one play something shattered that still has form like a Voulkos piece?
John Medeski sounds great painting colors behind the vocals.
Recently Cy Twombly passed away. I always liked his scribbles and colors. I showed my son Twombly's Lepanto (2001).
And we tried to do something similar. For the most part this is done by my son. Pretty good for a two year old!
But the real test for me is to translate colors and shapes into music.
One of my main bands is Screaming Headless Torsos. My Mother is African American and my Father is German. I consider myself to be a bit of a black funky German Expressionist. I like things that are groovy and edgy. Here I've contrasted Self Portrait with Model by the German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
And Jean Michel Basquiat's Gold Griot with “Kermes Macabre” (Screaming Headless Torsos, 1995). A "kermes" is a small little traveling country fair where the rides are so rinky dink that people usually just line up for beer and fried dough. It's kind of a rural spectacle for the local town folk—gaudy and cheap. “Kermes Macabre” is kind of a funky twilight zone version of this kind of fair.
The Scream by Edvard Munch is an image that is totally overused in popular culture, but I couldn't resist using it here. Considering current events in Japan, the horror of a nuclear meltdown is still alive and real. The title of my piece speaks for itself.
"Chernobyl Firebirds" (Screaming Headless Torsos, 1995)
Besides Screaming Headless Torsos, I have a band called KiF. This concept started on a gig in Morocco in 1992. The Moroccan players noted that Hendrix visited the country, and this gave me an idea: hard grooves with Eastern-inflected melodies putting the listener into a very colorful trance. Could this be the music that Jimi would play today? KiF celebrates a living Hendrix whose kickin’ it in Marrakesh and, on weekends, rocks the Casbah.
I love Arabic architecture and calligraphy so I've paired the following images with compositions from KiF and the follow up CD KiF Express. Here's a strange twist though, “VsMachte” is a traditional Jewish melody and “Arcadia Finlandis” is inspired by the Finnish countryside … go figure.
I also love East Asian shrines and script. Whenever I'm on tour in Asia I try to visit a temple and to marvel at the delicate and graceful curves of these buildings and structures.
Van Gogh's powerful copies of Ando Hiroshige's (Japan 1797-1858) paintings made me wonder what groove music with lush harmonies would sound like with Eastern-inflected leads and melodies. Maybe this gives "Asian Fusion" a whole new meaning?
"Sakura/Ying Hua" (KiF - David Fiuczynski and Rufus Cappadocia, 2003)
Vincent Van Gogh: Japonaiserie: Flowering Plum Tree and Bridge in the Rain.
Below I've paired "Chinese Gogo" (KiF with Rufus Cappadocia, 2003) with paintings by Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline. He says his paintings are not influenced by Asian calligraphy, but I see it in there and "hear" a colorful "Asian Fusion" jam.
Franz Kline: Untitled 1959 and Suspended 1953.
My next CD will be called Planet MicroJam. You can hear a bit of it in a piece called "MoonRing Bacchanal" where the melody and some of the harmonies have quartertones in them. Most non-western music is microtonal and this is what I will be focusing on as the director of the Microtonal Groove Institute at Berklee College of Music (Stay tuned for a Guggenheim Fellowship premiere in 2012).
I hope you enjoyed this colorful ride!
And here's a free download of "Roxy Migraine" for your enjoyment:
My CDs are available here.
Screaming Headless Torsos
Planet MicroJam Institute, Director
Professor, Guitar & Ensemble Dept.
Berklee College of Music