The Space Is the Place
The following photo by George Dubose appears in the sleeve of Joe Jackson’s 1982 album Night and Day:
When my dad, a photographer, saw this shot, he remarked on how much stuff is in it: amps, keyboards, drums, mallet instruments, temple blocks, an old P-bass, a fretless Ibanez Musician, an alto sax, mics, stands, Marvin Gaye’s Super Hits, a busted green drumhead, pens, screwdrivers, a box of crackers, a spool of twine, and four musicians, including Joe himself doing his best Larry King from center stage. And “stage” isn’t as fanciful a word for it as it might seem: To my eye, Blue Rock Studio looks like the set of a play. Why, though? Why doesn’t it just look like a junkyard?
It’s full of stuff, but not just any stuff. It’s mostly music-making equipment, but not all: The crackers and the Marvin Gaye record suggest that this is a place where people spend time, an impression that would persist even if no actual people were in the frame. And it’s a historically specific collection of stuff: no CDs, no racks full of digital EQs and HD recorders, no USB-powered MIDI controllers or laptops running Reason. Even the clothes, if I may say so, are historically specific. (I used to know what band’s t-shirt bassist Graham Maby is wearing—the Rumour? Doctor Feelgood?—but I can’t quite make it out in this jpeg.)
In short, the particularity of stuff in this shot conveys a very vivid and specific impression of setting and affect. And that’s exactly how I’ve been approaching an extended fixed-media project I started over the summer: a series of three- or four-minute moments, each of which frames an arrangement of carefully chosen auditory stuff. I’m sure it’s hardly an unprecedented way of working (especially in the realm of electroacoustic music), but it’s not usually the way I pursue organizing musical time—so I’m excited to see how the finished product turns out. And as it happens, I think I have Night and Day on vinyl; if my project is ever released on CD, I’ll have to slip the outer sleeve surreptitiously into a photo for the booklet…