Sun Shine Shine
February 2008

Chaumont (((O))) Lecture
Nieuwe Vide (Haarlem)

In the beginning of 2008, curator Tarja Szaraniec invited us to participate in 'Sun Shine Shine', a group show that would take place at exhibition space Nieuwe Vide (Haarlem) between February 17 and March 9, 2008. She knew about the 'Sun lecture' that we did in June 2005, in Chaumont, France, and asked us if we could transform this lecture into a simple installation.

As we described elsewhere on this site (see Chaumont (((O))) Lecture), the lecture we did in Chaumont in 2005 wasn't an actual lecture; it was more a listening/reading session. To the seated audience, we handed out a small booklet containing 9 short texts, after which we played a selection of 9 songs on a CD-player. The short texts in the booklet corresponded with the songs played, and together they told a story about graphic design, although in a somewhat indirect way. Later, in 2007, the same session was reenacted in Bordeaux, during 'If Everybody Had an Ocean', an exhibition that took place at CAPC (Musée d'Art Contemporain Bordeaux), from November 17, 2007, to March 9, 2008 (we weren't actually present during that occasion).

Anyway, for 'Sun Shine Shine', Tarja asked if we could come up with a way to display the lecture in an installation context. The solution we came up with was quite basic. We printed the text on an A1-sized poster, and hung the poster next to a set of headphones, connected to a CD-player continuously playing the nine songs. The poster could be read while listening to the songs.

For the poster, we updated the original text (the text that we wrote in 2005) a little bit, as there were some spelling mistakes, and sentences that needed cleaning up. This new, slightly rewritten text can be read below.

Thanks to Tarja Szaraniec for inviting us. Photos by Femke Dekker.


experimental_jetset_sunshineshine experimental_jetset_sunshineshine2
Poster (edition of 1) printed by Rijnja Repro, Amsterdam.


Set the controls for the heart of the sun

(((O)))

A music lecture by Experimental Jetset

00. Introduction

We decide to start right with the music. An explanation about this lecture can be found at the end of this text; you'll get there eventually. For now, let's concentrate on the songs:

01. The Beatles
'Here Comes The Sun' 03:05


A logical choice to begin this compilation with, George Harrison's 'Here Comes The Sun' is a beautiful and simple ode to the sun. Over a crisp and clean grid of a plucky guitar and a wobbly Moog, sentences are repeated in an almost typographic way. This pattern-like feeling is strongest in the middle section, when the repeating phrase "Sun sun sun / Here it comes" is interweaved with a geometric composition of dry handclaps.

The first song of side B of the Abbey Road album, 'Here Comes The Sun' feels like a relief (or like a sunset) after the last song of side A, John Lennon's obsessive and almost unhealthy 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)'.

So why does the link between the sun and music, as displayed in this song and countless others, feels so logical and natural? Our guess is that the answer might be found in the ritual roots in music.
As the birth of music is without doubt connected with prehistoric belief systems, and as the oldest religions were in fact all variations on solar worship, it is safe to assume that music always had this ritual element of celebrating the sun as a deity. An explanation George Harrison (the proverbial 'spiritual' Beatle) would be quite glad with.

LP: The Beatles 'Abbey Road', Apple Records (1969)

02. Velvet Underground
'Who Loves The Sun' 02:48


Sung by Doug Yule, who in retrospect looks a little overshadowed by the other members of the VU, 'Who Loves The Sun' is a rhetorical tune that almost seems to echo The Beatles' 'Here Comes The Sun'.
But despite its faux-naive song structure, and its sweet 'pa pa pa pa' chorus, the feeling projected here is somewhat more pessimistic: "Who loves the sun / who cares that it makes plants grow / who cares what it does / since you broke my heart?". Sun-dazed depression at its finest.

Brian Eno famously noted that, although the Velvet Underground didn't sell a lot of records in its lifetime, everyone who bought one went out and started a band of their own. Which is quite a hopeful model for small design studios, an example of how small, marginal groups of people can influence, in indirect ways, a seemingly untouchable mainstream.
We're not saying that we compare ourselves to the Velvet Underground, that would be ridiculous; but we do admit that there is some hope to be found in the idea that small cultural phenomena can have effects beyond its direct reach.

LP: Velvet Underground 'Loaded', Atlantic (1970)

03. The Zombies
'Summertime' 02:17


Here we hear The Zombies' version of the classic Gershwin song, a composition originally written for the musical 'Porgy and Bess'. The Zombies, a typical 'British Invasion' group from the 1960s, with a sound that was very much influenced by black rhythm & blues music, covering a song from the 1930s, written by an American composer of Russian/Jewish origins, who in his turn was very much influenced by early New York jazz an black folk music.
In graphic design, historical influences and references are easily dismissed by critics as retrospective, backward gestures, or postmodern irony. In pop music, on the other hand, it is intuitively understood that these kind historical influences and references are the very essence of progress. In rock culture, the act of pointing to the past is accepted to be a genuine modernist gesture, which is exactly what makes it such a liberating force.
White English boys, playing black American music from decades before their time, as a vital and even revolutionary concept: that's the attraction of pop.

LP: The Zombies 'Begin Here', Decca (1964)

04. Fennesz
'Endless Summer' 04:04

Fennesz is Christian Fennesz, an electronic composer from Vienna. This track is actually called 'Before I Leave', taken from the impressive 'Endless Summer' album.
It's a beautiful work, one of the most abstract pop tunes ever created. What at first hearing sounds like a fragmentary collection of monochrome sound-fields, later turns out to be a perfectly crafted (and deliciously catchy) composition; in many ways almost a 21st century version of the Beach Boys' masterpiece 'Good Vibrations'.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy wrote in 1929 that "mathematically harmonious shapes, executed precisely, are filled with emotional quality, and they represent the perfect balance between feeling and intellect". Words that seem written for this composition.

CD: Fennesz 'Endless Summer', Mego (2001)

05. The Lovin' Spoonful
'Summer In The City' 02:42


This song starts out with a set of abstract sounds: a series of three short unrecognizable knocks. But unlike the abstract sounds in Fennesz' 'Endless Summer', these sounds are far from harmonious. They are in fact quite disturbing, heralding a song unparalleled in its intensity.

In 'Art and Politics', published in 1938, Trotsky writes that "art is an expression of man's need for a harmonious and complete life (...) That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work".
'Summer in The City' is an example of such a creative piece of work. Beneath the surface of a sweet and innocent pop song, we can hear man's yearning for a complete life. In the chorus ("In the Summer / In the City / In the Summer / In the City") the singer is struggling to find some balance between the opposites that make life incomplete, a balance not only between nature (the summer) and culture (the city), but also between time (the summer) and space (the city).
Other opposites trying to be resolved in the song are night versus day, and the female versus the masculine ("Kool kat, looking for a kitty"). All in all a breathtaking piece of work.

By the way, in Ian MacDonald's brilliant 'Revolution in the Head', which is regarded as the definitive book about The Beatles, there's a really interesting description of the period in which 'Summer In The City' was released:
"The summer of 1966 was particularly glorious and McCartney's 'Good Day Sunshine', written one hot afternoon at Lennon's mansion, was one of several records to capture the atmosphere. Based on The Lovin' Spoonful's similarly summery 'Daydream', 'Good Day Sunshine' was recorded in the same week that The Kinks' 'Sunny Afternoon' entered the British charts.
In New York, where the heat was intense, The Lovin' Spoonful followed up their hit with the powerful anti-idyll 'Summer In The City'. Donovan had an American hit with the jazzy 'Sunshine Superman'. The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, opted for a darker view with their sitar-driven summer hit 'Paint It Black'."

LP: The Lovin' Spoonful 'Hums of The Lovin' Spoonful', Kama Sutra (1967)

06. The Fiery Furnaces
'Here Comes The Summer' 03:29


Other than the title suggests, the Fiery Furnaces song is not a cover of The Undertones' classic punk single 'Here Comes The Summer'; it's a contemporary pop tune instead, an upbeat yet slightly melancholic story about waiting for the next summer, while remembering the previous one.
The voice-like instrumentation in the beginning is already sketching the outlines of the rest of the song: "We'll have to wait until it's June / Remember?".

CD: The Fiery Furnaces 'EP', Rough Trade (2004)

07. Belle & Sebastian
'A Summer Wasting' 02:06


Next is 'A Summer Wasting' by Belle & Sebastian, a song from their breakthrough album 'The Boy With The Arab Strap'. Basically a guilt trip about a wasted summer ("Seven weeks of reading papers / Seven weeks of river walkways / Seven weeks of feeling guilty / Seven weeks of staying up all night"), it's a slice of pure pop, filled with melancholy and sadness.

CD: Belle & Sebastian 'The Boy With The Arab Strap', Jeepster (1998)

08. The Delgados
'Mr. Blue Sky' 05:25


This well-known rock epic, originally by ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), is here covered by Scottish band The Delgados, from their excellent EP 'All You Need Is Hate'.

Although the first line actually mentions the sun ("Sun is shinin' in the sky / there ain't a cloud in sight"), in the rest of the song the sun seems completely absent. Instead of the sun, the sky is celebrated, which is quite an interesting twist on solar worship; a decentralized, almost gnostic view. Apart from this twist, the worship going on in this song is quite traditional: a natural phenomenon is made into a person ('Mr. Blue Sky'), and the way this phenomenon behaves is seen as a consequence of human behavior ("Mr. Blue Sky / Please tell us why / you had to hide away for so long / Where did we go wrong?").

There's even the introduction of a second godly person, 'Mr. Night', in gruesomeness comparable only to the devil: "Mr. Blue, you did it right / but soon comes Mr. Night, creepin' over / now his hand is on your shoulder". The song (the original version as well as the cover) ends with a symphonic finale musically celebrating the vastness of the sky, a spectacular outro that might be a little bit too epic to appeal to those lacking the requisite sweet tooth.

EP: The Delgados 'All You Need Is Hate', Mantra (2003)

09. Ramses Shaffy & Liesbeth List
'Pastorale' 04:18

With a text written by Lennaert Nijgh, and music written by Boudewijn de Groot, this can be considered as a milestone in Dutch songwriting. What makes this song so interesting in the context of this lecture is the fact that it is the only song on this list written from the actual viewpoint of the sun.

In the first couplet, the sun (Ramses Shaffy) introduces itself: "My sky, blue with golden halls / My cloudy towers, ice crystals / Comets, moons and planets / Ah, everything revolves around me".
In the second couplet, a young child (Liesbeth List) is introduced, who is playing near the water, and looking at the sun. What follows is a love duet between humankind and the sun. While the child wants to get near the sun ("I love your warmth on my face / I love the brass colour of your light / I love you so very very much"), the sun warns her that this love is impossible ("I tear up rocks with my rays / I dry out valley lakes / so hide your eyes behind your hand / before my smile blinds you").
In the last couplet, while the child persists in her love ("I'd rather burn, please take me with you"), the sun slowly starts to move away from her, a movement underlined by an interesting yet very subtle stereophonic effect: while Liesbeth List is singing on the left, Ramses Shaffy's voice is slowly moving from the center to the right, until, after singing his last line ("You cannot love the sun"), Ramses slowly disappears.

Which leaves us with the conclusion that it's impossible to love the sun, a conclusion that makes this whole lecture redundant. A good moment to end this session.

EP: Ramses Shaffy & Liesbeth List 'Pastorale', Philips (1968)

About this lecture:

This poster (or maybe 'reading session' is a better description) is an application of a lecture that took place on June 6th, 2005, at Chaumont, during the 16th International Poster and Graphic Arts Festival. It was recreated (as this poster) on the occasion of 'Sun Shine Shine', an exhibition at Nieuwe Vide curated by Tarja Szaraniec.

More information about the original lecture can be found on www.experimentaljetset.nl/archive/sun.html

Experimental Jetset, 2005
Experimental Jetset, 2008

Further listening
(incomplete, in no particular order):


'Fuzzy Sun' by Jim O'Rourke, 'Lazy Sunday Afternoon' by The Small Faces, 'Dirty Black Summer' by Danzig, 'Bummer In The Summer' by Love, 'Black Hole Sun' by Soundgarden, 'Your Fucking Sunny Day' by Lambchop. 'Here Comes The Summer' by The Undertones, 'Good Day Sunshine' by The Beatles, 'Holidays In The Sun' by The Sex Pistols, 'Summer Breeze' by the Isley Brothers, 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life' by Stevie Wonder, 'Everyday' by Yo La Tengo (we know, this title doesn't mention the sun, but the song does contain the beautiful first line "I want summer's sad songs behind me"), 'Always The Sun' by The Stranglers, 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun' by Pink Floyd, 'Illuminated By The Light' by Weird War, 'Sous Le Soleil Exactement' by Serge Gainsbourg, and various songs by Sun Ra and Sunn O))).

"Making a mixtape is like writing a letter – there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again... you've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together... and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs... and, oh, there are loads of rules..."

– Nick Hornby, 'High Fidelity' (1995)

 

Filed under:

Texts / interviews

( c ) 1997 – 2017