Cymraeg

Art and Music

Emma Daman Thomas

What do I know about Art and Music… I can’t be entirely sure where one begins and the other ends. I know that one has a World and another has an Industry. This means you are supposed to sell one, and the other, I guess, is supposed to surround us like a miasma. I know we’re supposed to enjoy one, and if we don’t it means it may well have turned into the other (uh oh). I know that Art used to belong in rich people’s houses and in Museums which were based on Collections of things from rich people’s houses. I know that Music, until quite recently, until it began to be recorded, was not something you bought but rather something you did.

Vasilii Kandinsky, <em>Acid Green Crescent</em>
Vasilii Kandinsky, Acid Green Crescent / © Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Then there is rhythm, texture, repetition, colour, composition… We use so many of the same words to describe visual art and music. Art and music have a symbiotic relationship, for all the differences in the ways we house and categorise them the boundary between how we experience the two is often blurred. Even those of us who do not have full-on synaesthesia (the neurological phenomenon where the stimulation of one sense triggers another) may experience sound as colour to some degree. In the words of Vasilii Kandinsky ‘the sound of colours is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with base notes, or dark lake with the treble’1

I’m an accidental musician, having arrived in Cardiff with an idea of becoming some kind of artist, medium unknown. I had the great joy in discovering things like performance art (whoa! people doing weird stuff for the hell of it! count me in) and that it was in fact possible to start a band if you just… started one (no qualifications needed, let’s go! I stand by this). Art appealed because it seemed to be the place that afforded you the most freedom, you could do anything you want and it would still count. But music appeals on a physical and emotional level, it’s something you feel with your whole body and you never have to explain yourself if you don’t want to. In this edition Kieran Owen writes about a transformative experience of his own, a collision of music and film when he encountered the seminal post-punk band Datblygu performing with Andy Warhol’s Kiss. This was the start of a fascination with the band and the brilliant, late lyricist and singer David R. Edwards (1964–2021). Owen follows the Warhol–Velvet Underground connection and compares the lyrics of Datblygu to Dyddiau Du/Dark Days, a screen installation by John Cale.

For this edition I also invited musicians to respond to artworks in the collection in their own media. To use their own instruments and tools to create a work in the same way a painter uses a paintbrush and a photographer a camera. Songwriter Sweet Baboo uses the documentary photography of Martin Parr as a starting point for telling his own story through song in Snowdonia, Wales 1989. I see both artists as storytellers in their own way. Martin Parr has described his process as ‘creating fiction out of reality’2 and Sweet Baboo has taken this fiction and invented a new narrative of his own. Sweet Baboo writes so well about the quiet moments in romantic relationships, the moments of hope and longing, the unvoiced thoughts. This new song, with its unknown protagonist (is it from her point of view? Or his? Or both?) is no exception.

Cardiff musician Francesca Dimech takes early photographer Calvert Jones’s Street Scene, Valletta, Malta as a starting point for O Fargam i Valletta, her exploration into her Maltese heritage and her musical connection with Wales and Malta. There’s a real sense of playfulness and exploration in this piece, Francesca’s experience of being a brass musician driven to learn new technologies in lockdown echoing Jones’s calotype experiments. When thinking about the musical and artistic history of Wales we must remember of course the legendary harpists and the great landscape painters that represent us but also not forget the impact of migration and the constant mixing of cultures, particularly in our port cities, on our brass bands, folk song and anything else we may consider to be categorically Welsh.

Madame Ceski takes the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt as inspiration and weaves her own sound piece, sequencing acoustic instruments and electronics in patterns like textiles. She also draws influence from textiles and folk art around the world and there’s a beautiful parallel between the intricate detail of the music and visual art that inspired it. It’s called Ouroboros, after the image of the serpent devouring its own tail, a symbol of destruction and recreation. The ouroboros shows us eternal cyclical renewal, the unity of all things, nothing disappears and everything has a source. I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say the piece starts and ends with the same motif, transformed and renewed.

In the same way I think that all art regardless of medium, whether it’s a grand painting or a half-remembered folk song recorded on an iPhone, is common in its essence. A person somewhere at some point in time showing us, in whatever way they can, how it is to them.

With grateful thanks to Francesca Dimech, Francesca Simmons and Steve Black for their transportative musical responses and to Kieran Owen for his illuminating essay. Thanks also to the staff at Amgueddfa Cymru for their support of this edition.

About Emma Daman Thomas

Emma Daman Thomas is a musician and artist living in Powys. She’s a founding member of the band Islet, whose third album Eyelet was released in 2020 and who are about to dip their collective toes into the once-familiar waters of performing live. Other recent projects include a new experimental music composition supported by Tŷ Cerdd and sound & music for artist Freya Dooley. Emma creates artwork for music and her visual practice runs alongside and into her music and sound work.


1 Concerning the Spiritual in Art – Vasilii Kandinsky, 1910

2 https://www.canon-europe.com/pro/stories/martin-parr-style-vision/

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