Column 94 — Listening to Art; Eric Bachmann/Richard Buckner tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:27 pm September 28, 2006

Clearly, as the Joslyn staff pointed out in Niz’s story in The OWH Sunday (here, but you gotta register to read it), Art for Your Ears is targeted at attracting new blood to the museum, just like their (now defunct?) “college night” concert series that featured Son, Ambulance last year (and Tilly the year before). It’s a good idea. We got masterpieces in our midst and most people don’t even know it. While I was figuring out how to use the Joslyn’s mp3 player next to that huge Chihuly near the gallery entrance, a young guy was standing dumbfounded looking up-up-up at the those shiny glass Mardi Gras bulbs. He asked if he could touch the sculpture. I said, “Better not. What if it came down around us? It’d be a helluva mess.” He smiled and nodded, never taking his eyes off the art.

Column 94: Museum Makes Music
Can music explain art?
I recently was asked to serve as a “judge” for the Joslyn Art Museum’s Art for Your Ears program. But before I continue, let me say that you, too, can be a part of the series. Just go to, click on the “Podcast” button and download the mp3 files listed there. Plop them into your iPod, put it in your pocket and drive to the Joslyn at least until Oct. 11 (when the winners are announced). Tell the folks at the front desk that you’re there for the show. They’ll take it from there. You’ll be glad you did.

The program’s concept is simple: Local musicians were asked (via an open call for entries) to compose original songs responding to artworks in the special exhibition, Art on the Edge: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Permanent Collection. The basic premise is to explore the connection between music and art.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. Certainly music has inspired art from back in the days when men scrawled on cave walls while their buddies aimless pounded on drums made of stretched stomach linings up to the “gallery” of concert posters that covers the back wall of Sokol Underground. It’s rarely the other way around. How much music has been inspired by art?

So I said yes. And a couple weeks ago, I traipsed off to the Joslyn over my lunch hour, borrowed one of their mp3 players, took evaluation form in hand and critiqued seven compositions on overall quality, level of difficulty, emotional response to the artwork, originality, its influence on my experience or appreciation of the artwork, and the composer’s spoken introduction to his or her composition.

Among the composers was recent Omaha transfer (from Wichita) Matt Beat, who along with his brother, Steven, make up the band Electric Needle Room. Matt visited the Joslyn with his wife, Shannon, a few weeks after moving to town and found out about Art for Your Ears. “I thought the program would give me a purpose in my song writing,” he said. “This seemed challenging and fun, and it would force me to be a little more creative.”

The art that stuck in Beat’s creative mind was Bedroom Painting # 25 by Tom Wesselmann. Anyone who’s ever been to the Joslyn remembers it as “the giant tit next to the phone” painting. It would stick in anyone’s mind — that tit is huge.

“I thought about it for a couple weeks, and then a song just popped into my head,” Beat said. His composition “You Make Me Feel Sunny,” is your run-of-the-mill yet catchy low-fi indie pop song in the vein of Flaming Lips or Pet Songs-era Beach Boys, with lines “You make me feel special / Like I’m number one / You hang out with me and pretend like you’re having fun.” It’s childlike and bouncy, infused with keyboards and guitar riffs, and has nothing to do with large breasts and telephones.

Beat said he wasn’t trying to interpret the art, he was merely inspired by it. “It’s just a mood,” he said. “It’s like, there’s a phone right by the bed. He could have just finished making whoopee, or you could say it’s an innocent breast. Nudity doesn’t have to be sexual.”

This was typical. When it came time to explain the connection between the music and the art — especially for the more abstract pieces — the explanations became somewhat contrived. In their intros, musicians would say things like, “The two instruments in my piece represent the white and the black in the painting. The snare drum represents the converging lines.” See what I mean?

Beat said he did the song to get his name and his music out there, as well as to get in touch with fellow musicians. In fact, one of the reasons he accepted his job transfer (Beat is a valet parking manager at Methodist hospital) was to get involved in the Omaha music scene.

“That was the most exciting thing about it,” he said. “I knew about the usual Saddle Creek stuff — Bright Eyes and Cursive — but I didn’t know about the wide variety of music here,” said the KU grad. “I want to be able to do music for a living instead of parking cars.”

You can’t blame him for that. And Art 4 Your Ears ain’t a bad first step in that direction (He’s certainly getting the exposure). Now if he could just line up a few gigs in town.

In the end, whether you draw a direct line between the music and the art, Art for Your Ears has provided a well-thought-out soundtrack for an exhibition that can only be interpreted in the eye — or ear — of the beholder.

Tonight at Sokol Underground, Eric Bachmann and Richard Buckner along with local singer-songwriter Mal Madrigal, all for just $10. This is sort of a pseudo CD release show for Bachmann, whose new album To the Races, was released on Saddle Creek Records Aug. 22. I went out of my way yesterday to tell someone that the new Buckner CD, Meadow, was boring, when in fact it’s much more interesting and lively than his last record. Buckner seems headed in a similar direction as Richard Thompson’s solo stuff. It ain’t bad, and the fact is most people will be there tonight to see Buckner, who has a bigger following here (for some reason).

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