David Lynch Working Notes: There’s always music in the air

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Xiu Xiu / Photograph: Cara Robbins / Courtesy: the artists

In the lead up to the opening of David Lynch: Between Two Worlds on March 14, QAGOMA Senior Curator José Da Silva explores the process of developing the exhibition and its expanded program of events, screenings and performances.

Throughout his career, David Lynch has made expert use of sound and music, none more so than in the world of Twin Peaks 1991-92, where the Man from Another Place counsels: ‘there’s always music in the air.’ From the onset of developing this exhibition, Lynch’s solo and collaborative musical projects have been an essential part of my working process and an integral component of the exhibition experience. Indeed the description of Lynch’s song Pinky’s Dream (2007) has been something of an unofficial tag line for the project: ‘the horror and sadness of losing someone to other dimensions’.

One of my favourite music works in the exhibition is Sycamore Trees (1998) that featured in the series finale of Twin Peaks. Written by Angelo Badalmenti (music) and Lynch (lyrics) and featuring the late Jimmy Scott on vocals, the song was first released on the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) soundtrack, and its instrumental made available online through the Twin Peaks Archive (2011-12). Fansite Welcome to Twin Peaks sums up the perfect union created by Lynch here, suggesting: ‘The song on its own harnesses such a palpable mood, but to see it spotlighted in the final episode of the series is a great example of the alchemy that can happen when image and sound forge a very special reciprocal relationship.’

Promotional poster for one of Lynch’s rare public performances as BlueBob with John Neff.

‘Between Two Worlds’ features a specially-designed music lounge presenting excerpts from Lynch’s solo recordings Crazy Clown Time (2011) and The Big Dream (2013), the acclaimed sound design for Eraserhead 1977 made with Alan Splet, the soundscape for his 2007 exhibition ‘The Air is on Fire’ created with Dean Hurley, as well as Lynch’s film soundtracks and collaborative recordings with Badalamenti, sound engineer and musician John Neff, Polish composer Marek Zebrowski, and Lynch’s muses Julee Cruise and Chrysta Bell. These playlists of music are accompanied by records, music videos and ephemera.

To get you in the mood, here is the current playlist of Lynch remixes I’m jogging to in the morning:

1. The Big Dream (Venetian Snares Remix) [from The Big Dream Remix EP, 2013]
2. I Know (Jon Hopkins Remix) [from Good Day Today / I Know, 2011]
3. Noah’s Ark (Moby Remix) [from Noah’s Ark (Moby Remix), 2012)
4. Good Day Today (Boy Noize Remix) [from Good Day Today / I Know, 2011]
5. Pinky’s Dream (Trentemøller Remix) [from Pinky’s Dream, 2012)
6. We Rolled Together (Yttling Jazz Remix) [from The Big Dream Remix EP, 2013]

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Xiu Xiu / Photograph: Cara Robbins / Courtesy: the artists

In developing ‘Between Two Worlds’, I also wanted to underscore the enduring influence of Lynch’s work on other musicians, which led to the commissioning of two special projects: a reimagining of the music of Twin Peaks by Xiu Xiu and a new work by HEXA responding to Lynch’s archive of factory photographs.

Led by Jamie Stewart, Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman, the music of Xiu Xiu eschews simple description. It’s a mix of post punk and synth pop, classical and experimental styles, full of brutality and emotional depth. For ‘Between Two Worlds’, Xiu Xiu aren’t simply recreating the music of Twin Peaks, but providing an entirely new interpretation, one emphasising its chaos and drama. As Stewart told me:

The music of Twin Peaks is everything that we aspire to as musicians and is everything that we want to listen to as music fans. It is romantic, it is terrifying, it is beautiful, it is unnervingly sexual. The idea of holding the ‘purity’ of the 1950’s up to the cold light of a violent moon and exposing the skull beneath the frozen, worried smile has been a stunning influence on us. There is no way that we can recreate Badalamenti and Lynch’s music as it was originally played. It is too perfect and we could never do its replication justice. Our attempt will be to play the parts of the songs as written, meaning, following the harmony melody but to arrange in the way that it has shaped us as players.

Working lunch with Jamie Stewart at Papa Cristo’s Taverna, Los Angeles, July 2014

For those unfamiliar with Xiu Xiu’s extraordinary discography, here are my personal favourites to get you acquainted:

1. ‘Sad Redux-O-Grapher’ [from A Promise, 2003]
2. ‘Muppet Face’ [from La Forêt, 2005]
3. ‘Stupid in the Dark’ [from Angel Guts: Red Classroom, 2014]
4. ‘Suha’ [from Knife Play, 2002]
5. ‘Cute Pee Pee’ [from Dear God, I Hate Myself, 2010]
6. ‘I Love the Valley OH!’ [from Fabulous Muscle, 2004]
7. ‘Ian Curtis Wishlist’ [from A Promise, 2003]
8. ‘Bishop CA’ [from The Air Force, 2006]
9. ‘In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall’ [from Women as Lovers, 2008]
10. ‘The Oldness’ [from Always, 2012]

HEXA / Courtesy: the artists

Stewart is also working with Brisbane-based sound engineer, curator and composer Lawrence English to present HEXA, a long overdue collaboration exploring the physicality of sound and its abilities to infiltrate and occupy the body. English is one my favourite local artists and his 2014 album Wilderness of Mirrors is one of the most gripping pieces of experimental music to be released in Australia.

English and Stewart are currently working on a new piece that responds to Lynch’s photographs of disused factories featured in the exhibition. Using Lynch’s factory photographs as both a literal and metaphoric source, HEXA’s performance will draw root from the texture of Lynch’s images, the imagined and actual spaces, and the spectral histories contained within them. English describes the effect as “cascading low frequency pulses and tectonic plates of sound, suspended in cavernous cathedral-like spaces.”

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The Air is on Fire (2007) / Courtesy: Sacred Bones Records

HEXA’s performance follows in the spirit of Lynch’s own industrial soundscapes that sit between musique concrète and sound design. Lynch and Hurley’s composition The Air is on Fire accompanies the immersive installation Untitled (2007) and uses a range of sounds and samples, that Hurley describes as ‘brief phrases of machines working,’ ‘characteristic winds,’ ‘punch-presses pitched down,’ ‘train mechanisms and large steel factory samples,’ and ‘metal structures that were welded together’.

Xiu Xiu plays the music of Twin Peaks
7.00pm Friday 17 and Saturday 18 April 2015
Cinema A, GOMA

HEXA – Factory Photographs
6.00pm Sunday 19 April 2015
Cinema A, GOMA

David Lynch: Between Two Worlds

The publication David Lynch: Between Two Worlds includes over 200 images illustrating Lynch’s wide-ranging oeuvre — drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, mixed media, film and video — and an engaging interview with the artist, conducted by exhibition curator José Da Silva, Senior Curator, Australian Cinémathèque

David Lynch Working Notes: A place both wonderful and strange