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Musical composition based on the work of visual artists

For our classes Composition in the second year of "Composition and Technology" the assignment is clear: compose a piece of music based on the work of one of the following four artists:

The artist I've chosen

When we got our assignment I was struck by the way Orlan uses her body as the artistic medium. Never before I saw this kind of art, which I found rather interesting. On the other hand, when I though about what would excite me to compose I was a bit worried about the seriousness of her art. I began wondering about the other artists, but the first two, Dali and Mondriaan, seem too well known for me and therefor not exciting enough.
Jeff Koons

I then wondered if I could make something of the art of Jeff Koons. When you see his work at first you are struck by it's embrace of popular culture and it's seemingly shallow character. But exactly these aspects of his work are the ones which critics seem to be going on and on about, and that makes it interesting and fun (we can have fun can't we?) to use as a source for my composition. So instead of serious and grave subjects like Orlan, Koons' work is the opposite. My choice is made, I am going to work on a composition based on the work of Jeff Koons.

Work of Jeff Koons

All the work of Jeff Koons seems to be reminiscent of the days when we were younger, it seems to put situations or objects of infant origin in a new context. Wether it is work of blown up balloon animals and flowers or the massive puppy made of flowers in Bilbao, they all take seemingly infantile subjects and create a new situation in which Koons materializes memories that I reckon almost every Western human being has. In his other series "Banality" he even uses a statue of Michael Jackson to emphasize his idea of people and their infantile habits, and he also makes a direct connection to American pop culture. This pop culture is another inspiration for a lot of his work, like his Three Ball 50/50 Tank, in which he puts three real Spalding basketballs in a tank filled with water.

Ideas for the composition

Because Koons uses so many "childish" things, my idea is to make an infantile video compilation in the likings of an old Belgian tv show called "Tik Tak" and compose music which is also inspired by the Tv show. Click this link to see a compilation of this program. Tik Tak is a tv show that a lot of people know and it has had a great impact on my childhood, as on many other people from around the world, since it has been broadcasted in 27 different countries. Just like the use of balloon animals, I think that Tik Tak will be a good point to begin with. I am going to look for sound files from Tik Tak as well, maybe the intro tune will be a nice lead melody for the final composition. I think that the sound should emphasize the visual looks. I could also think about contrasting the artist's work, but I think that an "over the top" approach would be much better.

Another funny thing is that there has already been composed a song on Jeff Koons by Momus on his album Stars Forever.
Cover of Stars Forever, an album featuring a song called "Jeff Koons"

It is definitely interesting to hear what kind of music Momus uses to give a tribute to Jeff Koons. The deal Momus has made with Jeff Koons and many other artists is simple: they paid Momus a fee of $1000, and he would make a tribute song to the buyer. Still, the fact that I am going to use a multimedia approach (music and visual) will give a different catch to my idea I hope. I don't think I will use lyrics as well, so it will be a different thing. In Momus' song he really describes his personal feelings regarding the work of Jeff Koons, which makes it rather theoretical. The lyrics he uses are these:

He has come to bring you things that make you happy

A gigantic puppy made of living flowers

A balloon dog like a helium Brancusi

Baroque and Rococo, Louis Quattorze (Louis Quattorze)

(Louis Quattorze) (Louis Quattorze)

(Louis Quattorze) (Louis Quattorze)

He has come to bring you things that make you happy

A gigantic puppy made of living flowers

A balloon dog like a helium Brancusi

Baroque and Rococo, Louis Quattorze

Basketballs suspended in Bavaria

Usher in a fat contented pig

Whose every hair is hand-carved by Italian master-craftsmen

A porcelain Michael Jackson and Bubbles in a wig

A box of breakfast cereal we market to the morning

A teddy bear policeman reprimands you with a warning

And all that's made in heaven falls apart

Pink and yellow arrows through your heart

Blue and yellow arrows through your heart

Green and yellow arrows through your heart

Mr Koons with a swordfish!

Pin the tail on Koons!

President Koons on Mount Rushmore!

The Klondike Trail by donkey

Context is a game that you can play

And art can help you have a better day

Pink panthers from the realm of the ephemeral

A friendly advertising testimonial

A second empire chair, Botticelli hair

Cut-outs at a fun fair and the clothes you love to wear

Every time that it appears that happiness and fun

Are as far away as Jupiter and Mars

According to the lore of great philosophers

A shaman must appear amongst the stars

A Sun King lifts his hand amongst the stars

And a vacuum cleaner stands amongst the stars

Gigantic baboons

Cereal spoons

Philosopher kings

The moon in June

Disney cartoons

The morning sun

Jeff Koons


I just got behind my computer and composed a little piece which is actually quite awful, but that's the whole point I guess. It's such a happy tune and I am sure it can work with very cheesy images of Koons' work. I haven't used old musical material yet, but maybe that's an area I have to discover a bit. Since Koons also uses material that's already there, maybe it will work even better if I "steal" a known tune and create a kitsch-like composition around it. But for now, the style of this piece of music is in a way the style that I am going to use. I have made this piece of music using software synthesizers, but since Koons work is so 80's I am hoping to use the Arp synthesizer from our school to create my synthesized sounds. This machine has such a good old synthesizer sound that it will work perfectly for my composition. But since I am rather new to the whole hardware synthesizer, I have used software synthesizer to outline my idea.

First idea...kitsch?

After the first reactions from teachers and fellow students

I was surprised that nobody chose Jeff Koons to compose the musical piece to, on the other hand I chose Koons to be a bit
3 Balls 50/50
original so it's in my advantage I guess. My first ideas got nice reactions and now it's time to further deepen and work on the idea. I am thinking about making an animation movie myself for the composition in which I will link musical progress to the progress in the work of Jeff Koons. Maybe I should use the word process since I want to make a cheesy animation using some kind of "recipe" approach. something like:

we take 3 basketballs...

we take an aquarium...

fill the aquarium with water...

put basketballs in water...

serve in a museum...

for variations...

we take one or two balls!!!

I think this will be kinda funny, especially with cheesy music and a analog kind of animation (I want to make an animation using my camera and a bit of a South Park approach, it will work perfectly. I have never done it before but it won't be too hard I guess and fun) I have a lot of ideas for the movie and for the composition so I think the first thing I wil do is make some sketches and put them on my webspace. I will add a link in the near future. I'll have to take into consideration that making the animation will take a lot of work, especially since it will be my first attempt at something like that. What i really DON'T wanna do is make a computeranimations since I feel that a lot of computeranimation looks really soulless...or something;) We could say the same thing about software synthesizer sounds, which also sound rather dull. That's also the reason I wanna use the analogue synthesizer of our school to maken my sounds to use in the composition. It's going to take a lot of hours of work I think but I'm enthousiastic to do it myself.

Some ideas for the animation part...

On the right you can see a first impression of the animation, it's got more of a presentation-like feeling to it.
First idea for an animated sequence

Since I am rather new to the animation process I will have to consider asking someone to help me with it...or I will make it very simple like the example shown here. Then I will make it on the computer, but I don't know if I'm happy about that choice yet.

After second feedback from external party

Ay, the people who were at our lessons to give us feedback on the idea weren't really blown away by it...I can't tell why exactly, since I still think my idea is quite okay. Maybe I should make choices for the animated part, and i have made my choice. I will make a old-school slide show using a projector. I always like the old projectors, since you get audible feedback when you advance a slide. Already phoned a friend who owns a projector. Now I'll have to think about my frame-rate and the stuff I want to show during the presentation. I think the idea of "mocking" Jeff Koons' work wasn't enthousiastically received. Well, I don't really think I was mocking it, but yeah I can understand why people criticise this non-art and I think it's very funny that someone puts three basketballs in an aquarium and calls it ART. I don't care at all, I just think it's funny and that's why I had the idea of a cheesy animation...

I gave it some more thought

So I gave it all some more thought because I wasn't to happy about the reactions I got. since Jeff Koons works with a lot of kitsch material, but transforms it by the production process and use of materials, I am going to do a similar thing. In the Mutopia project, a website dedicated to classical music, you can download a lot of MIDI files from old composers like J.S. Bach. I am going to use those MIDI files to control the analogue synthesizer at our school. Friday I will experiment with it, and I think it will work perfectly with images of Jeff Koons work. On monady I am going to present these new ideas.

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This page was last modified on 13 December 2006, at 21:37.
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