Bravo's new series Work of Art: The Next Great Artist brings contemporary fine art to the world of creative competition television. Guiding the translation of a visual art form into a musical vocabulary has been my privileged task as in-house music supervisor for Barefoot Music, whether that entails constructing the musical landscape of the fashion world for the seminal series Project Runway, or giving a soundtrack to the noisy kitchens of Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. With Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, we were once again presented with the challenge of creating music for an exclusively visual art form. Although contemporary visual art often combines elements outside the strictly visual, the common gallery experience tends to be a quiet one. The angle then became to give musical expression to the inner dialogue and character of the artists, as much as to the final exhibition of their work, naturally, since both music and the visual arts are ultimately an attempt to communicate pathos beyond language itself.
Artists are especially familiar characters to head composer Biff Sanders, who started early in his career playing drums in art damage bands with friends from Cal Arts and Stanford Fine Arts. "You always wanted to have at least one artist in the band," Biff says, recalling his days in the L.A. art scene during the 80’s where his band would play the underground steam and fire shows, in which parking lots full of artists would build fire or steam-powered sculptures while bands played. "Artists approached music from a different angle. The experimental factor was always essential." In the world of reality television, that experimental factor can be a tricky thing, yet it plays a large part in trying to represent the expressions of one medium through another.
While on the surface, music and art may seem vastly different, upon closer examination the chasm narrows. In fact, much of the language we use to discuss music borrows from vocabulary of the visual arts. Culturally, we speak of major tonalities as bright, and minor tonalities as dark, both fundamentally visual terms adopted to describe the invisible substance of music. Both mediums, at least in a classical understanding, are subject to a certain underlying order, which we refer to as harmony. Digging deeper, these words convey as much about the psychological and emotional experience of a piece of music or visual art as they do about the sensory perception of it. Composition, no matter the medium, is a question of structure, something that transcends not only visual and audible mediums, but art all together.
Understanding these convergences is both a necessity and a source of inspiration when writing music for projects such as Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, and many of these ideas have become the backbone of the musical world of the show. We accompany the frantic on screen action of a busy workroom with hurried, up-tempo rhythms to express the energy and anxiety of the moment. Drones, arrhythmic and ominous, can evoke the tension of a moment of realization that a conceptual plan has gone awry. A collage of varied instrumental mediums was used to achieve this. Baroque was mixed with electronic, while drum and bass trip hop was combined with acoustic instruments. Organic sonorities were blended with eclectic beats to simultaneously represent the paint-stained work ethic of the creative artist and the abstract thought processes behind their creations.
When all is said and done, the goal in writing music for Work of Art: The Next Great Artist is to create a contemplative body of work as thoughtful and nuanced as the artists whose creative processes it gives musical voice to. In this way, perhaps a bridge can be built, not only between visual art and music, but also from one person to another, and from humanity to the world at large.