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Part 2: Popular Music and the Visual Arts today: A Modern Dichotomy?


After our initial description of this investigation, which we had in Part 1, here as promised are the Questions and Answers with artist and musician John Bryden.  

Q1. John, I was wondering what problems you have encountered practicing as both a visual/photographic artist, and as a musician in the fledging stages of your creative professions?

Probably understanding what roads to go down in terms of trying to get some attention on the work. Whether studying or making demos from home, its all just about the work itself but then afterwards you’re forced with the question of how you want to be portrayed, where to perform or exhibit, who to approach for advice, whether you want to earn money from the work and whether that could, in turn, effect what it was all about in the first place.

Also knowing when a project is finished and therefore ready to give away to others; is often difficult. How far to take it, and when does it become saturated etc? It can help to get an outside opinion from someone (preferably from someone I respect) on this matter but a lot of the time this just confuses me so I tend to go on instinct; until it’s the best I can do at least…then I ask for help.

Q2. Do you find your artistic pursuits exclusive of each other, or are they totally linked with one another; how would you explain this issue (dichotomy?)?

I think, essentially, they come from the same place or source i.e. the person(s) making it. Music and visual art I suppose appeals to different senses so they can be separate in that way, but obviously there are cross over’s. A gig could be similar to an installation artwork as they are both very often immersive and designed for an experience. If I had to sum it up I’d say that everything is similar and different. I know that’s vague as hell but that’s how I see things. I don’t think there’s a dichotomy as such between visual art and music for example, it’s more of a spectrum of many.

Q3. Do you think that if two pieces of your work (musical and visual) became so intertwined with one another, that there may be a way of displaying them so as to communicate the nature of their conception and duality?

Of course...but I haven’t reached that stage yet. Music videos, film scores, or live visuals are the more obvious platforms for this. British Sea Power did a tour of live shows where the film Man of Arran (1934) was projected above the stage while the band played. Essentially it was a live soundtrack which they reacted to, or interpretation of the film, and what it meant to them musically. What is interesting about this for me is that one medium can grow or evolve out of another. We all feel the same things so it’s just how we express these feelings that matters.



British Sea Power’s album cover for Man of Aran 


Live footage of the band performing their score to accompany the film.


Still from Man of Aran, this fictional documentary was directed by Robert J. Flaherty  

Q4. Most people I speak to love both visual art and music yet very few practitioners have ever successfully combined the two in any sort of exhibition/performance context, is this something that interests you and do you see it as a possible new expressive artistic form?

Yes maybe in the near future. I know it’s been done many times before but I do like projections over live music performances.

I saw a video of the band, Cats Eyes: Cats-Eyes-Video-Exclusive  recently doing this. It was fantastically moving. It had an ethereal feel which I think is great because anything visual which is too heavily storyline-based can detract from the music. When next to music I prefer videos that look good as opposed to having a beginning, middle and end, or attempting to explain the song.


Powerful Imagery from Cat’s Eyes recent record

Alternatively, I’d be apprehensive about taking anything ‘Machine room-related’ into the gallery environment, fearing it would be too clinical. But if we could make it our own somehow I’d be happy to. I’m open to anything providing it’s done right and by that I mean that everything else on show would have to compliment the music.

Q5. As I have had pointed out to me several times since I wrote the first part of this investigation, there are many artists I did not include in my brief piece outlining this subject, and individuals who would not fit into any of the three categories. Are there any artists who have practiced both art forms, who I did not mention, who have informed/influenced your work?

PJ Harvey’s album cover for her latest album ‘Let England Shake’ is really strong, like a disaster waiting to happen, fitting the Zeitgeist. A powerful image like that will then be associated with the songs, becoming inseparable. That’s the aim.


Let England Shake by PJ Harvey and the cover John fittingly refers to as ‘fitting the Zeitgeist’. 

I tend to find more affiliation with those artists/musicians which you have put in your 3rd area above- ‘are those musicians who use the visual as a secondary part of their musical work’. Artwork is something we’re thinking about at the moment for our next record release.

Q6. Is it important to you to have both your musical and visual vocations, or is there a time when you could envisage only focusing on one of them?

Yes it is important to do both yet I feel more confident making music because I think I can put more of myself into this. I don’t know why this is exactly…it could be because I can do it on my own and I can do what I want. I don’t like doing creative things if I feel like people are paying attention to me. This too is probably why I like making films and images that are more observational, where people don’t know or aren’t too bothered that I’m there.

I tend to find more affiliation with those artists/musicians which you have put in your 3rd category (see above). It is melody and lyrics together in songs that stick with me the most, so for the moment I’m focusing on music with any imagery feeding off it.

John Same Mistakes

Same mistakes by John Bryden, an award winning work from Edinburgh Stills Gallery Portraits of 2011 award

A short conclusion to this study will be published on Monday the 16th. . . keep your eyes peeled on pipe!  and  of course there will be more posts dropping in over the weekend.

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