In a twist to our popular Phaidon Muse Music series today’s playlist comes directly from the heart of Phaidon HQ. It’s been put together by Craig Garrett, Commissioning Editor for our contemporary art titles. In the mid-1990s Phaidon was one of the first major publishers to devote a section of its list to contemporary art, and in his seven years with Phaidon Craig has commissioned many of our favourite books, including most recently the excellent Defining Contemporary Art, Vitamin P2 and Wilhelm Sasnal. For his Muse Music playlist, Craig offers up 10 instrumental tracks currently receiving heavy airplay at his desk. We’ve put them on Spotify and iTunes for you to listen to this weekend but first take a read what he has to say about them.
"Working on texts while listening to vocal music is like trying to do mental arithmetic while someone whispers random numbers in your ear - not impossible, but slow and draining. Many writers and editors require total silence (some with industrial-grade sound suppressors), while others favour instrumental music, which can function as a pleasant background, a motivational force or a trance inducer. For me the right instrumental can also provide a mnemonic inspiration - a reminder that something well-made can be both beautiful and persuasive."
Model 500 Starlight (Original Mix) - Juan Atkins, alias Model 500, invented techno with a few friends in Detroit at the start of the 1980s. A decade later he recorded this track in Berlin. And it's flawless. I didn't even know I liked techno until I bought it at a Detroit record store in 1999, but by the following year I was making my own mix CDs. You know your raving days are over when you say things like "Techno is great music to write to," but there you go.
Electrelane I Only Always Think - Electrelane were four women from Brighton, and during their eight years of recording together they managed to perfect the slow-build instrumental.
Tangerine Dream Love on a Real Train - Although Tangerine Dream made their name in the 1970s with gatefold-sleeved albums full of psychedelic kraut rock, they went on to lay the foundations of 1980s film music with their soundtracks for numerous Hollywood movies. Appropriately, this track comes from their soundtrack to Risky Business, a cinematic herald of that decade's shortcomings. But it's a lovely tune - like minimalism with all the avant-garde edges sanded down.
Aphex Twin Nannou - Lots of people have called him the Mozart of techno because of his productivity, his mischievousness and his innate gift for melody. But if Aphex Twin (known to his dentist as Richard D. James) had been born in the eighteenth century, he probably would've just ended up building his own clavichords. Or inventing the first music box.
Depeche Mode Oberkorn (It's a Small Town) (Development Mix) - Oberkorn is a small town in Luxembourg, to be precise. It's also the name of an analogue sequencer inspired by this track, the B-side to DM's 1982 single "Meaning of Love". Actually, this song is more like three tracks for the price of one, so if you're listening to it on the free version of Spotify you're really getting your money's worth.
John Cage In a Landscape (performed by Alberto Rosado) - Composed in 1948, "In a Landscape" pre-dates Cage's adoption of chance composition techniques, and in their wake it sounds almost schmaltzy. To ascribe its emotional intensity to Cage's personal life (he divorced his wife in 1945 to pursue what became a lifelong creative and romantic partnership with Merce Cunnigham) is to miss the whole point of his work. But hey, why not.
Mogwai Mogwai Fear Satan (Mogwai Remix) - The original version of "Mogwai Fear Satan", the epic closing track on the album Mogwai Young Team, has become even more immense in this remix, despite a complete absence of guitar heroics. Instead it offers layer upon layer of texture and melody, with a lone flute piping through the feedback. Mogwai are from Glasgow, where teen gangs refer to themselves as young teams, hence the album title, but this song feels more like the epic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands - miles of grass, granite and sea spreading in every direction, with not a person in sight.
Philip Glass Mishima (Closing) - Mishima was an extreme Japanese right-wing bisexual novelist/bodybuilder/actor who committed ritual suicide after a failed coup d'etat in 1970. I guess you could say he was unique. Philip Glass was once Sol LeWitt's plumber, but now he's better known as one of the founders of minimalism.
Terry Riley Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band - This song, which takes up the entire side of a vinyl record (the flip side is A Rainbow in Curved Air), is a shortened studio version of the all-night concerts Riley used to put on in the late 1960s. His only instruments were an organ, an alto saxophone, a delay unit and a tape recorder. The audience brought sleeping bags and activated minds.
Christoph de Babalon High Life (Theme) - On the morning of 11 September 2001 I opened the blinds in my Brooklyn bedroom and noticed black smoke rising from one of the Twin Towers. Instead of turning on the TV or the radio, I put this song on the turntable and stayed there. Everything I saw that morning seems to be captured in this recording, from the traffic on the expressway in front of my building to the eventual collapse of the towers. In the years leading up to 9/11 I used to have a recurring dream of planes crashing into buildings in slow motion, and I wonder if Christoph de Babalon experienced something similar in 1997 when he made this song. (Since that day I've never had the dream again.)
You can also listen to these creatives' Phaidon Muse Music playlists:
Edmund de Waal
Michele Howarth Rashman
United Visual Artists