The 1950s produced a spectacular boom in technology and with advances in electronics and optics and cinematography came popular music and the rise of abstraction in Western art. Developments would continue apace throughout the late 20th Century with ever evolving advancements in video production and of course the introduction of computers. Featured below are some of our favourite fusions of contemporary music and visual art. They are, of course, just a taste of the depth and breadth of this intriguing artform.
Warhol’s multimedia events of 1966 and 1967, soundtracked by the Velvet Underground and Nico, were arguably the first and certainly most influential examples of a direct correlation between music and contemporary art. The visual style of both artist and band have had a direct affect on hundreds of concert performances since. Just imagine what Andy could do with today’s technology!
Although seeming rather primitive to us today Mark Boyle and Joan Hills liquid lightshow projections were a staple of the late 60s psychedelic scene and clearly influenced by Warhol’s use of projections. Other artists such as the Joshua Light Show and Brotherhood of Light developed in the States alongside the Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Although not quite synched the correlation between music and visuals here is an important stage in the development of the artform.
Possibly the first piece of visual music to be experienced by a widespread public. Kubrick’s use of The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss and Richard Strauss’ Also Spach Zarathustra alongside other classical compositions played a crucial part in the an almost non-verbal movie, pushing the idea of visual music to a mainstream audience. The final sequence using Gyorgi Ligeti’s music a perfect example
Evolving from the performance art group COUM Transmissions, Genesis P.Orridge and Cosey Fani Tutti developed Throbbing Gristle eventually morphing into Psychic TV and offshoots such as Chris & Cosey. Their confrontational visual aesthetic incorporated pornographic imagery and photographs of Nazi concentration camps as backdrop to a sometimes very harsh industrial music. Designed to challenge their mission was to explore the darker and more obsessive side of human nature. Visual art and music does not always have to be pretty. Not a lot of the more confrontational stuff seems to exist online but here’s a great performance from 1980. Personal favourites.
No exploration of visual art and music could not mention the music video. The rise of MTV in the 80s and boom in video as a promotional tool has produced some great examples of visual art and exposed the mainstream pop fan to both the sublime and the ridiculous. However there have been some incredibly creative uses of the format. So many to pick but one that influenced the writer and effectively introduced stop animation to the world is Sledgehammer from Peter Gabriel. Mind blowing in 1986!