David Bowie’s Let’s Dance Woven into Textile Art – Beatwoven’s Sound and Vision

It’s been a year since Nadia-Anne Ricketts and I last met to discuss her collaboration with singer/songwriter Beatie Wolfe and David Mason of  Anthony Sinclair tailors.  And what a difference a year makes.  Transforming her interiors-focused Beatwoven textile business into an art-led one, Nadia is showcasing the translation of sound into textile art through her unique interpretation of how sound ‘looks and feels’.  

Nadia was in the throes of developing a very special commission for Warner Music, weaving David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ for their new recording studio in Kensington when her interiors client Harrods approached her about extending the project to their Brompton Road store.

What followed was a negotiation with the Bowie Estate and Warner, leading to Nadia creating a woven representation of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ for the Harrods Art Partners initiative.  During our interview at The Hospital Club, a stone’s throw from her studio at Cockpit Arts, she explained to me why she chose ‘Let’s Dance‘, having been given permission by the Bowie Estate to weave any of his songs into a piece of textile art.  ‘It’s the song that I remember growing up, and it was his first commercial hit’, she explained.  I mentioned the brilliant music video too, which Bowie used as an opportunity to highlight racial discrimination of the indigenous population in my home country, Australia.  It’s a reminder of how artists can use their medium for social and political commentary and change, something which Bowie did repeatedly throughout his career.

We discussed Nadia’s former career as a professional dancer and she described the feeling of connecting sound with movement, and interpreting a song through choreography and dance – it becomes clear that Nadia’s process of woven textile design extends beyond the design software and the loom into a personal interpretation of how sounds make us feel.  The colour and texture of her textiles is derived from her sensory response to the sound – something she describes as being akin to a synaesthetic quality.  

The process of creating the woven textile from the sound waves involves segmenting the wave and attributing these sections of sound to pixels in a digital image, which can then be woven.  She describes two ways of approaching this process from a design perspective.  One is a literal interpretation, where the sound wave data is processed by an algorithm (which she developed with a coder when she began her sound and weaving fusion) and woven directly from this; or a second, more interpretive, approach which sees her hone in on certain sections of the wave and the resulting digital pattern it creates, then manipulate that section’s pixel graphic using other graphic inspiration.  An example of this is the Bowie ‘Let’s Dance’ piece being a literal translation of the first two minutes and ten seconds of this song, with the limited addition cushion covers accompanying this available in the interiors collection at Harrods.  

Nadia in the Beatwoven studio – Images: Beatwoven

We discuss her project with Warner Music UK, which is a part of their Firepit Tech Innovation Lab, which seeks to fast-track the development of start-ups in a range of ways, including providing investment and access to Warner Music’s world-class catalogue, then segue into the Harrods Art Partners collective, of which Nadia’s Let’s Dance piece is part.  Other artists and designers who created work for Harrods Art Partners include Smeg X Dolce & Gabanna, Wedgwood X Lee Broom and Lalique X Terry Rodgers.

Firepit Tech X Beatwoven – Art and cushion covers – Images: www.bpwcorporate.com

Wedgwood X Lee Broom – Image: Leebroom.com


Lalique X Terry Rodgers – Images: Estelle Rodgers for Lalique.com

Our discussion broadens to our respective experiences in textile creation and barriers to innovation within the industry, in terms of access to the newest technologies, and it’s clear we have both at times had to work within restrictive industry parameters.  For example, Nadia is only currently able to weave in silk because of the setup parameters of her suppliers’ looms and their reluctance to experiment with yarns and parameters not tried, tested and ‘fixed’.  The industrial weaving looms her pieces are created on are expensive (making ownership prohibitive for small businesses and startups) and there is one global manufacturer of the type of loom her work requires.  What’s also clear is that collaborating with other industries, whether they be music in Nadia’s case, or healthcare in mine, provides access to specialists in other industries, including engineers, coders and other scientists/artists, creating far greater opportunities and tools for innovation.

The TC2 loom by Tronrud, which allows complete experimental freedom for sampling and prototyping


Weaving in progress – Image: Beatwoven

Nadia’s team consists of a project manager, a PR representative, and the weaving mills she works with in England to create her textile pieces.  She is working towards setting up her own facility to weave more experimental pieces, and we talk about the lack of access for textile designers to cutting edge tech and how this hampers the exploration of creative ideas.  It’s clear there is scope for disruption in digital weaving, as is happening in digital knitting via Kniterate’s desktop industrial grade machine, which I recently featured on the blog.

Before wrapping up, we discuss her other work throughout the year so far, which spans commercial and arts projects in Hong Kong, Dubai and here in the UK with Weaving Futures at the London Transport Museum,where she wove the sounds of the London Underground.  A graphic-led project she recently completed, and which I find fascinating, is her Call to Prayer for the Design Days Dubai, in association with the Crafts Council (UK)

Harrods Art Partners launches on Monday 10th April and runs for a month, coinciding with London Craft Week.  Check out the windows at Harrods presenting the works and products of the featured artists and designers and for more information about Nadia’s textile and sound fusions, click here.

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Sartorial Serendipity at 34 Montagu Square

It’s a story of serendipity.  Beatie Wolfe, singer songwriter and digital pioneer of the NFC-launched album Montagu Square met me at, well, 34 Montagu Square, to discuss a very peculiar and fascinating collaboration.

I say very peculiar for more reasons than one.  34 Montagu square is the home of tailor and Anthony Sinclair Creative Director David Mason.  The very same residence was home to Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Ringo Starr in the 60’s.  It was also the recording place of Eleanor Rigby and a number of other era-defining songs by the Beatles and other seminal artists from the 60’s and 70’s. David tells me that the current owner from whom he leases the property outbid Noel Gallagher.  Imagine the fallout.

unspecifiedDavid Mason and Beatie Wolfe – Image: Stuart Nicholls

8ad5a2a2ab5eeb800bcaba09a1b7c1a026bosboom002654981b82c13139d671a2e56c1c6c4e0Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon and Yoko Ono at 34 Montagu Square

I was greeted at 34 Montagu Square by David Mason who recently acquired the rights to the Mr Fish label – a fashion brand famous in the mid 60’s to 70’s for dressing Mick Jagger, David Bowie, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and less famous for dressing David Hockney, Pablo Picasso and Princess Margaret.  The role call of clients is astonishing.

12-carnabyTlRy2Gjtumblr_lwvnacdxAO1r95vbyo1_50030B0F57500000578-3422402-image-m-83_1454063635580Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix wearing Mr Fish.  And Mr Michael Fish himself outside his boutique

David is in the midst of relaunching Mr Fish (which we’ll delve into further in a future post) but today we’re talking about a collaboration he has just completed with Beatie and digital weaving pioneer Nadia Anne Ricketts, founder of Beatwoven.

DSC01015Beatie’s Take Me Home Jacket is enabled with NFC technology and when in close range of an NFC-enabled smartphone, plays the song

Beatie bumped into David at the Royal Albert Hall while attending a Michael Caine event commemorating the film Alfie – which Anthony Sinclair tailors created the suits for – and they got talking about 34 Montagu Square.  David invited Beatie over for tea and to experience the fascinating story of the residence.  This led to a discussion about Beatie performing in the flat and recording a track there.  The idea of translating the track into a fabric came about later.  It was the result of  another chance meeting, this time between Beatie and Nadia at a book launch.  Nadia was presenting her ‘Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds’ chair, which caught Beatie’s attention.

ChairPanelNadia’s Beatwoven designs

Beatie and Nadia came up with the idea of weaving a fabric from one of Beatie’s tracks, which would then be crafted into a jacket befitting a rock star, by David and his team of Hackney Wick-based tailors.  David was inspired by the military jackets made popular by Jimi Hendrix and particularly the strength of the shoulder line.  Jimi’s signature collar features too.


Jimi_Hendrix_by_Gered_MankowitzImage: Jimi Hendrix, Mason’s Yard, London, 1967. Photograph by Gered Mankowitz © Bowstir Ltd. 2012/Mankowitz.com

David’s tailoring is steeped in British history and culture, and the weaving of the fabric at a mill in Sudbury in addition to Beatie’s Brit singer-songwriter swagger makes this a very British collaboration from concept to completion.  This collaboration was driven by creativity.  There was no commercial aim, leaving the three collaborators to experiment with fabric selection and even change the garment from a gown to a jacket in the final few weeks of the project.

unspecified-9unspecified-6unspecified-12The weaving of Take Me Home – Images: Stuart Nicholls

unspecified-4Stuart Nicholls 4Design Development and colourway selection – Images: Stuart Nicholls

The unveiling of the collaboration took place at an intimate gig at 34 Montagu Square and was subsequently launched at DLD in Germany, where Beatie spoke about her album and the serendipitous collaboration that arose from her chance meeting with David.

Stuart Nicholls 2Beatie and her pack performing Take Me Home at 34 Montagu Square

Delving a little deeper into the fabric creation, Nadia explained that the resulting fabric is dependent on the frequency and ‘fullness’ of the track.  Electro and synth-driven music leads to intense and densely detailed digital imagery in her customised software, which effectively creates a visual representation of the sound according to frequency and amplitude.  Conversely, classical music, which tends to contain moments of little or no sound, creates sparser digital patterns.  Nadia manipulates the patterns to create graphic visual effects that have a sensibility toward the final design and the inspiration.  It’s a fascinating practice that arose from a passion for sound and dance and evolved from an analogue incarnation into a fully-fledged piece of software, to which she is hoping to add a customising functionality for her private clients.

David explains the process of toileing and fitting that any tailor or pattern-cutter would be familiar with.  The basted and canvas-lined toile remains in the Hackney Wick studio should Beatie request another bespoke jacket any time soon. David’s tailors crafted the jacket from the silk/cashmere/silver jacquard made in a satin twill structure requiring deft hands to control the movement and stability of the fabric.  It’s like liquid gold and my experience tells me it would have been a difficult fabric to work with –  which David confirms.

unspecified-8unspecified-11unspecified-10David Mason’s Anthony Sinclair Tailors creating the Take Me Home Jacket – Images: Stuart Nicholls

DSC01018The Mr Fish ‘Peculiar’ customised label for Beatie Wolfe

The final result is a digi-inspired piece of cultural history.  Inspired by Beatie, translated by Nadia and crafted by David.  It’s a beautiful creation that transcends each of them as individual artists and creatives and tells a story about British craftsmanship and the power of musical culture.  The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston has expressed an interest in exhibiting the piece, which further illustrates the significance of its craftsmanship and powerful storytelling ability.

Beatie_s_Take_Me_Home_Jacket

Rhythmic moments in time distilled into a fabric and crafted into a piece of sartorial history – this is more than fashion, more than music and more than technology.  The sum of these parts is enlightening, inspiring and unexpected.  34 Montagu Square has a magical quality, says Beatie. ” There’s something about this room”.  I tend to agree.

Stuart NichollsThe collaborators: Beatie Wolfe, David Mason and Nadia-Ann Ricketts at 34 Montagu Square – Image: Stuart Nicholls

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Beatie Wolfe’s Tap and Play Album and Musically Generated Digital Textiles

Beatie Wolfe moves to the beat of her own drum.  An entrepreneur, recording artist, song writer, polished public speaker and folky technophile, Beatie is making and promoting her music, her way.  We met at The Hospital Club to talk about music, fashion and technology.

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An Independent artist with an impressive roster of mentors and collaborators some of whom were met through family contacts, others by chance at events and gigs – She met Wynton Marsalis, who now mentors her, while gigging at Ronnie Scott’s.  She’s not shy and grabs unexpected and obtuse opportunities with both hands.  She is pushing the limits of her musical vision and staying true to her love of storytelling, eschewing potentially lucrative big label offers.  It’s a bold move that she says is instrumental in maintaining her integrity as a recording artist and allowing her to work with other artists, maintaining the freedom to say yes to exciting collaborations without a big label calling the shots.

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It’s fascinating to hear Beatie’s journey.  She began playing piano aged 8 and confesses she used her piano tutor to transcribe her songs for her, rather than learning to play herself.  The piano was restrictive in a way the guitar was not and a chance conversation with a Spanish handyman (who happened to be a guitar virtuoso) fixing her parents kitchen led to lessons and a passion for getting her songs down on paper via acoustic guitar.  From then her storytelling and songwriting passion grew.

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The decision not to study music was an early one – Beatie says she prefers to learn on her own terms rather than in a pre-prescribed way.  A degree in English Literature followed secondary school, culminating in a dissertation on the poetry of Leonard Cohen (an act of defiance against her tutors who contested the choice citing Cohen’s work as absent from the English literary canon). Beatie got a first and the dissertation has been published and shared with Cohen since. Beatie is articulate and eloquent and admits she’s honed her email-writing skills over the years which has helped her make initial connections with people and grab opportunities.   She is clearly a highly motivated, goal-oriented entrepreneur who is neither phased by the fame or expertise of her peers and mentors nor prone to listening to those who say there’s a ‘right way’ of doing things.  There’s the path most trodden, then there’s the Beatie path.

Beatie’s recent Power of Music and Dementia project is the first of its kind to attempt to engage and reconnect dementia sufferers with emotions and memories through new music. The Independent reported it as ‘A musical miracle for dementia’ and it’s one example of an array of interesting projects she is involved with.

Beatie’s upcoming album is to be launched via cards embedded with NFC technology, enabling smart phone users to scan the cards (created in collaboration with Moo) to initiate instant song playback whilst viewing the song artwork and lyrics.  It’s a tactile, immediate and intimate introduction to her music – via technology – which is what makes it so interesting. No wonder it captured the imagination of David Rowan, Editor of Wired Magazine and iTunes pioneer and founder of record label AWAL (Artists Without A Label) which counts Nick Cave amongst its artists, Denzyl Fiegelson.  Beatie’s deck of NFC playback cards harks back to an era when music was sold on vinyl.  It also reminds me of giving and receiving CDs as gifts, compete with the lyric booklet and album artwork.  Nick Cave’s textured and embossed CD cover for the Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus album still sits proudly on my bookshelf as an object of beautiful design and Beaties cards are giving back that tactility in an age of downloads and streaming.

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Beatie Wolfe x MOO - Music Album Deck of Cards - World's First - v2

Individual NFC cards for each song off Beatie’s album

Beatie’s NFC launch is powered by Microsoft’s Nokia Lumia, whose fashion tech collaborations with Fyodor Golan were covered in my previous blog post.

I first met Beatie at Wired Next Generation and was compelled to speak to her on hearing about her upcoming collaboration with the head of soon to be revived fashion label Mr Fish, David Mason.

Beatie Wolfe 004

The founding designer, Michael Fish, crafted elaborate shirts for musical icons from the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix in the late 60’s.  He also created the kipper tie and velvet frock worn by Bowie on the album cover of The Man Who Sold the World, so it’s fitting Beatie is collaborating with Mr Fish’s successor for the launch of her new album.

mr-fish-60s-fashion-2Mr Michael Fish

9f31d9eaaeff740f0eb9eee769a7f3adMick Jagger in Mr Fish dress

David-BowieDavid Bowie in Mr Fish shirt and trousers with Angie Bowie

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The images above remind me of  fashion designer Jonathan Anderson’s direction at JW Anderson.

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 09: A model walks the catwalk during the J.W. Anderson show at the London Collections: MEN AW13 at The Old Sorting Office on January 9, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)

ay_101074521-e1357735561953JW Anderson

David Mason is also the Creative Director of British bespoke tailors Anthony Sinclair, famous for creating James Bond’s suits until Tom Ford took the mantle recently and whose first clients were the Beatles, followed by Eric Clapton and Elton John. Beatie bumped into David at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of months ago and he revealed he had moved into the flat once occupied by Yoko Ono and John Lennon – the site of many a famed and industry-defining recording, including Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” (incredible animated music video here) and Hendrix’s “ The Wind Cries Mary”.

tumblr_ngpd1vjaRL1rqn0oeo1_500Jimi Hendrix at 34 Montagu Square

Beatie went over for tea and on discovering the musical history of the room in which she sat, concocted a collaboration with David that at once allowed her to record the song Take Me Home to a gaggle of music industry insiders and David to measure them up for Mr Fish shirts, marking the relaunch of the fashion brand.

Beatie explained that there was still something missing in the mix and subsequently filled this gap by collaborating with BeatWoven – a textile designer creating digitally generated woven fabric from sound. The live recording of Beatie singing Take Me Home with the ambient sound of her audience at David’s flat at 34 Montagu Square is currently being woven into a fabric to be crafted into a gown by David Mason and launched at DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in January.

Montagu Sq - Beatie Wolfe performing 2 at the former home of HendrixBeatie and her Pack performing Montagu Square recording “Take me Home”

The process of BeatWoven founder, Nadia-Anne Ricketts is a fascinating fusion of textiles and technology, explained in the video below.

 

BeatWoven-Textiles

A BeatWoven fabric

This isn’t the first time Beatie has explored promoting her music via technology and her first album 8ight launched with 3D interactive Palm Top Theatre app which projected Beatie atop a smart phone screen, effectively putting the listener/viewer in the front row of a virtual Beatie Wolfe concert. Pretty ingenious.

Beatie-Wolfe-and-Palm-Top-Theatre-by-Stuart-Nicholls

10.+Beatie+Wolfe+-+3D+Album+8ight+App+-+Palm+Top+2Beatie’s Palm Top Interactive App for *8ight

We chatted about the new album Montagu Square, which I had been listening to on my way to the interview.  Firstly, I’m surprised at the simplicity and ease of the songs.  It doesn’t sound overly-produced (which is refreshing after being forced to listen to commercial radio far too much recently) and a strong percussive sound with a bluesy overtone, especially on Green to Red. It’s sounds low-fi and honest. It’s storytelling – no bells and whistles.  Maybe that’s why the innovative tech-led presentation works so well in contrast.  In her music, Beatie is concerned chiefly with lyrics and expression.  Her literature degree is an important and powerful tool in this amazing all-round creative tool-kit she has built. It makes me think about the BA fashion students I teach and how important a creative and entrepreneurial approach to life, study and work is, rather than simply relying on being a creative individual.  Beatie’s story is both a lesson and an inspiration.

Beatie Wolfe - with red guitar in Montagu Square by Stu Nicholls

Beatie will be promoting her album via iTunes appearances stateside and public speaking engagements in the coming months and I can’t wait to hear next collaborative instalment.  I’m finishing up this article listening to 8ight. Bowie’s Man Who Stole the World is next on my playlist (for musical and sartorial reasons).

Montagu Square is out on Monday 9th November. The launch gig is on November 12th. Check out beatiewolfe.com and iTunes for more details.

 

Make your own NFC cards with Moo here

Header Image: Clay Patrick McBride.  All other images (except Beatie and I at The Hospital Club): Stuart Nicholls 

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