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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David Bowie Gave As Much To Sci-fi And Fashion As He Did To Music

Fucking Cancer.

The man from Brixton (and Mars) whose penchant for reinvention was spurred by a childhood desire to write musicals and create characters, took a turn towards playing those characters himself when his first career choice looked unlikely.  Ziggy Stardust allowed David Bowie to become someone else and therefore feel at ease while performing.  Who hasn’t wanted to be someone else at some point in their lives?  It’s an element of the human condition that we can experience vicariously through David Bowie’s transformations.  The courage, the creativity, the brevity, the showmanship, the beauty.

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Costumes, fashion and dressing up are vehicles of self-expression, storytelling and reinvention.  Costumes and fashion were tools used in a fascinating and inspiring way by Bowie, from his Mr Fish-created frock coats for the Man Who Sold the World album cover, to his suit, dog-collar and stiletto combo for his meeting with Tony Blair;  he was sharing a visual commentary with the world.  That’s what makes fashion so powerful – the evocation brought about when in the hands (and on the body of) such a visionary and intelligent person.

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David Bowie predicted the future (in his interview with Jeremy Paxman) and understood that the internet would bring creatives and their audiences closer together, with the role of the audience becoming more integral.  He saw it as a great demystification of the creator’s practice and as an equally enthralling and terrifying advancement.  That was 15 years ago.  In the interview, Bowie laughingly expressed the Internet as an ‘Alien life-form’ when Jeremy Paxman suggested it might be a strange but somewhat ineffectual tool.  The interview demonstrates a glaring gulf between the fabric of these two men – the unimaginative and businesslike Paxman and the inspired and visionary Bowie.   Watch Bowie predict the future and reveal his support for, and investment in, Internet ventures.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0-51IkWpFE

It’s hard to recall another artist whose work has had such a profound and positive relationship with space than David Bowie.  As explained in his biography in the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame, his breakthrough 1969 single “Space Oddity”, which tells the story of an astronaut’s possibly tragic mission, was broadcast by the BBC during its coverage of the Apollo 11 launch and lunar landing. The song bridged the science-focused world of the space race, rock ‘n’ roll, and popular culture.

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In 2013, Astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded and filmed his own rendition of Space Oddity while on the International Space Station.  He wanted to allow all of us on earth to see ‘where we truly are in space exploration’.  A message to the world from the ISS sent via the words and artistry of David Bowie. Hadfield received David Bowie’s support with rights and publication of the rendition.

Chris-Hadfield-NASA-astronaut-David-Bowie-international-space-station-Condo.ca_Astronaut, Chris Hadfield

David Bowie existed comfortably as a artist within the film genres of sci-fi and fantasy while simultaneously shaping notions of fashion, sexuality and beauty.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA27aQZCQMk

The message I’m carrying with me from the art and wisdom shared by David Bowie is: you can be whoever you want to be, and his quote “I have no knowledge of who I am, but I am extremely happy”.

I mentioned in my previous post that we’re set to achieve travel to and from outer space in our lifetime.  But before we go Interstellar, let’s cure cancer.

Donate to Cancer Research UK here

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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.

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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.

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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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