Chaumont (((O))) Lecture
June 2005
Listening / reading session
In June 2005, we were asked to give a lecture during the 16th International Poster and Graphic Arts Festival in Chaumont (France), as a part of a series of events curated by Werkplaats Typografie. These events took place in Le Garage, a giant parking space that during the annual poster festival functions as a local exhibition hall.
Since most of our recent work is explained in detail on this very website, we didn't feel the need to explain it again during a lecture; we thought we'd rather spend the given time talking about some of our interests and influences, such as pop music.
Technically speaking, we didn't talk. To the seated audience, we handed out a small laser-printed zine that we produced ourselves (edition of 50), after which we played a selection of 9 songs on a CD-player.

The small booklet contained 9 small texts, each text accompanying one track. The booklet also contained a short afterword ('About this lecture'), in which we explained the theme of the lecture (mainly revolving around the subject of the sun in pop music).
The publication consisted of a yellow sheet of paper (360 x 240 mm), printed on both sides, and folded to a square of 120 x 120 mm. This square folder was then put into a blue standard CD envelope. The round window in the blue envelope showed the yellow content, looking like a sun in the sky, underling the theme of the lecture. The complete package is shown above. The booklet, in its unfolded form, is shown further below.

The following part shows pictures of the actual event (as photographed by Louise Dossing), and the full text of the actual lecture (including afterword). Rereading the text of the lecture, and especially the afterword, we noticed that it's written in a clumsy fashion; but for the sake of completeness, we included it below.

Later, in 2007, the same session was reenacted in Bordeaux, during 'If Everybody Had an Ocean', an exhibition that took place at CAPC (Musée d'Art Contemporain Bordeaux), from November 17, 2007, to March 9, 2008 (we weren't actually present during that occasion). In 2008, the lecture was adapted to a poster, and shown during the group exhibition Sun Shine Shine.

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Text lecture:

"Set the controls for the heart of the sun..."

01. The Beatles
'Here Comes The Sun' 03:05

A logical choice to begin this compilation with, George Harrison's 'Here Comes The Sun' is a beautiful and simple ode to the sun. Over a crisp and clean grid of a plucky guitar and a wobbly Moog, sentences are repeated in an almost typographic way. This pattern-like feeling is strongest in the middle section, when the repeating phrase "Sun sun sun / Here it comes" is interweaved with a geometric composition of dry handclaps.
The first song of side B of the Abbey Road album, 'Here Comes The Sun' feels like a relief (or like a sunset) after the last song of side A, John Lennon's obsessive and almost unhealthy 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)'.

So why does the link between the sun and music, as displayed in this song and countless others, feels so logical and natural? Our guess is that the answer might be found in the ritual roots in music.
As the birth of music is without doubt connected with prehistoric belief systems, and as the oldest religions were in fact all variations on solar worship, it is safe to assume that music always had this ritual element of celebrating the sun as a deity. An explanation George Harrison would be quite glad with.
To push our luck even further, we also think that there is a logical connection to be found between the idea of 'sunny music' and the city of Chaumont. After all, 'chaud' means 'hot' and 'mont' means 'mountain'. Hot mountain.
And to continue the pseudo-religious trip we started a few sentences earlier, the idea of a mountain as a place to come closer to the sun is a reoccurring theme in the Old Testament. Judaism is very much a 'volcanic' version of solar worship, one in which the sun reveals itself as a mountain god, through burning bushes and flaming rocks. In Exodus 34:30-35, when Moses returned from the mountain Sinai, his head was literally shining like a sun. In other words, the 'music-sun-mountain' association is not as farfetched as it seems. (Okay, we admit, it is pretty farfetched. But it made for an interesting story, didn't it?).

LP: The Beatles 'Abbey Road', Apple Records (1969).

02. Velvet Underground
'Who Loves The Sun' 02:48

Sung by Doug Yule, who in retrospect looks a little overshadowed by the other members of the VU, 'Who Loves The Sun' is a rhetorical tune that almost seems to echo The Beatles' 'Here Comes The Sun'.
But despite its faux-naive song structure, and its sweet 'pa pa pa pa' chorus, the feeling projected here is somewhat more pessimistic: "Who loves the sun / who cares that it makes plants grow / who cares what it does / since you broke my heart?". Sun-dazed depression at its finest.

Brian Eno famously noted that, although the Velvet Underground didn't sell a lot of records in its lifetime, everyone who bought one went out and started a band of their own. Which is quite a hopeful model, an example of how small, marginal groups of people can influence, in indirect ways, a seemingly untouchable mainstream.
We're not saying that we compare ourselves to the Velvet Underground, that would be ridiculous; but we do admit that there is some hope to be found in the idea that small cultural phenomena can have effects beyond its direct reach.

LP: Velvet Underground 'Loaded', Atlantic (1970).

03. The Zombies
'Summertime' 02:17

Here we hear The Zombies' version of the classic Gershwin song, a composition originally written for the musical 'Porgy and Bess'. The Zombies, a typical 'British Invasion' group from the 1960's, with a sound that was very much influenced by black rhythm & blues music, covering a song from the 1930's, written by an American composer of Russian/Jewish origins, who in his turn was very much influenced by early New York jazz and black folk music.

In graphic design, historical influences and references are easily dismissed by critics as retrospective, backward gestures, or postmodern irony. In pop music, on the other hand, it is intuitively understood that these kind historical influences and references are the very essence of progression. In rock culture, the act of pointing to the past is accepted to be a genuine modernist gesture, which is exactly what makes pop music such a liberating force. White English boys, honouring black American music from decades before their time, as a vital and even revolutionary concept: that's the attraction of pop.

LP: The Zombies 'Begin Here', Decca (1964).

04. Fennesz
'Endless Summer' 04:04

Fennesz is Christian Fennesz, an electronic composer from Vienna. This track is actually called 'Before I Leave', taken from the impressive 'Endless Summer' album.
It's a beautiful work, one of the most abstract pop tunes ever created. What at first hearing sounds like a fragmentary collection of monochrome sound-fields, later turns out to be a perfectly crafted (and deliciously catchy) composition; in many ways almost a 21st century version of the Beach Boys' masterpiece 'Good Vibrations'.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy wrote in 1929 that "mathematically harmonious shapes, executed precisely, are filled with emotional quality, and they represent the perfect balance between feeling and intellect". Words that fit this song like a glove.

CD: Fennesz 'Endless Summer', Mego (2001).

05. The Lovin' Spoonful
'Summer In The City' 02:42

This song starts out with a set of abstract sounds: a series of three short unrecognizable knocks. But unlike the abstract sounds in Fennesz' 'Endless Summer', these sounds are far from harmonious. They are in fact quite disturbing, heralding a song unparalleled in its intensity.

In 'Art and Politics', published in 1938, Trotsky writes that "art is an expression of man's need for a harmonious and complete life (...) That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work".
'Summer in The City' is an example of such a creative piece of work. Beneath the surface of a sweet and innocent pop song, we can hear man's yearning for a complete life. In the chorus ("In the Summer / In the City / In the Summer / In the City") the singer is struggling to find some balance between the opposites that make life incomplete, a balance not only between nature (the summer) and culture (the city), but also between time (the summer) and space (the city).
Other opposites trying to be resolved in the song are night versus day, and the female versus the masculine ("Kool kat, looking for a kitty"). All in all a breathtaking piece of work.

In Ian MacDonald's brilliant 'Revolution in the Head', which is regarded as the definitive book about The Beatles, there's an interesting description of the period in which 'Summer In The City' was released:
"The summer of 1966 was particularly glorious and McCartney's 'Good Day Sunshine', written one hot afternoon at Lennon's mansion, was one of several records to capture the atmosphere. Based on The Lovin' Spoonful's similarly summery 'Daydream', 'Good Day Sunshine' was recorded in the same week that The Kinks' 'Sunny Afternoon' entered the British charts. In New York, where the heat was intense, The Lovin' Spoonful followed up their hit with the powerful anti-idyll 'Summer In The City'. Donovan had an American hit with the jazzy 'Sunshine Superman'. The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, opted for a darker view with their sitar-driven summer hit 'Paint It Black'."
This description was actually quite an inspiration for this lecture. It's funny that, of all the songs listed in the above paragraph, we only included 'Summer In The City' in our playlist, but we do hope that we managed to capture some of the spirit of the summer of 1966 in this lecture.

LP: The Lovin' Spoonful 'Hums of The Lovin' Spoonful', Kama Sutra (1967).

06. The Fiery Furnaces
'Here Comes The Summer' 03:29

07. Belle & Sebastian
'A Summer Wasting' 02:06

Other than the title suggests, the Fiery Furnaces song is not a cover of The Undertones' classic punk single 'Here Comes The Summer'; it's a contemporary pop tune instead, an upbeat yet slightly melancholic story about waiting for the next summer, while remembering the previous one.
The voice-like instrumentation in the beginning is already sketching the outlines of the rest of the song:
"We'll have to wait until it's June / Remember?".

Next is 'A Summer Wasting' by Belle & Sebastian, a song from their breakthrough album 'The Boy With The Arab Strap'. Basically a guilt trip about a wasted summer, we thought this song would be quite recognizable to all those Werkplaats Typografie students who spent the last seven weeks in Chaumont: "Seven weeks of reading papers / Seven weeks of river walkways / Seven weeks of feeling guilty / Seven weeks of staying up all night".

CD: The Fiery Furnaces 'EP', Rough Trade (2004).
CD: Belle & Sebastian 'The Boy With The Arab Strap', Jeepster (1998).

08. The Delgados
'Mr. Blue Sky' 05:25

This well-known rock epic, originally by ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), is here covered by Scottish band The Delgados, from their excellent EP 'All You Need Is Hate'.

Although the first line actually mentions the sun ("Sun is shinin' in the sky / there ain't a cloud in sight"), in the rest of the song the sun seems completely absent. Instead of the sun, the sky is celebrated, which is quite an interesting twist on solar worship; a decentralized, almost gnostic view. Apart from this twist, the worship going on in this song is quite traditional: a natural phenomenon is made into a person ('Mr. Blue Sky'), and the way this phenomenon behaves is seen as a consequence of human behavior ("Mr. Blue Sky / Please tell us why / you had to hide away for so long / Where did we go wrong?").
There's even the introduction of a second godly person, 'Mr. Night', in gruesomeness comparable only to the devil: "Mr. Blue, you did it right / but soon comes Mr. Night, creepin' over / now his hand is on your shoulder". The song (the original version as well as the cover) ends with a symphonic finale musically celebrating the vastness of the sky, a spectacular outro that might be a little bit too epic to appeal to those lacking the requisite sweet tooth.

EP: The Delgados 'All You Need Is Hate', Mantra (2003).

09. Ramses Shaffy & Liesbeth List
'Pastorale' 04:18

With a text written by Lennaert Nijgh, and music written by Boudewijn de Groot, this can be considered as a milestone in Dutch songwriting. What makes this song so interesting in the context of this lecture is the fact that it is the only song on this list written from the actual viewpoint of the sun.
In the first couplet, the sun (Ramses Shaffy) introduces itself: "My sky, blue with golden halls / My cloudy towers, ice crystals / Comets, moons and planets / Ah, everything revolves around me".
In the second couplet, a young child (Liesbeth List) is introduced, who is playing near the water, and looking at the sun. What follows is a love duet between humankind and the sun. While the child wants to get near the sun ("I love your warmth on my face / I love the brass colour of your light / I love you so very very much"), the sun warns her that this love is impossible ("I tear up rocks with my rays / I dry out valley lakes / so hide your eyes behind your hand / before my smile blinds you").
In the last couplet, while the child persists in her love ("I'd rather burn, please take me with you"), the sun slowly starts to move away from her, a movement underlined by an interesting yet very subtle stereophonic effect: while Liesbeth List is singing on the left, Ramses Shaffy's voice is slowly moving from the center to the right, until, after singing his last line ('You cannot love the sun"), Ramses slowly disappears.

Which leaves us with the conclusion that it's impossible to love the sun, a conclusion that makes this whole lecture redundant. A good moment to end this session.

EP: Ramses Shaffy & Liesbeth List 'Pastorale', Philips (1968).

About this lecture:

The idea for this lecture grew out of the idea of the mix tape. When visiting Chaumont two weeks ago, we came by car. And since our car has no CD-player, only a cassette deck, we travelled while listening to tapes; tapes we made especially for the trip. (As we said in pre-iPod-days: "Hometaping is killing the music industry, and it's about time").
Nick Hornby said some interesting things about mix tapes in 'High Fidelity' ("Making a tape is like writing a letter – there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again... you've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together... and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs... and, oh, there are loads of rules") but we won't get into that now; the point is that while we were driving to Chaumont, we got the idea to make a mix tape for our presentation, instead of doing an actual lecture.
To be honest, we did something like this before, for a lecture we gave in October 2002 at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam), as a part of a series of music lectures curated by Stuart Bailey (then teacher at the Rietveld). We played a selection of our favourite tracks (by bands such as Tortoise, Stereolab, The Cramps, Love, The Make-Up) while handing out a text in which we explained why we liked these tracks.
A very simple concept, which worked surprisingly well: the combination of reading and listening proved to be stronger than we expected. So for this lecture, we decided to do something similar. Why not?
Everything that needs to be said about our work can be found on our website (, so we really don't feel the need to repeat it verbally. We rather use the given space and time (kindly offered to us by the Werkplaats Typografie) to talk about pop music, as it plays such a central part in our way of working and thinking.

Every mix tape needs a theme, and for this event we wanted to focus on songs about sun and summer. First of all because we hope that this theme will reflect the actual weather in Chaumont while this lecture takes place (although it wouldn't surprise us if rain is pouring down when you're reading this).
More importantly, we think there are some strong links to be found between sun and music in general. We even think that the idea of 'sunny music' makes particular sense in this specific location, the city of Chaumont. We explained more about these links earlier in the text.

Lastly, we want to say a few words about the sound quality. As we're writing this, we have no idea what sort of loudspeakers will be available for this lecture.
For all we know the music will be played over the speakers of a laptop, or through some tiny boxes plugged into an iPod. In other words, we don't expect the sound quality to be absolutely flawless. But we hope this won't be an obstacle. To hell with hi-fi. After all, we're in Le Garage, and to paraphrase The Clash, "we're just a garageband / in garageland".

Further listening:

We listened to lot of different songs while compiling this lecture, an amount too countless to list. But if we had to mention some of the songs that came close, but eventually didn't make the final cut, it would go something like this (in no particular order): 'Fuzzy Sun' by Jim O'Rourke, 'Lazy Sunday Afternoon' by The Small Faces, 'Dirty Black Summer' by Danzig, 'Bummer In The Summer' by Love, 'Black Hole Sun' by Soundgarden, 'Your Fucking Sunny Day' by Lambchop. 'Here Comes The Summer' by The Undertones, 'Go od Day Sunshine' by The Beatles, 'Holidays In The Sun' by The Sex Pistols, 'Summer Breeze' by the Isley Brothers, 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life' by Stevie Wonder, 'Everyday' by Yo La Tengo (we know, this title doesn't mention the sun, but the song does contain the beautiful first line "I want summer's sad songs behind me"), 'Always The Sun' by The Stranglers, 'Set Your Controls For The Heart Of The Sun' by Pink Floyd, 'Illuminated By The Light' by Weird War, 'Sous Le Soleil Exactement' by Serge Gainsbourg, and various songs by Sunn O))) and Sun Ra.

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