The artist behind the vinyl hologram and the Musical Jacket talks about generating great ideas, regularly.
Beatie Wolfe at the Nokia Bell Labs Holmdel Horn in New Jersey
Note: this article came about as part of our partnership with Sydney's REMIX festival, where Beatie will be a guest speaker 7-8 December.
As a journalist, I guess I belong to a category of workers called "creatives." But this is a pretty lofty title and sometimes I doubt my career choice, simply because going around calling myself a creative relies on having a constant stream of creative ideas, which is hard. Like, really hard.
I’m fascinated by people who can seemingly turn on the jets at will, which is how I came to admire musician Beatie Wolfe. She’s a US-based indie-rock singer who plays around with the ways music can be delivered. For example she’s previously released an album as a vinyl hologram for iPhone, and crafted a Musical Jacket designed by the tailor who dressed Bowie, Jagger, and Hendrix and cut from fabric woven with Wolfe’s music, and most recently broadcast the world's first live 360 AR album stream from the quietest room on earth. It’s this kind of stuff that’s seen her nominated as one of the 12 folk changing the world in 2017 by WIRED Magazine.
So yeah, she’s got ideas, and I wanted to know where she gets them all.
VICE: Hey Beatie, I guess I’ll just ask the question. Creativity—what’s your secret?
Beatie Wolfe: Look, I think my best advice is that your own unique voice, view, interpretation is so valuable. A lot of people feel like they have to sound or think like someone else. But we, individuals, have so much to offer when we are really able to cultivate our own unique identity. To have one quote as a single advice, it would be the quote that my father told me when I was a kid. To be honest, it never really made sense until I was older. It’s very unpoetical and sounds weird but here it is: the eye of the farmer fattens the pig.
Okay. What am I supposed to do with that?
It means that if you are the farmer and it’s your pig, you’ll watch that pig like no one else and you’ll see things that no one else does. I really believe that if it’s your vision, your baby, your pig, no one can watch your pig like you, regardless of who they are. So it’s really important to oversee every aspect as you’ll pick up on things no one else will.
And to be clear, your pig is your music?
Yeah, my pig is my music, but it’s also the extension of my music, my work in the wider sense. For me, the pig is every aspect of the project: the installation, audio, filming, production, technology… It’s about following through with that vision in its entirety and making sure every aspect of the project is in harmony with it. It doesn't mean that you can’t be part of a team, but you have to oversee everything, to make sure it’s in harmony with your personal vision.
Okay, but your music is also on Spotify. How do you feel about streaming, and distribution that's out of your control, if you believe music should be an experience?
I’m not critical of YouTube or Spotify because they have their place. But my interest is looking at other ways people can listen to music and experience it. I think the dematerialisation of music, even if it has a lot of benefits—like easily sharing and discovering new music—is creating a very shallow stream for how people listen, which isn’t necessarily representative of the whole spectrum. What I love is creating a deeper experience that brings a multi-sensory experience and allows the listener to enter another world, be really present, and not think of music as one constant shuffle. We have to always be reminded of the magic of music and make time for it.
A project of yours that I found really interesting was the one where you were using music as treatment for dementia . Can you tell me more about this?
I have family members living with dementia and at the time I was really fascinated by the work of the neurologist Oliver Sacks and what he’d done to further our understanding of music as medicine. And so I began to use music with these family members. For example, with my grandma, I would arrive and she would not know who I was. She would be very confused and agitated, but after one song, it was like a light bulb came on. She would be back in the room, laughing, and talking about really early memories and the lines of my songs. When you see something like that you think everyone should know about the power of music.
What do you think you’ll do next?
I really don’t know. My projects come from nowhere. I strongly believe that the best of what we can do is not on our road map but it’s about knowing your intentions: what you want to create, what you want to bring into this world, and then being able to act from this inspiration. So I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing next but I’m sure it’ll be interesting.
REMIX Sydney (a big festival of culture, technology, entrepreneurship), is happening 7-8 December.