The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art launches with an interactive sound installation by the Arab Strap frontman, premiered on Dazed Digital
Aidan Moffat used to be the man behind Arab Strap. A band whose sense of humour was blacker than the sky over the town of Falkirk where they formed, and whose lyrics chewed over love in emotionally graphic detail. Now though he finds his lyrics being put to music by a computer called #UNRAVEL, created by the art collective Found.
I started with the truth – or at least the truth as I remember it! – and wrote the stories as autobiography with one or two stylistic choices. One of them is in the style of the first page of a Raymond Chandler detective novel, one is an answerphone message and one is a song
The audience chooses a story for it to play off a 7”, and depending on its mood (generated by the audience and the weather) it’ll play a different version. If you tell #UNRAVEL that it’s crap on twitter, it’ll play a sad song, and the story won’t show the narrator in a very good light. Tell #UNRAVEL it’s amazing though, and brimming with confidence, it’ll tell you all about his success with women.
Dazed Digital: How did this collaboration with Found come about?
Aidan Moffat: It was really their idea. Ziggy gave me a ring to explain the concept and I'd pretty much agreed to it by the end of that first phone call. I'd been reading a lot of avant-garde literature at the time and it was exactly the sort of thing that was on my mind.
DD: In the idea of variations on the same stories there's a clear link to the likes of OULIPO's Raymond Queneau or Italo Calvino; what were the other influences at work?
Aidan Moffat: Definitely, aye. I really love Queneau, and I've been slowly working my way through the OULIPO Compendium. More importantly though was BS Johnson, who worked themes of memory and perspective into his works. We had an idea to do a printed version of the words, but there's also hopefully going to be an app version so we could maybe incorporate it into that and keep it thoroughly modern.
DD: Was it odd writing for this project, knowing how it was going to be performed?
Aidan Moffat: I started with the truth – or at least the truth as I remember it! – and wrote the stories as autobiography with one or two stylistic choices. One of them is in the style of the first page of a Raymond Chandler detective novel, one is an answerphone message and one is a song etc. But the first drafts were all true; the exciting part was getting to rewrite my own history.
DD: Your lyrics have always focused on story telling and narrative, but how different was composing work for #Unravel to writing for your other work?
Aidan Moffat: The biggest difference was that we started with the stories and Found built the music around them. Usually I'll write something with a piece of music in mind but we did this backwards. The music for the detective one, for instance, has that film noir swing to it, and a lot of them were chirpier than I expected, which is great. I was slightly concerned that my natural dark tone would dominate the stories too much, but the music from the robots makes them far more approachable for new listeners.
DD: You'll be doing a live performance of the songs for the opening of the exhibition - how will you choose which of the different versions will be performed live?
Aidan Moffat: In all honesty, I haven't a clue. We don't even have time to rehearse, so I think we're having a run-through on the day. I suppose we should choose all the versions where I'm funny, charming and successful with women!
More info on the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, #UNRAVEL and the Aidan Moffat x FOUND installation HERE
Text by Felix Petty