Episode 017: Starlight Night
In which we discuss light pollution, the order of the universe, and Christmas cards
I moved to the top of a (small) mountain about a dozen years ago. Very different from my childhood home, with its multiple malls, its gazillion people, its 10-minutes-from-Manhattan.
First thing I noticed was how clearly you can see the stars. [Well, the first thing I noticed was that I couldn't sleep for a week because it was so quiet]. There just isn’t the same amount of light pollution as there is nearer the city. This isn’t an international dark sky park, but it’s pretty great.
One recent summer night while stargazing from my porch, I realized I needed to write a beat for the stars. Couldn’t decide between two night sky paintings, so this week it’s Starlight Night by Georgia O’Keefe, and next week it’s…well, you’ll have to tune in to find out!
In their beautiful book Universe, the editors at Phaidon Publishing powerfully articulate the pull this painting has on me.
"With this grid of irregular white shapes…Georgia O’Keeffe not only captured the vastness of the night sky but also suggested the human instinct to try to impose order and pattern on what we see when we look at the heavens.”
Imposing order where this is none – it’s a bit of a thing with me, too.
This painting lent itself to my minimalist reductions. Especially the stars themselves, which have nearly the exact look of the grid pattern I often use.
Fun fact: O’Keeffe painted Starlight Night in 1917 and reproduced it on her Christmas cards in 1963, nearly fifty years after painting it. Repurposing!
Three separate melodies going on here:
the Wurli, playing the opening melody;
the shimmering synth that comes in next with what amounts to the main theme;
and the dusty old Mellotron flute patch in the concluding counter-melody. (I freely admit I use the Mellotron too often; it’s one of my favorite sounds.)
This beat may sound chaotic, but that’s actually by design. I spent an inordinate amount of time weaving together the three lines when they eventually play simultaneously at the end. You can hear everything that is going on despite the hecticness of it all. At least I can.
Finally: quite happy with the drums on this one. For most of the first half of the beat, I cobbled together a few percussion and drum grooves and then detuned them, stretched them out, slowed them down. A little eerie. By the time the drop hits, I have two or three percussion parts and three different drum kits layered. A beast to mix, but worth it for the big sound.
The following may be a bit of sacrilege. Hear me out.
O’Keefe is of course most known for her flowers and New Mexico paintings. All remarkable. But I am an even bigger fan of her Manhattan skyscraper paintings from the short time she lived in the city in the 1920s.
I feel a connection between Starlight Night and these urban paintings she created a decade later. When you're on the 50th floor of one of those NYC towers, you do kind of feel like you are up among the stars, no?
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and stars], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.