Episode 019: The Night Watch
In which we discuss chicken claws, the Dutch Masters, and a flash mob.
Great art is magical. It can conjure up more layers, nuances, and meanings with each viewing. I think that’s why we find ourselves returning to the same pieces and feeling something different, deeper, unexpected.
Add in the internet’s power to instantly harness the insights of limitless art lovers, and even the most famous old-world paintings can provide a delightful new takeaway.
I love looking at art for the first time, something I’ve never seen before—yet here I am, focusing on one of the most famous paintings in history by one of the most famous artists in history.
And suddenly I’ve learned that the chicken hanging from a woman’s belt in Rembrandt’s The Night Watch has a special meaning: its claws [or clauweniers] were a symbol of the Kloveniers, which is what these civic guards were called.
I dig layering in human voices behind my beats. It adds a sense of community, of people enjoying music or each other's company. I use combinations of samples, my own field recordings, myself talking in wacky voices. All of it detuned, sped up, and slowed down to sound just a little off.
This beat needed those voices to convey the unease the guards might have felt during night maneuvers, or whatever they were doing. Patroling. Watching. Something like that.
For the instrumentation: baroque painting, baroque sounds. I have a beautiful set of period instruments and voices from the brilliant company Orchestral Tools. Strings, basso continuo, woodwinds, voices…I used them all.
The two main string parts starting this one out are definitely competing harmonically: the staccato violas are in G Major and the descending violins are in Gb Major. Completely off at first listen, but it normalizes to the ear pretty quickly, I think.
Also, the cat in the right foreground with the massive marching drum: I really wanted my drum sound as big as possible to match it. I mean, it's half the guy’s size. Enormous!
I might do reductions of nothing but paintings from the Dutch masters if I could. Dark browns and blacks and reds are my personal palette. But alas, this would get pretty boring pretty quickly.
Let’s start with the name. Known as The Night Watch, the actual title of this painting is Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. Or it may be The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. Very specific.
Too many people to fit into the reduction. I had to include the guy with the red sash (Cocq, right?), the two cats with muskets, and of course the woman with the meaningful chicken hanging from her belt. A few others made it in, too.
Yet somehow the marching drummer didn’t make the cut. Looking back, that might have been a mistake!
Unsurprisingly, this über-famous Rembrandt painting is a keystone of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I was, however, surprised to learn that The Night Watch has been attacked three times in somewhat-modern history:
knifed in 1911 by a navy cook
knifed again in 1975, this time by a Dutch schoolmaster
sprayed with sulfuric acid in 1990 by an unemployed Dutchman
Thankfully the skilled restoration experts returned Cocq and company to their original grandeur.
And then there is this: after being closed for a 10-year renovation, the Rijksmuseum announced its reopening in the best way possible. With a Night Watch flash mob.
I think Rembrandt would approve.
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 clauweniers], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.