Episode 029: The Peacock Room
In which we discuss creep, unpaid contractors, and cries for help
Who among us hasn’t had a job or home project or gig that started out fairly simple but grew into some unrecognizable behemoth of a thing that threatened to eat you alive?
It’s typically nobody’s fault. It just happens.
Creepy creeping that creeps.
Oh, what’s that you say? There are people who would purposefully take on tons of extra work and end up not getting paid for it?
It turned into The Peacock Room.
According to the Smithsonian, the basic story is this:
When his architect Thomas Jekyll fell ill, shipping magnate Frederick Leyland turned to his friend, the artist James McNeill Whistler, to complete renovations on his dining room. Leyland presumed Whistler would make a few alterations but returned to a totally transformed space. Whistler had painted over Leyland’s imported leather wall coverings, gilded the room’s shelving, and covered the ceiling with his blue, green, and gold peacock motif. Leyland refused to pay Whistler’s proposed fee. In frustration, Whistler left his former patron with a mural of two fighting peacocks…
Our artist brains are often a little cross-wired—leading to great art, maybe, but also unusual actions. So it's not a complete shock that Whistler would simply decide to do whatever he felt like without consulting his benefactor.
Even so…a little beyond the pale I’d say.
This was one of my favorite reductions to make. It took forever, probably a dozen tries. Needed to get the shelves and plates and vases and other pricelessness just right. The peacocks duking it out must take pride of place, but the green doors really connect the whole thing from the birds down to the carpet. Happy with this one.
I genuinely have no idea why this is what came out when I sat down to compose something for a detailed, ornate, wealthy, stuffy display of architectural art.
There certainly is nothing ornate or wealthy or stuffy about this beat. It sounds like two dogs fighting in somebody's basement rec-room in 1973.
…or two peacocks maybe? Hah!
Unlike the reduction, this was the rare case when I tried the most straightforward thing first… and that’s what it ended up being. No iterating, no spiraling rewrites, no endless re-recordings.
Found a very basic drum loop I liked.
Let the loop roll and improvised one long line on the piano. What you hear was around my 5th or 6th take.
Thought “hey this is interesting, this is something”
Went back, transcribed it, and doubled it on bass and guitar in different octaves.
Too short: repeated the whole thing. Didn't even give it the decency of playing it a second time, I just looped the first half.
Added a counter line on cello the second time through.
Loved how old and crappy it sounded, left it, didn’t fix it.
Made it crappier sounding with murmuring voices and added static.
From initial germ of an idea to mixed and mastered, the entire thing took probably three hours. That is…quite a bit less time than one of these beats ordinarily takes.
Finally: peacocks have my favorite birdcall.
A couple of summers ago while on vacation in Graz, Austria the family visited Eggenberg Palace. The place is a marvel, especially if you love math and astronomy: 365 windows to represent the day, 31 rooms on every floor for the month, 24 second-floor staterooms for the hour with 52 total windows for the week. Very precise.
They also have peacocks everywhere on the grounds roaming free. Shrieking their cry, which almost sounds like they’re calling for help.
Call for help? Preposterous! Who would want to leave Eggenberg Palace?
Anyway, we walked around for the rest of the trip imitating peacocks. Very mature.
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 shrieking peacocks], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.