Martin Creed: Thinking/Not Thinking @ Cafe OTO

Martin Creed: Thinking / Not Thinking (Work #1090) from Martin Creed on Vimeo.

Review by Kathryn Evans

Last week Martin Creed and his band showcased their new single Thinking/Not Thinking. One might view this sort of pursuit from an artist primarily known for creating visual works as an amusing side project, but the Turner Prize winner has always seen music as an integral part of his practice. To demonstrate this Thinking/Not Thinking is Work #1090, is numbered in the same manner as the rest of his visual works, although the single is also released in a conventional manner in line with standard music releases.

The evening started with a special showing of Work #610 Sick Film, a 21 minute film of people entering a completely white space and vomiting. The camera is fixed on the space and the performers enter by themselves and vomit with varying degrees of volume then leaves the space and before the next person enters the space is completely cleared. One feels that it is a private act that is being viewed in a very public forum and watching it is quite compelling. Sound plays a huge part in the piece and there are a range of noises that are produced by the different performers. The film seemed to engage a great deal of the audience in a context where film can be hard to concentrate on, and I feel that this was particularly due to the nature of the sounds.

Martin Creed took to the stage with his band, a five piece consisting of Creed on guitar and vocals, bass, synthesiser, percussion and drums. Creed’s stage presence seemed at first to be tinged with shyness but as the set progressed he became more relaxed in his role and imparted real warmth in his performance. The music started and there felt to be immediate stylistic references to the post-punk genre. The songs are simplistic in structure, but not necessarily in rhythm, often with driving bass and drums, and the band play together very tightly.

Lyrically there are clear themes/subjects in each song and Creed’s vocals are often accompanied by his band building up layers of voices. In line with much of his visual works that explore language and text, the songs have sparse phrases that seem quite apart from an average pop or rock track. Creed maybe trying to impart advice in some songs (If you’re low/If you’re lonely), exploring ideas (Thinking/Not Thinking) or in two songs he counts to 100 and goes through the alphabet. A number of songs were also accompanied by projected visuals that had a coordinated minimal aesthetic and referenced the songs directly with text.

Thinking/Not Thinking has a distinctive guitar line with two different chords attached to lyrics ‘thinking’ and ‘not thinking’. The tone has a definite melancholy to it and the distorted synthesiser adds to the slightly atonal feel. It is a compact song but one feels that all that needs to be said is said within the stripped back lyrics.

Attending an event which has an artist, who is primarily known for visual work, performing music rather than sound provokes questions about the lines between visual art and sound art, music and noise that are too vast to be discussed here. Instead one can experience Creed’s performance as music and, as a credit to the artist, enjoy it in the same manner as music. I was reminded of a quote from the American artist Robert Morris that states that: “Simplicity of form does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience” and this is certainly true from a performance of Creed’s music.

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