Among the revelations of the inaugural series of our podcast A brush with…, featuring in-depth conversations with leading artists about their influences and cultural experiences, was the breadth of the music they listen to in their studio and the varying roles it plays in their lives and work. The guests in Series 2, sponsored by Bloomberg Connects—Ragnar Kjartansson, Christina Quarles, Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Rose, Tal R, Charles Gaines and Tala Madani—offer similarly diverse responses to the podcast’s regular question about what music or other audio they listen to. But cumulatively, themes do emerge; Number 1 in the A brush with… charts this series is Keith Jarrett, whose music is highlighted by three artists, and who reflects a broader engagement with (and love of) jazz shared by almost all the guests. There are recurring mentions, too, of dance music and classical heavyweights like Beethoven.
To reflect the artists’ wide-ranging tastes and references, we have compiled this playlist on Spotify. Read on to learn more about their musical inspirations and the influences they exert on their practices. And you can hear the full interviews and subscribe to A brush with… here.
America by Sufjan Stevens
A song from the album, The Ascension (2020), which Kjartansson says he’s been listening to recently, describing it as “a sort of electro record”. He says of the album: “It's pretty great. Few works of art have caught the state of mind America is in now, and the American Empire. I’m in Iceland, but I was a part of the American Empire that’s falling apart.” Kjartansson singles out a repeated line—“Don’t do to me what you did to America”—from the song. “It’s so strong”, he says. “It's my favourite work about the current situation.”
Sorrow by The National
Le nozze di Figaro, K.492 / Act 4: “Gente, gente, all’armi, all’armi” by Mozart
Music is at the core of numerous works by the Icelandic artist, and at the heart of his desire to work with ensembles. “I very often kind of fall collaboratively in love with people”, Ragnar says. “I think it’s similar [to] being a jazz musician. It is, like: ‘I want to jam with this guy,’ you know?” He says of works like A Lot of Sorrow (2013-14)—a film in which the US rock band The National play their song Sorrow repeatedly for six hours—and Bliss (2020)—a video of a performance in which a single Mozart aria is repeated for 12 hours: “These pieces usually end up being a portrait of music that I have been listening to a lot and has sparked something in the imagination.”
Il Cielo in Una Stanza by Gino Paoli
Kjartansson’s musical references span several genres. His performance piece, Il cielo in na stanza (The Sky in a Room) takes inspiration—and its title—from the Italian pop song, written by Gino Paoli and made famous by the Italian singer Mina, transposing it into a grander, classical form. Although familiar with Mina’s original recording, it was Kjartansson’s discovery of the relatively unknown version of the song on Paoli’s album Rileggendo vecchie lettere d'amore (1971) that proved crucial. For the purposes of this playlist—the album is not available on Spotify—we have selected another recording of the song by Paoli, but you can hear the 1971 track, in which he sings alone with an organ, on YouTube. Kjartansson describes this comparatively pared-back arrangement as “Bach-ish”, and listened to it repeatedly with a friend while doing a performance in Venice. “We became so fascinated by it. It was the only song I had stumbled upon that has this basic idea of visual art in it…It’s about the transformation of space: ‘When you're here with me there are no walls, just endless woods.’ Love transforms everything. Some Italian friends told us about the song and said that Gino Paoli got the idea for it in a brothel in Genoa and then you understand that in the song when he says, ‘this purple ceiling becomes an endless sky’, he's talking about a purple ceiling in a late 1950s brothel. [...] It's kind of James Turrell before James Turrell.”
Everyday (featuring Rod Stewart, Miguel & Mark Ronson) performed by A$AP Rocky, Mark Ronson, Miguel, Rod Stewart.
Los Angeles by St Vincent
“I have a playlist that I started in 2017, which I just keep adding to every time I hear a song that I like […] The first song that was put on there was the song Everyday by A$AP Rocky”, Quarles says, noting that the first song automatically became the title of the playlist, which she listens to, well, every day. With an ever-growing playlist that passes through various stages, Quarles has to decide at what point to begin listening. This becomes gradually later over time: “I usually start around track 55 now,” she says, “and it’s all these really cruel, break-up songs on there. I listen to a lot of St Vincent. A lot of my titles kind of come from her songs.”
One Day More performed by the original London cast of Les Misérables
The Movie in My Mind–Live performed by the Miss Saigon Original Cast
“It's embarrassing, but I like painting to really epic musicals like Les Misérables or Miss Saigon,” Quarles says. “When you're painting you need to snap into a rhythm. And so what I like about these cheesy musicals is that they are so epic. If you listen to a live one they also include applause, which is sort of a good motivator to have somebody cheering you on.”
Work It by Missy Elliott
Stronger, by Kanye West
“I used to listen to music all the time. Lately, less so,” Horn says. “But Missy Elliott is a big one for me. I love her, her whole shtick [… ] I have to say, Kanye West was fucking good when he was good.”
Polonaise No.7 in Ab, Op.61 Polonaise-Fantasie by Frédéric Chopin, performed by Sviatoslav Richter
Peace Piece by Bill Evans
So Tender by Keith Jarrett
Strange Fruit performed by Billie Holiday
'Round Midnight performed by Betty Carter, Oliver Nelson
Dream a Little Dream of Me performed by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sy Oliver’s Orchestra
The podcast was edited for length, but during the course of the full interview, Horn cited several pianists—from the classical master Sviatoslav Richter to the jazz pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett—as being among the artists she loves listening to. “I love Jarrett’s relationship to improvisation”, she says, “to this dialectic relationship with an audience”. Improvisation, she says, “is where a lot of the drawing comes from”. Vocal jazz has been an equally enduring and important presence in Horn’s life. She mentions Billie Holiday and Betty Carter, whose names are repeated in Horn’s drawing, Or 7 (2013/2015) alongside other jazz greats such as Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn (no relation) and Ella Fitzgerald.
Henry Lee (featuring P.J. Harvey) by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Down by the Water by P.J. Harvey
Keyboard Concerto No.1 in D Minor, BMV 1052: I. Allegro by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Glenn Gould, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
Whiteread says she has a “real love-hate” relationship with Spotify, which she listens to in the colder of her two studios. “It never plays you the thing you ever want to actually hear. It always plays you something else, or some other version of what you thought you were going to hear.” In that studio, amid the cold, “I’ll put on some dance tracks and have a little boogie while I try to warm up a bit”, she says. Though she will occasionally listen to new music, she explains: “My musical tastes haven't really changed for decades, I kind of always listened to the same things.” Those include Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Keith Jarrett—also chosen by Roni Horn and Tala Madani. She will listen to Bach’s piano concerti played by Glenn Gould “or something that has a fast pace that's not too expansive in terms of going off in all these different places”, she says, “because you then end up going with it and you don't concentrate”.
Monk’s Mood by John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk
When asked about the music she listens to as she works, the South African artist says: “If you had asked me like, two, three months ago, I was listening to jazz.” Her choice for this playlist is the seminal live performance from 1957 featuring Thelonious Monk on piano and John Coltrane on sax.
Ubombo by Madala Kunene (The Smith & Mighty Remix)
Gangsta Kid by ShyFX (Mutant Beats)
Sweat by Jay Williams (Club mix)
Forest Nativity by Francis Bebey
Mona Ki Ngi Xica by Bonga (Synapson Remix)
After the podcast, Rose revealed that she moonlights as a DJ under the pseudonym Eve Brown—“there was the short-lived Hottentot Venus much earlier”, Rose says. These are some of the tunes she plays in her DJ sets, which she describes as “more drum’n’bass, tribal heavy than the deep house of yore”—not all the remixes are on Spotify, but do seek them out on YouTube. On the podcast, Rose explains the importance of deep house—songs like Jay Williams’s classic Sweat, from 1990—when she was younger. “I used to listen to deep house back in the early 2000s. And that's where I found my soul. Five out of six days, […] from Tuesday night […] until Sunday afternoon, I was on the dancefloor. No drugs, no alcohol, just deep house. And I never wore the same outfit twice.”
Downpressor Man by Peter Tosh
Music often features in Rose’s work, and in one piece, performed at the Philharmonie in Berlin in 2013, she asked the choir of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt to sing a version of the reggae icon Peter Tosh’s Downpressor Man (itself a riff on the song Sinnerman, made famous by Nina Simone). Called Duppy Conqueror (after a Bob Marley and the Wailers song), Rose’s work addressed the history of the site around the Philharmonie, where the Nazi euthanasia programme was organised. She wanted to “liberate” the concert hall, she says. “My theory was that there were these spirits still stuck in the Philharmonie, and they needed to get out.” Downpressor Man became the route for this performance-as-exorcism. “I had it translated in German. And I've never heard reggae in German,” Rose says. She appeared with the choir. “I was beating them with a sort of cupped hand in order to liberate their spirits.”
Amanuel (featuring Diaqon Ezra) by Tewahedo Mezmur
The Book of Love by The Magnetic Fields
I See a Darkness by Bonnie Prince Billy
Pink Moon by Nick Drake
It’ll Take a Long Time by Sandy Denny
The Danish artist is the DJ in his own studio. “If there's other people in the studio, they all know that I decide music here. Because there's a lot of music I can't hear.” A composer that is “always present” is Bach. “I can't hear big symphonies or very romantic music. I can hear very sad music, but not very romantic music, if there is a difference between these things. Bach is always here.” Recently, he has discovered Ethiopian Christian music “where they sing in a very deep voice”, he says, and “this music confuses you in a good way”. Otherwise there are musicians he returns to repeatedly, he explains. “There's certain kinds of musicians that I still love every song by them, somebody like Stephen Merritt [of the Magnetic Fields]—69 Love Songs [here represented by The Book of Love]—it’s amazing. I still enjoy Bonnie Prince Billy. I’ve enjoyed him since art school, but Nick Drake, he's still up for a good sad song.” Sandy Denny “is great,” he says. “I think she’s better without Fairport Convention.” Does he use music to help with specific modes of working? “I won't be so specific to say that when you add the last breath of the painting, then you put up Beethoven—it doesn't go like that. Sometimes you will even play music to kind of create a wall around you. So dogs, people or other animals will not disturb you.”
Charles Gaines is “a stereofile”, he says. “I bought myself high-end stereo equipment and I’ve got it in the studio. So I’m pumping music… while I work. And the music that I listen to is jazz and classical.” He mixes up icons of jazz like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and contemporary jazz figures like the pianist and artist Jason Moran. When it comes to classical, he says, “I got this thing about Beethoven and this thing about Bruckner.” He points out that some people have questioned how an artist who makes such methodical art can have a passion for the “expansive and romantic” music of Bruckner but, he says, “the connecting tissue is my interest in patterns”. It is this, he a argues that links his interest in the Minimalist composer Steve Reich and the 19th-century Austrian master. “I think how methodical and patterned Bruckner is. But nevertheless, he’s able to produce these extraordinarily broad romantic gestures with these patterns.” And his interest in systems links those composers to his passion for jazz, too—he’s an “explosive drummer” in a jazz band. “My interest in jazz, in composition, in improvisation, is wholly based upon pattern relationships.” And this links directly to his system-based work. “I connect the patterns to my interest in visual patterns that I think underscores my Gridwork, which I think underscores my interest in syntax in terms of my language pieces.”
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
“Miles Davis, to me, is one of the biggest geniuses of the 20th century, and specifically his Bitches Brew album”, Madani says, adding that it is “where I’d like my brain to be, eventually, in life. His ability to create that is what I’d like to get to, so sometimes it’s aspirational. The music that I listen to is what I like to access mentally.” The transportive quality of music is important to Madani; she uses sound as a vehicle for connecting with her native Tehran: “Sometimes I need to go to Iran, in my brain, and I listen to music that emotionally puts me there.” And music directly affects her mood as she begins to paint. “As a kid, when I learned how to ski, I couldn’t really ski until I had headphones on with pumping dance music. And then I would have the guts [to go] down the slope,” Madani says. “When I’m painting, I’m going down the slope and I often need some serious dance music to just go for it.”
Avec le temps by Léo Ferré
Köln, January 24, 1975, part II C–Live by Keith Jarrett
In some cases, listening can “become ritualistic”, Madani says. Despite the language barrier—“I have no idea what he’s saying”—Madani cites Leo Ferré as someone she has listened to for 20 years. “I got this tape of his – it was a cassette in Berlin when I was there 20 years ago – from my Belgian studio mate […] he introduced me to Keith Jarrett and Leo Ferré. And I just loved that. It’s the memory of that time; it’s the memory of that space.” For Madani, Ferré still carries the “youthful freedom of that experience”.