Sunday, May 03, 2009

jon fishman's "musical suit"

jon fishman, phish percussionist, always wears a black mu-mu style dress with an orange donut pattern on it when he plays on stage. once many years ago (late 1990's?) i got to talking with jon about a project i was about to start working on in which i would use cassette tape to weave a kind of fabric. jon was immediately interested, and offered to donate his personal collection of tapes to the cause. i suggested making something for him out of this material literally woven from his favorite music. a version of his traditional ritual garment imbued with sound seemed logical, especially
since i'd long been intrigued by orange donuts and had been using them in my work for years to represent the notion of "sound made visible". it wasn't until after jon had given me his box of 300 tapes - a wide range of rare gems, including original jimi hendrix jam sessions, prince recorded live during an impromptu concert in a small club in london, john coltrane, sun ra, led zeppelin, bob marley - that i decided to make a sound collage from samples of every single tape in the box rather than use the originals to weave with. i spent a week listening to the tapes, using my old-style analog 4-track recorder to create a layered collage of samples. i then recorded this composition - crammed full of jon's inspirations - onto large spools of tape salvaged from the audiobook industry. the tape was then woven into fabric, then silkscreened with orange donuts, then sewn into a dress.

a prop maker/sound engineer friend made tape head gloves that jon could use on stage to "play" the dress - by rubbing a tape head over its surface, it would emit a garbled, swooshing sound, not unlike a DJ scratching on a record.

in 2004 jon fishman performed on stage during a phish show in las vegas using the dress as a musical instrument. jon fishmans's "musical suit" is now on display as part of the "return to function" exhibition at the madison museum of contemporary art.