By Bronwyn Bidwell
How can artists revive old fashioned music values in the digital era? Beatie Wolfe believes technology is the answer. She spoke to Bronwyn Bidwell
The music industry loves to pigeonhole artists, to give them a label and then restrict them to all it entails. But it is almost impossible to put Beatie Wolfe in a neat little box.
She has variously been described as a singer songwriter, an innovator and a social campaigner (for her work on the impact of music on dementia patients).
But it is her forays into the world of technology which have attracted the most headlines – and taken her to Apple HQ and the SXSW Festival. Wolfe has been involved in a few “world firsts”: she pioneered the world’s first 3D interactive album app and created an album deck of cards which meant fans could tap the various cards with their phone and hear her music, thanks to near field communication (NFC).
But she is best known for her role in creating “the world’s first music jacket”. This project – an exploration of how to give music tangibility in a digital age – is a good example of how, with creative thinking, a singer can take their music in new directions.
So what is the musical jacket? At first glance it looks like a (very well made) gold silk jacket. But as one techie put it, it is in fact “a digie inspired piece of cultural history”.
Firstly, Wolfe recorded her single Take Me Home from her album Montagu Square in a building steeped in rock history – the former home of Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The single was then translated into woven fabric by textiles label BeatWoven, who interpreted the song into a collection of shapes and patterns inspired by the sound waves of music.
The fabric was then turned into a beautifully crafted jacket by tailor David Mason (aka Mr Fish), who dressed Hendrix, Jagger and Bowie in the 1960s. The jacket was also NFC-enabled, allowing people to hear the single by tapping their phone onto the fabric.
Beatie Wolfe – Take Me Home
So how did such a unique idea become a reality? It started when Wolfe met David Mason at an event at the Royal Albert Hall. In conversation he mentioned his home had an incredible rock history, and was where Hendrix wrote The Wind Cries Mary, Paul McCartney penned Eleanor Rigby, and John and Yoko got naked. Aware of Beatie’s musical background, he invited her around to see it.
She explains: “When I went to see it I thought ‘This is an amazing place and no one really knows about it’. I wanted to record in such a magical space, but I didn’t want it to be just that – I wanted to make it more interesting.”
For most artists that thought would have remained just that – a thought. But a few days later when Wolfe met by chance Nadia Anne Ricketts from BeatWoven the idea of a musical jacket began to take shape.
“It all just sort of fell into place,” she says. “Sometimes if you are open to new ideas then you recognise the opportunities.”
Wolfe is quick to stress that despite her interest in technology, for her the music comes first. “It is always the music and the lyrics but I like to then see where it goes from there. Two of my inspirations are David Bowie and Prince, they were 360 degree artists who didn’t just look at music from one perspective.
“I think what I am always trying to do with any of my tech stuff is to reintroduce some of the more traditional components of music – the sense of ceremony and theatre – but make them compelling for today’s generation.
“I always think back to when I discovered my parents’ vinyl record collection when I was young, it was such a magical moment. The music industry is a very different place now, we have replaced tangibility with MP3s and streaming sites.”
Wolfe says all of her tech projects have come about because she has an open mind (this might have something to do with her parentage, her father spent his younger years mixing with Beat poets and the Rolling Stones, her mother was an American journalist who wrote a book on punk music).
She says: “I don’t see myself as a tech expert. I am really just experimenting and learning. I didn’t anticipate where any of this this would take me.
“For me individuality is key. Nowadays there is a lot of emphasis on trying to sound like somebody else, or to follow a particular trend. There is so much to be said for doing what feels right to you.
“When you have a very specific idea or vision you want to pursue, you end up seeing the opportunities. When you know why you’re doing something, it’s easier to choreograph the rest of it. Even if you don’t know exactly how something will work out, you are more likely to see the ways to fill in the missing links if you have an open mind.”
Wolfe was recently an Ambassador at London Technology Week, where she spoke and performed, and will perform in the US in August, followed by dates in Germany and Switzerland. And there are tech projects in the pipeline (“some really exciting stuff but I can’t say too much just yet”). Watch this space.
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