That Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips will bring their 13 Most Beautiful ... Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests to Duke Thursday isn't an accident. The concert at Reynolds Theater is co-sponsored by Duke Performances and the Nasher Museum of Art in conjunction with the exhibition Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids on view through Feb. 21 at the Nasher Museum.
While the exhibit features famous people photographed by Warhol, Dean and Britta's project involves adapting some of his film portraits of people to music. "The Screen Tests are a lesser-known part of Warhol's work, but I think they are strange and beautiful, some more than others of course, and even more so when you project them on the big screen and play music to them," says Wareham. "Obviously, Warhol's paintings are widely considered masterpieces, and they are successful with critics and the public alike. But his film work is still very challenging even all these years later."
If it's challenging to observe these snapshots as art, with their slow-motion, silent visages of figures from the Factory and assorted others, think of how difficult it must be to marry music to it.
"[It] meant looking at about 150 screen tests and reading a lot about Warhol's Factory in the years 1964-1966, when all these films were shot. That research was kind of fun, and it was helpful in deciding which 13 subjects (out of over 400) to pick."
How to perform this juxtaposition live was another matter altogether. "Now I understand why people have a conductor," Wareham says. "Certainly there is timing involved; we have to be aware of when each films starts and stops. There are a couple of songs where I set a little clock going, others where we take a cue from the subject standing up or sitting down."