Martin Creed – 'If you're doing something and you're with other people in a room, it's like going out on a date and deciding what you're going to say beforehand'

This article is from 2017

EIF Music Preview: Martin Creed's Words and Music

credit: Hugo Glendinning

Anything could happen at the artist/musician's Edinburgh International Festival residency

'Unless it's completely improvised, a live performance is like saying that you're predicting what's going to happen in the future,' says the Glasgow-raised Turner Prize-winning artist and prolific musician Martin Creed. 'I find that really artificial and against life. Basically, if you're doing something and you're with other people in a room, it's like going out on a date and deciding what you're going to say beforehand. It seems really stupid.' All of which is shorthand for the fact he doesn't know what will happen in his new Edinburgh International Festival residency, beyond what's been revealed in the title; it's called Words and Music, so he can safely say that words and music will be involved.

If this all sounds somewhat vague, the audience will have to make a leap of faith towards what EIF trails as 'an extraordinary encounter … a bit contemporary music hall, a bit art lecture' based on Creed's track record. It's fair to say his art is iconic, with 'Work No. 227: The lights going on and off' making for a controversial Turner win in 2001 (the title described the work exactly), 'Work No. 975: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT' and 'Work No 1059: The Scotsman Steps' now genuine Edinburgh landmarks, and 'Work No. 1020: Ballet' having been performed at Sadler's Wells, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre.

Meanwhile, he's made music for two decades, releasing humorous and thoughtful indie-punk on Moshi Moshi (his debut double A-side for them inventively paired the tracks 'Fuck Off' and 'Die') and his own Telephone label, and working with Franz Ferdinand. It's upon these songs that he will fall back, he says, if the talking hits an impasse; asked to come up with something by EIF, this show will be based partly upon his usual gig format, and partly upon one of his talks about his work. 'That always felt weird to me,' says Creed, 'because talking about your work is different from work, obviously. Using words is a whole other thing in itself.'

The format will see Creed appear on his own with only a guitar and a projector screen, which he will use for showing video and photographs, and for live-drawing. Broadly, he'll be thinking about the difference between words and music, and how they are to one another what logical thought is to emotional feeling. 'Every time I come to a new live show or an exhibition, I feel that I can't remember what it's like to do it, so the only way to do it is to do it. It's a work in progress the whole time. I just want to try and communicate with other people, that's partly why I got into music and live shows – if you exhibit a painting, people are just seeing the bit left over at the end, the surface that is the finished thing. They're not seeing all the different twists and turns and ideas that went into it, whereas a piece of music is the story of itself being made.'

Ask him whether he considers this show to be an artwork, and he audibly cringes; he hates the term. 'I feel weird about calling things "art",' says Creed. 'It's pretentious – like, if you call it art you're saying it's important, and I don't think it is. It's important to me, but I don't think it's for me to decide what other people find important. I often find doing things in the world, like buying a pair of trousers or meeting someone I don't like, more difficult than making a painting to put in an art gallery. So I wouldn't distinguish between what might be called "ordinary" things and so-called "artworks". If something is important to you then it's important, and who cares if someone else wants to call it art? To me it's just a matter of trying to live life and make it better, that's all. But I feel like I'm talking too much now – and that's a good time to play a song.'

Martin Creed's Words and Music, The Studio at Potterrow, 5–27 Aug (not 8, 9, 15, 21), 10.30pm, £20. Preview 4 Aug, £15.

Martin Creed's Words and Music

  • 4 stars

Artist, musician and Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed invites you to a delightfully nonconformist evening of words, music and more, as he takes up residence for the 2017 International Festival. Expect an extraordinary encounter between artist and audience, a bit contemporary music hall, a bit art lecture, shot through…