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William Eggleston's Secret World Of 'Musik'

In the art world, William Eggleston is a revered photographer. In the music world, he's virtually unknown. But now the 78-year-old Memphis native, celebrated for legitimizing color photography in the 1970s, has just released his very first album, simply titled Musik.

The German spelling is an homage to J.S. Bach, one of Eggleston's heros. And while the new album sounds very little like Bach, Eggleston often makes his 1990s-era Korg synthesizer sound like one of the master's mighty church organs.

You can get a taste for the album in the short and sweet film by Rick Alverson, which follows Eggleston around his Memphis apartment while his music plays. The artist pads from bedroom to dining room where, hunched over a table laden with oscilloscopes and tube amplifiers, he noodles with his keyboard, creating a retro sound somewhere between Tomita and Tangerine Dream.

He appears to be the very essence of a southern gentleman as he sits on his sofa, lighting a cigarette. But Eggleston's music reveals a more mischievous side. Like his photography, he locates the beauty in the quotidian. The chords and harmonies may sound mundane, but listen close and hear how some are stretched out of shape into unfamiliar territory.

The film closes with Eggleston at his piano. Like the untitled synthesizer improvisations on Musik, his style is off-the-cuff, with a homespun feel, somehow suggesting the rough-hewn music of Charles Ives.

William Eggleston's photograph <em>Nashville, Tennessee</em>, from his collection <em>The Democratic Forest</em>.
/ William Eggleston
William Eggleston
William Eggleston's photograph Nashville, Tennessee, from his collection The Democratic Forest.

In a languid voiceover, Eggleston tries to describe what he's up to. "I wouldn't pretend to understand what really makes music," he states plainly. "It's so fluid and formless, physically, that we just can't grab part of it. When one starts to try to do that, one's trying to speak about something that is not finite."

He's right. And for now, Eggleston's new album will let the "Musik" do the talking.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.