rad // lab is a publication with works by artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and more, specifically focused around womyn and safe spaces. It also happens to include former and current KSPCers in its ranks of contributors. This post first appeared on rad // lab, and we are reposting it with permission.
BEAUTY: a mixtape by Edie Adams (& friends)
When I was first told that the theme of April’s issue would be beauty, I was torn. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a mix of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard, but it somehow felt wrong to compile the list by myself. After all, the way in which we perceive beauty is uniquely determined by our cultures, our upbringings, and our distinct individual experiences. And in the realm of music, these categories only become infinitely more complex. A piece of music can be “beautiful” for any number of reasons. Perhaps it has poetic lyrics or a melody that feels like an old friend; maybe you can hear the musician inhaling and exhaling on one particular demo recording, and you feel like you’re right there, breathing the same air as they are. When you really start considering what we deem “beautiful,” you realize how important those quotations are. Beauty, in all aspects, is a deeply personal, spectacularly complex notion.
For that reason, when I set out to create this month’s playlist, I decided to curate a collaborative mix based on the following question:
What is the most beautiful piece of music you have ever heard and why?
With the help of my boss at Terrorbird, Lauren Ross, I compiled a list of potential contributors, comprised of nearly 30 women who currently work and thrive in the music industry, and asked if they’d be willing to contribute. Much to my surprise, I received an overwhelmingly positive response, and I’m proud to present the following playlist, which contains 18 written contributions in total that are just as beautiful as the songs themselves.
When considering who to contact for this project, I wanted to make sure that women in all areas of the music industry were represented, and the collection of women who ultimately participated in this mix are just as diverse as the songs they chose. The contributors to this playlist work at record labels, music supervision companies, PR firms, management companies, booking agencies, sync licensing and publishing companies, and more. Some are musicians themselves, others are front of house engineers. But what they all share in common, and what I hope you’ll glean from their submissions, is a truly genuine love for music and its singular beauty as an art form.
In all honestly, creating this playlist for you all has been one of the most sincerely energizing experiences I’ve had in a very long time. As a direct result of this project, I’ve been able to interact with women who are making a real impact in what is still very much a male-dominated industry. And the fact that they were willing to contribute and interact on such an intimate and personal level with someone like me, a scrappy kid who is just getting started in this field, is seriously one of the coolest things. I will, without a doubt, carry this experience with me for a long time to come, and I hope that the following words, selections, and insights move you as much as they have moved me.
ALBUM LINK: beauty: a mixtape
Partner, Consultant, Manager & Co-Founder, Whitesmith Entertainment
Rock Star by Hole
This was a beautifully inspiring song for me in high school and still holds true the same sentiment 20 years later. To feel so isolated in my white, rich, republican town and school only to hear “I went to school in Olympia, where everyone’s the same. We look the same, we talk the same, we are the same” sung and spoken in such a powerful yet simple rock song by someone who was 1,000’s of miles away creating art about my exact experiences, moves me to this day. Say what you want about Ms. Love but she did what she wanted, when she wanted, never held back, didn’t conform to any societal standards and I am grateful for that example of an empowering adult woman in a rock scene and world with a small percentage of women both then and now. And what better way to end such an amazing album as Live Through This than with the line “Goodbye! Goodbye.”
Music Supervision for Film & TV, Aperture Music
Raspberry Dawn by Black Moth Super Rainbow
I have felt a connection with BMSR’s music ever since I first heard them—I find their sounds and melodies truly beautiful on an instinctually basic level. As I’ve learned more about the band and their music-making process, I’ve become able to pinpoint what specifically it is about their sound that resonates with me. In short, Tom Fec—the man behind the band—was never classically trained in music. Any time he feels too comfortable on any given instrument, he switches to a new one and begins again. Therefore, the music he creates is musical in its purest form— no rigid structure or basis in theory, just patterns that originate instinctually from, and sound appealing to, its creator.
Musician, A Sunny Day in Glasgow & Roman à clef
The Big Ship by Brian Eno
I don’t use the word beautiful very often but this song reminds me of that word and of many of the words associated with beauty, like “Brian.” But it feels like it belongs anywhere, I have no association with it being particular to happiness or sadness. I wish it were 20 min long, I always think it’s one min long but it’s actually 3 times that amount. It’s not that it’s timeless but that it’s unrelated to time or any other thing that could ground it. It is its own thing and I just get to know about it, I think that’s pretty beautiful.
Lead Guitarist/Vocalist, Scully
In Dreams by Roy Orbison
No other song has the ability to make me stop in my tracks every time I hear it. Each reappearance Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” makes in my life after I put the song to rest in my library for some time feels like it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it. I am overcome with a feeling of relief, awe, wonder, and bewilderment. The most recent re-entrance of this song into my conscious came to me while listening to music on headphones on my walk to work in heavy fresh snowfall a few weeks back. As soon as the song came on everything around me slowed down and the environment and people surrounding me became more candid. In my own songwriting I tend to think a lot about dreams, blurred lines between reality and fantasy, fear, pain, and love, so Roy Orbison’s subject is naturally attractive to me. I’ve tried replaying this song on my guitar at home, repeating the instrumental and vocal chord progressions to try and learn how to write such a timeless song, but it can’t be done. The way Roy Orbison’s voice carries the song is timeless and insurmountable.
Booking Agent, Paper and Iron Booking Co., Berlin
Lovescene by Daniel Knox
Traditional lyrical sentiments of love or nostalgia have never particularly resonated with me. Lovescene, along with most of Knox’s music, is backhanded and cruel in a way most humans don’t care to delve into. I’ve felt myself drawn more and more to polarizing people, places, and voices, enjoying a cynical quality that I love something others don’t or can’t. Daniel Knox is this kind of love. “Then suddenly I find myself dancing. Oh, how I hate dancing.”
Music Supervisor, E! Entertainment
I Know by Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple’s music encapsulates everything I want out of a feminine voice – intense but fragile, fiery but beautiful, willful but soft. She is the only female artist on my personal Top 5 Artists of All Time list. This song is for every man or woman who has ever been dicked over in love – raked over the coals, lonely, depressed, miserable about how much you let your guard down and were bested. So, basically all of us.
Every second of this recording feels like a moment that will never happen again. A moment captured in time, in one take. It is a beautifully cathartic response to the universal emotion of heartbreak.
This song is perfect.
President, Kill Rock Stars
Revelator by Gillian Welch
This song is so simple, but they do so much with it. The minor key makes it automatically haunting, but then the way the lead guitar riffs on the melody line and takes it elsewhere is amazing… it’s a tough song, not pretty or soft, and you feel like the singer has lived a real life. The message of the chorus is so real it’s pretty undeniable, and i think that’s the beauty part for me. Real life with just words and two guitars… beautiful.
Musician, Speedy Ortiz
Angel In The Snow by Elliott Smith
I started listening to Elliott Smith in middle school, after my dad bought a copy of his self-titled record. This was around the first time in my life I realized I might be depressed (and not just sad about, you know, not having anyone to play Magic cards with). That record was eye-opening about the cathartic powers of “sad” music, and how healthy and necessary it can be to wallow (and even encourage) difficult feelings in order to work through them. The songs were lyrically imagistic, evocative of real pain, but juxtaposed with such melodic elegance in the guitar playing and singing. I became an Elliott Smith message board hound, seeking out b-sides and unreleased tracks, and eventually fell most in love with the song “Angel in the Snow.” That song still gets to me–“Don’t you know that I love you? / Sometimes I feel like only a frozen still life / That fell down here to lay beside you.” A plain snapshot of love and sadness, stagnancy and purpose, and how easily those emotions can mingle. I think embracing complicated feelings is the best way to process the multifaceted beauty of the world. But maybe that just means I’m a neurotic bummer. YOLO!
Music Coordinator for Film & TV
Silver Springs by Fleetwood Mac
My mom puts it on for the first time during an after-dinner dance with my dad and me. My parents leave the house and I play it loud on our stereo. I’ve never had my heart broken and I pretend to understand Stevie. I’m away from home and I play it for a familiarity. A friend has put it on the record player and we all feel it. I care about someone and Stevie understands. It plays as a low hum in my body.
I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt
I knew immediately which song I wanted to contribute to this month’s Rad Lab mixtape. Partly because it’s one of my all-time favorite songs, mostly though because it guts me like no other. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is the ultimate unrequited love song, yet it’s so much more than that. I’ve always found it to be devastatingly beautiful and incredibly empowering. In music, as in life, I think there’s great beauty in sincere, genuine emotion, and in allowing yourself to be completely exposed to another because that’s such a difficult thing to do. On “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bonnie Raitt is honest, pure and vulnerable as hell. She is spilling her heart out. She’s revealing this very personal, protected part of herself, and she’s doing so unapologetically. There’s no fear of judgment when she asks for one more night of pretending. It’s nothing but self-awareness and acceptance when she sings, “I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power, but you won’t, no you won’t.” She delivers these brutally honest lyrics with such emotional weight. There’s a confidence and strength to her raw vulnerability that’s just so damn beautiful. Over the years, many fantastically talented artists have covered the song (Adele, Prince, Bon Iver, George Michael, Nancy Wilson, Tank, Boyz II Men and Kelly Clarkson to name a few) but NO ONE sings it like Bonnie. All praise to Bonnie! And, may you never feel it this bad.
Music Supervisor, Whirly Girl Music
Something In The Way She Moves by James Taylor
Wow, being asked to identify the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard is no easy task. It would even be challenging to choose the most beautiful piece with a genre stipulation. So, with that said, I chose ONE of the most beautiful pieces, “Something in the Way She Moves” by James Taylor. Musically speaking, the simple and organic nature of the acoustic guitar and the raw, angelic quality of Taylor’s voice are examples of what I most often consider beautiful in music. I also think that the lyrics convey a beautiful message, as they’re saying that her mere presence brings about feelings of ease and adoration. And, of course, the more one can personally identify with a particular song, the more beautiful it becomes to that person. In my particular case, hearing this always brings a smile as any James Taylor song reminds me of my family. It not only brings back fond memories, but more importantly, takes me back to the beginning of my education in great, timeless music.
VP of Communications and Press, The Beggars Group Of Labels
1/1 by Brian Eno
It’s VERY VERY hard to choose just one song for this, and to define what a “beautiful” song might be. When I think about it, it’s a song that is so moving that it might bring you to tears. It’s epic, it’s stunning and it’s gorgeous. This song and the entire album have meant a LOT to me over the years in times of beauty and sadness. It has a bit of both.
I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen
I could have chosen another song, there are so many that come to mind, and so many different kinds of beautiful. But what I love about this one is the tension and heat and loneliness. The longing, the hope, the way things look in that sort of secret, solitary kind of romance. I feel like I could live in its moment forever.
Music Supervisor, Chop Shop Music
Holocene by Bon Iver
Asking a Music Supervisor to identify what they think is the “most beautiful piece of music” lends itself to a daunting task. Instead of going through vaults and obsessively combing through the catalogue in my brain, I am going with the song that instantly came to my mind.
Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) has been my favorite artist since 2007. Hands down. No questions asked. For Emma, Forever Ago is on my Top 10 Desert Island albums. When he released his second LP, Bon Iver, I went for a drive, windows down, album blasting. The second Holocene came on, I felt emotional and nostalgic, powerful and vulnerable, invincible and raw, all at the same time. The feeling I get when I hear the song is incredible, and hearing the words “at once I knew, I was not Magnificent” is such a humbling one. I still don’t know all the words and can only understand a few lines, but it doesn’t matter, this song is is beautiful.
Tour Manager/Front of House Engineer
At the risk of coming across as pious, I honestly think Amazing Grace is the most beautiful and soulful song I’ve ever heard. As a first generation American on my mother’s side, I spent many summers, during my childhood, living in Germany and my aunt would serenade me with her guitar, campfire style. When I was old enough she wanted me to teach her the meaning of the lyrics to Amazing Grace as well as some popular folk songs. She is the woman who stirred in me a passion for music and helped me understand that music can transcend verbal language.
Ave Maria by Stevie Wonder
I don’t have a favorite song nor can I name the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Beauty comes in a million forms and expressions through sound. Beauty is sad. Beauty is sexy. Beauty is honesty. You get what I mean.
If I have to pick just one song for its beauty, I choose Shubert’s “Ave Maria” and perhaps Stevie Wonder’s version is my favorite. I feel the humble beauty of humanity when I hear it.
Concerto No. 1 in G Minor by Max Bruch
It is truly impossible for me to name the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard but i can name this piece as the one that has most consistently moved me, whose structure and pulse are part of my own. I love the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra and the stillness and movement and grace and that one little moment when the french horn and the violin come together.
Managing Director of Sync Licensing + Publishing, Terrorbird Media
“Largo” from Symphony No. 9 (the “New World Symphony”) by Antonín Dvořák
If tragedy befell me and I lost my hearing, I would hope that the second movement from Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, the Largo, would have been the last thing I heard. It wouldn’t even have to be the whole thing. I would be at peace even if it was just the few bars of the English horn melody.
The main reasons I love this piece so much are arguably also the simplest. Yes, of course the lilts and turns of the Eastern European laments midway through get me every time. They sigh, they pull and push, rubato-ing their way through time at their own pace, the way breezes and gusts bring shimmer and sway to trees and leaves. The builds, the fades, like sunlight pouring down between the passing of clouds only to be sucked away again as the next approaches. The gently surprising resolves that raise my eyebrows with hope instead of concern, then instantly switch them to concern again. That is all true. All of that happens. And they are invaluable parts of the whole. But the heart of the song comes before any of that. The piece would be nothing without its nucleus: the opening English horn melody. It’s so simple. The first half is only 4 notes. The entire melody stretches no further than one octave. That’s all it needs.
That melody would be beautiful on any instrument, in any key. But the fact that it’s on an English horn and is in Db? Holy moly. That’s the perfect wardrobe choice on the perfect casting choice delivering the perfect word choice. Someone else could play the role or speak a similar message, but it wouldn’t be the same, even if you couldn’t put your finger on why. Db is such a deep, passionate, gooey key played on anything. To pair THAT melody in THAT key on THAT instrument? Forget about it. The English horn is one of the most overlooked instruments in the orchestra. The timbre cuts though like an oboe but with the velvety richness of a viola. The vibrating double reed is so human. If instruments were types of people and orchestral pieces were events in human history, the English horn would be the artists and this piece would be an event that echoes across generations, speaking to the human condition in a way that everyone feels but only the most artistically poignant among us could ever hope to express. It’s usually not the popular mainstream people who make the most imaginative, gutwrenching art. It’s the weirdos, the rejects, the ones locked in their garages working on music, or in this case the bizarre middle child of the double reed family who spends most of its time locked in its case, making its infrequent appearance out in the world all the more special each time, like how when the Dalai Lama comes to speak we all gather to bear witness to what his rarely heard, profoundly clear voice will share with us. We should be so lucky.
Back to the melody. It’s truly made all the more heartbreaking when in the latter part of the song, the string section accompanies the English horn with supporting contrapuntal lines that color in the blank spaces of the chords that the monophonic melody alone can’t convey. The violin and cello dueting that exact primary melody and harmony later? Are you kidding me? Makes me melt a thousand times over every time. The descending violin soli after that? Come on. The dynamic brass section, tense, restrained yet unwavering. Ugh. The piece’s ending feels like watching the last drops of a brilliant orange sunset drip off the edge of the globe, gone for good, and there I am, helplessly caught in limbo between the denial of never wanting the most gorgeous of days to end and also standing still, unblinkingly fixated on the horizon like my purpose in life is to see what happens when it finally does.
*album artwork by Winona Bechtle