Warhol’s connection to music lives on in the Sound Series

By Emma Kilcup / Staff Writer

Though Andy Warhol’s fame comes largely from his iconic pop art, it was actually his interest in music that launched his later success. Now, the Andy Warhol Museum is bringing his work full circle.

Warhol began his career drawing album covers when he moved to New York City in 1949. Over the span of his life, he drew more than 50 album covers for jazz, rock, opera and classical music. His most recognizable was the iconic banana on the debut cover of The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico, for which Warhol was the cover designer and manager. 

Inspired by Warhol’s affection for the music scene, the Andy Warhol Museum began integrating music into its offerings in 2004 through the Sound Series, bringing international and national artists together with local Pittsburgh artists to present intimate acoustic performances surrounded by Warhol’s art.

William Cashion, the bassist for the Baltimore-based synthpop band Future Islands, who performed at the Warhol Museum in November 2013, said in an email that he believes Warhol would have liked the idea.

“Andy Warhol kept his fingers on the pulse of the underground and supported unknown, challenging artists. I feel like the Warhol Museum’s Sound Series is right in line with that tradition of supporting new underground artists and providing them a platform to reach a broader audience,” Cashion said.

Future Islands performed at Brillobox and Mr. Small’s Theatre during its 2011 tour, and the band visited the Warhol Museum to admire the artwork while previously in Pittsburgh. When the museum was presented as a venue option, Cashion said the band was honored to have the opportunity and excited about the different qualities the venue would offer.

“The venue was surprisingly intimate, which made for a special show. We’re used to playing in dirty clubs and bars, but we dug the cool classy vibes at the Warhol Museum. The audience was really polite at our show, but I think we got most of the crowd dancing by the end of it,” he said.

The concert, like most Sound Series concerts at the Warhol Museum, was sold out. According to Mathew Rosenblum, a Pitt music professor and co-director of Pitt’s Music on the Edge program, which collaborates with the Sound Series, said the venue holds about 130 people, so tickets go fast.

“It’s perfect for smaller things that are more in line with Warhol sensibility. It’s a cool place — it attracts a different sort of audience than we are used to, like the visual arts community. People there are interested in new art. It invites all these people interested in new art but not necessarily music people, which broadens the audience. It’s always very mixed: old and young and everything in between,” Rosenblum said.

In 2008, Music on the Edge began collaborating on concerts with the Warhol Museum, beginning with the avant-garde accordion duo Guy Klucevsek and Alan Bern. 

After the initial collaboration, Music on the Edge and the Warhol museum made it permanent.

“Ben Harrison approached us soon after that and said he was looking to embed that genre in the Sound Series. Before that, Pittsburgh Symphony group did several concerts but it was disbanded — they weren’t quite the right fit. Our sensibility was closer to what he had in mind,” Rosenblum said.

Harrison is the curator of performing arts at the Warhol Museum and the mastermind behind the ongoing concert series. While many of the Sound Series concerts are held at the museum, they are also held at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland for larger performances.

Philip Thompson, the Pitt Department of Music communications coordinator, said that they cannot afford to give out free tickets because the Warhol Theater is so small, but that they have devised a discounted student program that gives students access to three shows in the series for $25. Additionally, the Feb. 22 Music on the Edge show “Music of Burr Van Nostrand” will be free for Pitt students.

Rosenblum believes the unique location promises to make the Sound Series an innovative part of the local music scene.

“It seems like an interesting central location — there’s something fresh there,” he said.