The multi-sensorial effect of music and art, paired together, allows us to shift in and out of our overwhelming reality. When I joined the team and mentioned my side gig as DJ Hanouni, it was only natural that I create a mix for Special Special. I worked with our Designer and music aficionado Mark Foss to create Special Special’s first DJ mix, which was born out of his own pastime creating a themed Spotify playlist for every show. Having our exhibition Late Summer by Benjamin Langford as inspiration made for a colorful and fruitful collaboration.
In the Special Special spirit of fresh ideas, collaboration, and intersecting art with the everyday, I wanted this mix to enhance the playful essence of the show as something people can carry with them to remind them of Late Summer; that was only a click away. The Late Summer-inspired playlist Mark created was full of different genres, styles and eras, which brought up a fun challenge for me and re-ignited my passion for creative DJing that had gone a bit stale during quarantine. For example, older songs that are not mixed digitally are much harder to sync to newer ones because the tempo is off or it’s slightly out of tune, so mixing with your ears rather than eyes is key. Melding genres is one of my specialities; it surprises the listener by refreshing old classics and much like the intersection of music and art, elevates the unique sound of both tracks. All the “Flowers (Lone Remix)” by Bibio with “Perfumed Garden” by The RAH Band is one of my favorite blends in the mix for this reason, as well as the two intro songs.
Anaïs (a.k.a. DJ Hanouni) admiring Benjamin Langford's Burnt Fiddleleaf
When I began DJing a few years ago I quickly learned that it’s a skill that takes so much more practice and discipline. Not only is it about beat matching in real time, but about creating a feeling, trying to predict how the audience will respond, making sure the songs sound right together, and being able to do it on the fly. It’s really centered on curating an experience, and in this case, one to accompany viewing (in any context) Langford’s whimsically ethereal soft sculpture plants.
The preparation that goes into an audio mix is no simple feat. I use our Special Special edition Small Medium Big Ideas Notebook Set to organize my thoughts, because they tend to get messy if they’re all in the same place. My own process begins with choosing a list of songs to use– these go in the small notebook. Then, I decide which songs have similar keys and which songs complement each other the most, so these potential blends organized by BPM and/or key are written down in the medium notebook. A blend might seem like it’ll sound good on paper until you get down to testing it out on the turntables. Some songs that are both beautiful become a trainwreck together, so it’s always best to hear how their combination works out in reality. Once I listen to how they flow from beginning to end and tweak the mix to my liking, I use the big notebook for my final organized lists of each mix and instructions on how to play each song.
As the Late Summer exhibition relates to a period of intensity and scarcity circling back to the same dire themes that came to a head this year, this sound piece is a surrogate for taking a deep breath, relaxing back into yourself, and reaching a point of intuitive introspection. It begins smooth and easy, then reaches a higher BPM towards the end for danceable listening.
Benjamin Langford, Yellow Schefflera (above) and Sweet Potato Vine (below) from the exhibition Late Summer (2020), Special Special, New York.
Langford’s work asks us to indulge in themes of process. Photographing plants in a state of decay, the artist both makes their ephemeral nature more permanent and reminds us that nothing is meant to last. Whether it’s the stitching on the leaves in Yellow Schefflera or the intricately-cut crevices of Sweet Potato Vine, Langford’s larger-than-life sculptures evince a dedicated, ritualistic kind of preparation, similar to the process of crafting a mix.
Putting an emphasis on community and care is central to the Special Special ethos, so we offer this auditory experience as a method of self-care available to anyone. Layer it with a nature sound video during a bubble bath, put it on a speaker while relaxing in the park, or stop by the gallery to hear it play in its natural state, alongside Langford’s artworks.