Fifty days of music: Wolfgang Tillmans on Boards of Canada

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re partnering with The House of St Barnabas for 50 days of listening experiences.

Bowers & Wilkins flagship 800 D3 loudspeakers – part of the 800 Series Diamond range – have been installed in the Monro Room, at the heart of the club, creating one of the most intimate and acoustically advanced listening environments in central London.

We have invited five influential, innovative guests each to create a special listening event and Q&A around a chosen album or selection of tracks. Second in this series is fine art photographer and musician Wolfgang Tillmans. Although best known for his candid documentation of the clubbing and style world of the early ‘90s and for winning the Turner prize in 2000, Tillmans has always made music. Most recently he released his second EP, Device Control, in September of this year, the title track of which has been used by Frank Ocean to bookend his video album, Endless:

Two years ago Tillmans opened The Playback Room installation in his Between Bridges gallery, Berlin, a public space dedicated to listening on high-end stereo equipment, revealing pop-music as art:

“There isn’t a place anywhere in the world where you can listen to the 12” of Blue Monday by New Order in master quality or in the way the record was recorded. We end up listening to these works of art on iPhones.”


His chosen record from our list of the 50 finest recordings is Boards of Canada’s atmospheric debut, Music has the right to children. Although clearly influenced by Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and Autechre, the album refined a specific sound and made it their own. Their layering of sonic textures has never been bettered.

Relating the album to two of his favourite bands, The KLF and Colourbox, Tillmans describes the “weird amalgamation of nostalgia, a sense of dislocation and the warmth that is created out of that depiction of dislocation” that is inherent in Boards of Canada recordings before playing Roygbiv from the album:

The enigmatic Boards of Canada, two Scottish brothers, created rich textural details, perfect for close listening, when they wove field recordings of bird sounds that they had recorded and spent days editing and processing, with simple yearning melodies and samples taken from a collection of hundreds of fragments.

There are clear similarities here to Tillman’s own music, particularly in its naivety and use of field recordings. A track from his first EP, 2016 / 1986, called Make it up as you go along, features his recording of a printing press as it was printing his Abstract Pictures book: “I recorded the printing press because it makes incredible sounds, like a natural techno machine.”

With their veiled references to occultism and numerology, Boards of Canada have always toyed with the idea of subliminal messages and the power music can have over the listener. As a visual artist first and foremost, Tillmans describes the pull making music has for him:

“As a consumer most of my life, I was using [music] as a recreational drug, but making it is more powerful, it’s addictive and I thought, ‘I want to be careful with this as I really like the other media I use.’”


The third track played during the evening was Aquarius. Possibly the most well-known track on Music has the right…. its woozy Sesame Street samples, ‘O is for orange’, and its layered, lilting, trip-hoppy beats filled the room. Tillmans, nodding appreciatively, looked up suddenly saying “I’ve just realised that is a sample from Age of Aquarius, I didn’t notice that before…”.

Tillmans has commented previously, in The Guardian, that the experience of hearing the music on a high-end stereo “tickles nerves that are not usually touched … it’s mind-blowing when you hear things you’ve never heard before in a record.”

It seems fitting that one of the world’s most pioneering fine-art photographers should be choosing an album to play through our flagship speakers – the culmination of half a century of acoustic research and engineering, and the pinnacle of audio performance. As he commented at the beginning of the evening: “Recorded music for me has always been an amazing artwork.


Wolfgang Tillmans 
Instagram @wolfgang_tillmans
Find out more about 800 Series Diamond
Read about Thurston Moore at House of St Barnabas

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