Gustave Rudman | ‘Two Shadows’ x Vanessa Beecroft at Jeffrey Deitch LA

The Parisian composer discusses creating the epic soundscapes from Euphoria and for Vanessa Beecroft

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Hannah Bhuiya

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GUSTAVE RUDMAN ‘TWO SHADOWS’ as invited by Vanessa Beecroft  at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Vanessa Beecroft, Copyright 2023

A shadow on the sun like a bite into an apple, a partial solar eclipse portentously arrived in Los Angeles the very same week as ‘Two Shadows,’ the debut orchestral concert from young Parisian composer Gustave Rudman. Arranging and producing with the best in the business, the buzzy music maestro’s practice is all about revolving orbits and energetic collisions. A Euphoria High graduate - his music with Labrinth was key to the whirling madness of fan-favorite ‘Funfair’ episode - Rudman has worked with hitmakers Woodkid, The Weeknd, Noah Cyrus, Sia and Diplo with his tracks sampled by Kendrick Lamar. He’s also tapped into the high fashion cycle, with catwalk show credits for Maisons Alaia, Balenciaga and Gucci. His intricately layered soundscapes press synaptic buttons that scatter clues to the history of music like breadcrumbs through your brain. And so when tasked by artist Vanessa Beecroft to sonically illuminate her iconic tableaux vivants by creating ‘audio components,’ he was up to the challenge.

Fortuitously, the two artists turned out to vibrate at the same frequency. As part of their ongoing collaboration, Beecroft invited Rudman to conduct his ‘Two Shadows’ live orchestral concert in the midst of her ‘Rules of Non-Engagement’ exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery L.A. Looking all the way back to the artist’s very first installations in 1993, the multimedia show responded to her own legacy via a range of new paintings, sculptures and video edits. During the concurrent VB95 performance, as Beecroft’s emblematic phalanx of models posed with the ‘Rules’ writ large on the adjacent gallery wall, Gustave’s haunting violin sonata live-mix drew out an extra dimension of emotional resonance. Soaking up the last rays of L.A light before he returned to autumnal Europe, Rudman shared some
of the secrets to his success.

So how did we get here? What set you on the path towards becoming a musician, producer and composer?

As you know, I am from a multicultural background. My father came from England, he’s half- Indian and half-Italian, and my mother came from the countryside in Sweden. We lived a standard middle-class suburban life in Paris. And so when I was 14, I wanted to make a life for myself away from this life. So I started a rock band. And then we went on tour and that was the beginning of music as a way of existing for me. I think when you are a teenager, you’re looking for ways of how to embody yourself into the world, so rock was a vehicle for that. However, I felt entrapped very quickly within the music industry. I grew up speaking different languages, with Swedish and
English before French. I came to the realization that rock was not like, my final ‘language.’ And so there was a search for what would be my languages. At that moment I discovered Classical music. Someone played me ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ by Ravel. I didn’t know all of this, and it blew my mind. And I discovered French soundtracks from the 1960s. Like Michel Legrand, Lalo Schifrin, John Barry. Burt Bacharach especially. I felt more for the complexity and the simplicity that was present in that music. I was very curious as to how it was done.

So always, diverse and even ‘clashing’ historical movements in music were inspiring to you.
Absolutely. Then, I saw that Burt Bacharach studied in Paris, and I looked into which school; it was the Schola Cantorum de Paris. And I found the door of the school - at that point I had stopped my rock band - and I said ‘Look Burt Bacharach studied here, and I want to study here too.’ The guy sort of laughed and said, ‘Classical music is something you have to since you were a child.’ He didn’t even know who Burt Bacharach was, that was part of a lower culture, from his perspective at least. But he saw I was absolutely determined and so he said ‘Well, give it a try.’ I came across this fantastic teacher who was 90 years old at the time, Pierre Doury, and he was the
organiste titulaire, the organ player at Saint Sulpice in the 1950s. So he brought me to Notre Dameto hear the organ playing there... That was the beginning of a very long chapter in my life. It gave me structure. And so I started working with him every day. Ultimately, I got into the Conservatoire Nationale where I studied orchestration and Classical music. I was not totally comfortable at the Conservatoire... I had a different plan, so to speak. I would do music production, ghost-producing artists as well as doing string arrangements, brass, in my 20s. That was how I wanted to make a living, and also how I could experiment with the craft of arranging at the same time.

How do we skip from being a part of a niche Paris scene to working on key music for a huge show like Euphoria in the US?

It happened because I was working with Labrinth at the time, and we were doing productions for his tracks, for other artists. And he introduced me to Sam Levinson. And there was this episode where orchestral music was very present, the episode with the funfair. [‘The Shook Ones’ Pt. II, July 2019] Episode Four of Season One. And so we had a conversation about having an orchestra there. A couple of months later the HBO music supervisor sent me this episode and asked me if I wanted to suggest some music. And of course I did. Also from a personal point of view, this was a cathartic opportunity. It really was an opportunity that came at a good time. Because at that time I was going through, let’s say, struggling through a disconnection in myself between my means of expression. So I saw this as the catalyst for many subjects, relating to identity and being a teenager, things that I’d experienced in my life, being in a rock band and roaming the streets of Paris at night... There was this element of the fantastical experience of adolescence that I feel like the orchestra can engage with. And so with ‘Funfair,' I was thinking of the ‘Symphony Fantastique' de Berlioz, where opium is the motivator, it’s an opium dream sent through the orchestra.

I’m interested also in how the orchestra worked here, because of its; potential for dynamics, and in how the orchestra can relate to the question of identity. Also in terms of musical imprint in my youth, I grew up watching ‘Fantasia’ by Disney, so right at the start there was this part of my psyche that was built around matching the visual with music. Whether it is rock or pop, visual or sound, there has always been a ‘mixity’ to my influences, and that dialogue has been a constant thread in my life and my work. Then there was another track in it called ‘The Lake’ which is at the end of the episode. This has more to do with polarities of power. There are these two characters, one dominates the other and then the other fights back, and the track embodies that polarity. So those were the subjects that I was thinking about in that moment.

GUSTAVE RUDMAN ‘TWO SHADOWS’ as invited by Vanessa Beecroft  at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Vanessa Beecroft, Copyright 2023

Did you have any idea that the series would blow up so much, and that this particular episode and your work would have such an impact?

I knew immediately it was going to be important. I did the music before the series came out of course. They sent it to me in March 2019, and there were also a couple of other excerpts that Labrinth and I had done, but ‘Funfair’ and ‘The Lake,’ they were the main two. I knew that the show was going to be extremely relevant culturally. It took time to catch up, especially in France. And even for people around me to know that I had anything to do with that. Still now to be honest. A lot of people don’t know.

So let's skip forward again, to you spending more time in LA, how you met Vanessa Beecroft, and how this current collaboration came about.
So I was here, stranded in LA, as one does, you wander here to maybe have something amazing happen, and then just nothing happens... So I was here to meet film agents, and it wasn't really happening. I think I was confronted with an industry that has just had a lot of loss of budget because of the streaming platforms, there was a lot of uncertainty in that context about developing new artists, especially people coming from elsewhere, who are not based in L.A. And then my friend Lauren Taschen had this idea of someone that I should meet. And that was Vanessa Beecroft. That was last year, and that’s how it happened. Vanessa loves music a lot, and she was looking for someone to do music for a performance in Italy. This ended up being VB93 which took place in Rome with 300 women in the Cinecittà film studios.

Just in terms of knowing some history of cinema, that must have been incredible; everything from Ben Hur to Cleopatra, all of Fellini, was filmed at Cinecittà.

It was very historic, it was very powerful. I personally really like the acoustics of it, to have such a gigantic studio. It’s actually really rough too, you know, like in the materials, they can see the age there. And then you have this work of art that is eternal, like Vanessa’s work is, it was very powerful. And even more than that, I think there was something transcendental in this process. When I met and began to work with Vanessa in Rome, I was struck, by how, as an artist, she had to go through something that was very Christ-like in the amount of struggle and obstacles she had to get by in order to make this happen. The level of condescendence from the Roman institutional administration, that kind of very masculine structure of things, and her strength in the midst of all this really moved me. And it made me think of the Pasolini movie, Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo, The Gospel of St Matthew in which there is this mantra that comes back, ‘Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child' by Odetta, and it comes back repeatedly. And so I thought, ‘Why don't we record this mantra?’ So this melody was played by the orchestra and it became almost like a sculpture vivant, but in sound. So we recorded that phrase in every instrument group, and I had them perform this throughout the time, for three hours basically repeating the phrase in a loop, like a mantra. This was an idea that came out of this experience of being there on the ground with Vanessa, seeing how difficult it was. It kind of scared me too. I was thinking ‘Wow, like, even when you’re so established, there's still the struggle that you that you have to go through in order to make beauty happen,’ you know? And so the music was tied into that.

Rules of Non-Engagement at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Vanessa Beecroft, Copyright 2023

Was this the first time she had someone work with her to custom-make music for the tableaux vivants?

I believe so. But basically, the silence has a political meaning in her work, so it was a very
delicate process.

You also composed the soundscape for the VB95 Los Angeles live model performance event just this past month. Having music, it totally changes the feeling of the piece.
The performances are very much about the passage of time, and so the effect is of time over a theme. And this theme evolves through time in the same manner. I respond to the energy in the room, and I sort of ‘sculpt’ the sound. Adding sound to a situation like this, creates the effect of ‘a room within the room,’ so to speak. It adds a structure that wasn’t there before.

Prior to meeting and working with Vanessa, what was your feeling or your awareness of her work?
I have had the luck and privilege of discovering her work mostly through my conversations with her. I mean, I don't think there's any limit to the depth of this work, meaning that I still feel that I don't know her work in a way, because even after a year of working with her I still just discover more and more. It’s like a kaleidoscope; there’s an infinite amount of readings in her work and that makes it so profound.

So tell me about preparing your interactions with Beecroft’s ‘Rules of Non-Engagement’ exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery Los Angeles, where you were tasked to add a musical dimension to the show.
Yes. So again, silence is the core foundation of this - not just merely the absence of sound, but also it's a potent place of political meaning. And so there was this question of, ‘What sound should we use?' We specifically chose not to use the word ‘soundtrack,’ but ‘audio component.’ We had this thought of doing a project, doing an opera using her ‘Rules’ for performance as a libretto. So I thought, since her work is strongly about intimacy, it felt normal to use her voice as a
material in order to create the accompanying sound. So there is no other sound than her voice in the whole video, which is a compilation of 8 of her performances. It started with the necessity of having the ‘Rules of Non-Engagement’ read out for her Berlin performance. And then I made a comparison in my mind with Bach, whom Vanessa also loves and we spoke about often. When you consider Bach, you also think about the art of Fugue, it’s a work of art that is structured around a set of rules, and it is the rules that allow the beauty and the work of art to happen. So I thought that it was interesting to draw a parallel between these two artists, and to develop ‘The Rules’ in a sort of open-ended counterpointal way by using her voice with the different effects that come into counterpoint, like a variation of her rules for the performance.

VB95 Rules of Non-Engagement at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Vanessa Beecroft, Copyright 2023

You were then invited by Vanessa to stage the live ‘Two Shadows’ orchestra performance within the context of her exhibition. The title I thought was so perfect, not only to reflect your collaboration as two artists, but also because there was a partial eclipse this week visible here in L.A. at around 9 am in the morning a shadow passed in front of the sun it looked as if a small bite had been taken out of it like and apple, and there were crescent shape shadows scattered through the trees.

A real eclipse? Wow. I didn’t see that. ‘Two Shadows’ is an open-ended title. The ‘shadows’ could be the Greek shadow, you know of Plato and the Cave. They can also be our works of art, that there’s a mystery in why we do what we do. Are we the shadow of our works, or are our works the shadow of us? You know, thoughts like that.

I noticed so many different musical moods within the ‘Two Shadows’ score. One of them was the Disney-esque feeling somewhere around the two-thirds mark, and now I hear you love ‘Fantasia' and I can see the correspondence there. It felt like watching an epic feature film, like the soundtrack to a film you haven't made yet. How did you engineer this range of emotional effect?
It’s a good question. I don't think I think like that. But that’s very interesting to consider. I think my motivation comes from materialization. That’s my main motivation. I almost ‘see’ it. And then I have to do it. So it's hard to explain really. I want ‘to see...’ And I think the wording is the correct one, I want to ‘see’ these sounds. to me, that's my motivation. I want to hear what I see. I love the orchestra. Basically, we were talking about languages before, and these are directly tied to the communication of emotion. This was not only my first time conducting, and also my first time performing my orchestral music. Mostly, I think it stems from my love of being able to, with the
orchestra, wanting to share that feeling with other people. As a way of relating to the world through that channel. And the final form, it’s contextual. It was what felt right in that moment.

And that definitely has a direct parallel with Vanessa's work, of the risk of placing live humans in an environment and seeing what happens. I also noticed a beautiful somehow, a ‘dissonance’ within some of phrasing, just taking you somewhere else that isn't so perfect. Was that just me or was that a part of it?
No, no, that's for sure. Also, I don’t know if you noticed, the second piece is very quiet. That's kind of exciting for me, because most concerts, if you go to them, they do the contrary, the violence comes in as loud as possible. With the orchestra, you can provoke by engaging the listener into listening to nuances that are much more subtle. It was kind of amazing, for me at least personally, to experience the whole room being quiet. There was an audience there of what, like 300 or 400 people, and everyone was listening to the orchestra ‘whisper’ to them. I want to develop this more in the future, this kind of ‘radical listening’ that is requested to experience an

Rules of Non-Engagement at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Vanessa Beecroft, Copyright 2023

Where did you find the orchestra musicians, and what it was like to put together this ensemble?
I found them through a contractor based here in L.A, who has a roster of musicians who do concerts and film scores. It was very L.A, in a way. It was a bit scary. At first, it felt obvious to me that I would sit in front of the orchestra, in the audience, as a way of experiencing music as the audience would. Then my friends and Vanessa convinced me to actually conduct. And then, I told myself that in the end music is about subjectivity and that it made sense that I would conduct, to channel my ‘gaze.’ Everyone's sensitivity is legitimate, and that is the idea I want to embody. One of the themes present in this concert was the ambivalence, the play between the group dynamic, present in the body of the orchestra and Vanessa's women, but also this intimacy, because of the nudity, and its parallel emotions. This is something I experienced myself while conducting, as you have to create intimacy with an anonymous group in a very short time in order
to achieve a collective emotional output.

Did you have any feedback from the musicians about the artworks around them? Playing behind you was Beecroft's video performance VB68 from Frankfurt in 2010, which of course includes her signature nude and semi-nude figures wearing only wigs, lingerie, sheer hosiery + high heels.
In the evening following the concert, two persons were discussing the fact that they were surprised to see nudity on the screen behind the orchestra. And I was shocked to realise that I hadn't even thought about it once during prep. That the orchestra, with its traditional link to the rather rigid structures of the philharmonic hall, was not used to being in this setting and that it may be problematic for some. But in a way, it was a metaphor of what I enjoy in the orchestra and music in general: when it is in its raw form, stripped away from the power structures that surround it. Something else I noticed, and which was a surprise for me, but also mirrored where I come from, was the ‘mixity’ of the crowd. All types of people were there; the concert was open, it was free. This is something that I am going to push going forward. For the Classical people, I'm not going to be Classical enough, for the pop people I'm going to be too Classical. I’m excited by this ambiguity. Which I think is a consequence of my fractal upbringing, my core thing of multi-culturality, of ‘non-belonging.’

For me, I have a similar ‘mixity’ and I don’t and I have never felt a non-belonging.’ I feel that it’s a positive not a negative when you’re born from these different cultures and you inherently have these different heritages inside you that you can choose to draw out.
I feel like music a the fluid mirror of identity par excellence because you can't control it, it's liquid by nature.

These musical patterns have a direct effect on your perceptions; this complexity is repatterning your thoughts, in the way a child's minds reacts when they first hear complex music, and adults too. When I hear Classical records I’ve never heard before, I can feel my synapses stretching out and connecting in new ways.
Yes and its purpose is extremely mysterious. Like on the one hand, it's something that ties communities together in an interesting way, in a more profound way than probably politics can. And on the other, as you say, it's a consciousness-expanding tool. From a personal perspective perspective, it's a complete mystery.

It is, it seems that it's a mystery that needs ‘shamans’ to reveal, those who can relate the skills to decode it, and to recompose it. Just as when you were young you found yourself drawn to that specialized school to study under a ‘master,’ and it became like a mystical apprenticeship into the secret geometries of music. Definitely. I was lucky to work with geniuses who destroyed my ego too, which was helping me through, which was part of the journey. It's necessary. Especially after you've been like a teenage little mini ‘rock star.’ There’s nothing better than having your ego dissolved. And this is why I went there. I knew I was nothing, but I also knew that there was so much more to music than what I knew of. And that was great. That's one of the amazing things in France, that all the schools like this are free, it's crazy.

VB93 Vanessa Beecroft Performance, Rome 2022. Photo by Vanessa Beecroft, Copyright 2023

They really work hard to preserve these methods of ‘high culture.’ Which brings me back to you starting on your path with the organ playing in the sacred spaces, these churches, which resonate from such different time. Now you’re bridging that gap, linking that culture back through yourself. And you're young. So when you're 90 you can take on all the kids who will have brain damage from TikTok and try and help them.
I'll have brain damage from TikTok too, [laughs] I use TikTok. I truly feel that it's probably my duty to be ‘in between' here. Another point is that at the core of my brain when I was a child there were also video games. They were really important to me. And so ‘virtuality,’ quote unquote, and engaging with different forms of imaginary worlds, all of which were nourished by music, was always a part of forming my mindset. And that progressively became the frame for how I experienced my life too. So whenever I compose, I try to ground it in my own experiences.

You’ve also created some acclaimed musical collaborations for big fashion shows, working with the designers as artists, and you as an artist, for Alaia, for Balenciaga, and for Gucci for Alessandro Michele’s finale ‘Twins’ show.
Yes, that was enriching. They were fantastic collaborations to be able to do. So in my case, I'm blessed. Probably at first I didn't want to go in that direction, but then I discovered that there were huge talents in the fashion industry too, and I was lucky to be able to work with these great minds. Because it's a very competitive industry, but that competitiveness means that it is a space where creativity is actually given some room. In my mind we have a situation where fashion has become this mini-‘Hollywood in the studio system era’ in a way, with these production houses having the ability to gather a lot of creative talents together.

For a final question, let’s get back to Los Angeles. You’ve been here working and visiting so many times, but I would imagine that this time in LA has been particularly special for you. So what are your thoughts on L.A. culture? Some people say ‘there's no culture in LA.’
No, I don't think that at all. The ‘postmodern’ is so strong here, there’s this multi-layered accumulation of layers and layers of culture, and they're all coming at you from this kind of same level. I think that works well with my music, because my music is that too. It's very much a mirror of that, in that I have influences from hip-hop but also from Bach and from Tchaikovsky. And so there is a bit of schizophrenia with it too. You know, I feel like it's not random that my first live concert is here in L.A, and that it has found a home here. Because the kaleidoscopic range of cultural influences that I have, I feel are also the ones that are part of the DNA of the city. You were talking about hope, and I personally feel like there’s a lot of hope in that.

There's an insane density of history, and the same streets, the same places have been inhabited by so many decades of very different cultural figures...There’s also an amnesia, as so many people just arrive and don't know about any of that, but that's also great because you have a continual supply of fresh blood. But then you learn underneath every stone there were these cultural movements, cultural monuments have been made right here. Wherever you are, you're walking through the ghosts of the past, of things that have influenced you without even knowing it.
Well, we see that it is a city that is in its very essence structured around the industries of fictions, and then on the other hand, you also have something that's very grounding here. You know, the homeless situation on the streets is extremely real, and you’re also very close to he effects of climate change here. And so there is this ‘double direction’ that makes it very rich. It's not just a utopia cut off from real life's problems, and it’s not just a dystopia. Or maybe it is, maybe the fiction is part of the dystopia. But it's very rich, in any case.

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Hannah Bhuiya, Gustave Rudman, Vanessa Beecroft, Deitch, Music