Above: Agnes Martin in New Mexico
In 1980 Steve Peters attended an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum of works by New Mexico painter Agnes Martin. He remembers the paintings "seemed to be blank white canvases, but deeper immersion revealed a subtle aura of color quietly glowing beneath the surface. Martin had painted over her usual horizontal bands of color with layers of white gesso, creating a remarkable optical effect." Viewing these minimal, abstract works deeply influenced Steve's approach to music making: "I was so impressed by her painting over the colors so they seem to not be there, then they glow through in this subliminal way. How do you do that with music? It took me almost 20 years to figure it out."
Later when Steve Peters moved to New Mexico he sent Agnes Martin some of his compact discs and told her how her work had influenced his music. She got back and said she enjoyed listening to his compositions and invited him to visit her in Taos, where she was living. "To have her call me and say she liked the music that resulted from that was like woohoo. It was a big deal."
A friend, Mary Lance, made a documentary about Agnes Martin and asked Steve Peters to record a soundtrack for the film. He did! A lot of the work was improvised, by Steve and in collaboration with viola player Ben Daitz. The film was completed and released in 2002, entitled With My Back to the World (viewable free of charge on kanopy.com).
18 years later a global pandemic struck. "I've been not feeling terribly inspired since COVID to make things but thought I don't have to start everything from scratch and can make this a thing. I went back and listened to the recordings for With My Back to the World and and thought 'oh no, this is pretty good.'"
It took some editing and general cleaning up, but the original soundtrack to With My Back to the World was formed into an album and is now available on Bandcamp.
The soundtrack music is minimal and abstract, like the art Agnes Martin made; it is also vast and complex like the emotions her work evoke.
Steve Peters plays electric guitar in Tiny Holes, whose album City of Siege: Olympia [KLP271] was released on K in 2019. Steve Peters also plays electric guitar on the Lois album Strumpet [KLP021] and The Go Team cassette Your Pretty Guitar.