CRAIG WHITE: When I talk to some of my friends from years past in the industry and they say what are you doing, and I try to tell them, they say, “Well you sound really happy, do you want to keep working?” And, I say, “Well, this isn’t really working, this is sharing.” It’s a process that we all work together so well, but we’re working on things that we really like. So, a lot of what we do is music, all of us together - that and art. They’re very closely related. It all happens on the land that has its own story, and we all feel it, and we all see it. We can read about it but it’s nothing like being there to emphasize how true it really is.
00:37 ZACHARY PATTEN: Every person who visits Tippet Rise leaves with the same challenge: how to share their experience. Whether it’s an artist designing sculptures, a photographer making images, a composer organizing sound, or a guest describing it to a friend, its definition is elusive. It’s a noble challenge to pursue, of course, because the more we try, the deeper forms its impression and the more sublime our reverence.
01:05 Emerson says, “A work of art is the epitome of the world, an expression of nature in miniature, and although nature’s works are innumerable, the expression is similar and single.” And, as Peter Halstead continues, “An elegant trellis on our journey to endless horizons.”
01:29 If you’ve attended a concert at Tippet Rise or have explored it virtually, then you’ve seen some of the ways Craig White shares his experience. Every season is accompanied by a nearly 300-page program book of Craig’s design. Like Bach’s Goldberg Variations, these music program tomes are a collection of graphical variations on a theme.
02:00 Although the theme and variations form originated in the 16th century, its relevance continues today. And, if we take a deeper look, we find the form is rich with possibility, a way of experiencing the world, and can even become a practice in our daily lives.
2:15 I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about Craig’s creative process, thinking about what it means to share a single expression, and how we experience all of its variations, in this episode of the Tippet Rise Podcast.
02:38 CW: We want people to see Tippet Rise the way Tippet Rise really is, as much as possible. I try very hard to always think about who’s going to look at it besides me. You want people to pick it up and not have to fight for what you’re trying to give them. It needs to be obvious and interesting, and I think very much so varied. That variation in things, like Bach, there’s always something that’s really true in the real stable part of what you’re saying about a place. It needs to always be there. I have listened many times to the variations and it’s different each time, which I think is great. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve written about them in the books, probably three different seasons, and every time I go - thirty! I still haven’t got that in my head, thirty. But, maybe some people would find it very difficult to put three hundred and ten pages together in a program.
03:32 ZP: You know you’re traveling a special creative path when you’re invoking words like real and truth. As Craig said “to see Tippet Rise the way it really is,” or “emphasize how true it really is.” The artist faces the challenge of not only uncovering that truth but also sharing it - to express the essence without introducing the unnecessary.
04:00 CW: I’m not really sure if it’s my essence, interpretation, or if it’s Tippet Rise’s essence that I’m feeling. But, there’s definitely something there that motivates me in a certain manner and in certain directions. It’s a peaceful kind of vibration. I mean, you think of motivation as being energetic, and it is energetic; it has given me a lot of desire to do certain things, but I’m not really sure who’s working who in a way - and that’s good. I think you should be aware of what’s motivating you but not so much that you’re trying to feed it - you let it become natural.
04:40 ZP: Perhaps the first step to naturally discovering the essence of something is to take the time to engage with it in an immersive way. And, for Craig, that meant accepting an invitation to Montana in the summer of 2016.
04:50 CW: An immersive experience would be the best way to categorize this. I had never been to Montana and the first season we got there I just felt wonderful. I had a wonderful night’s sleep, the next morning I was up at five in the morning, and it was summer so it was just getting light. And, honestly, I went out for a walk and I said I don’t know what it is about this place. I don’t think I drank any of their water - I don’t know! It was just a feeling and, of course, the beauty of the land and the detail to the work that the Halsteads and the crews had done up there became more evident as every hour went along. I just couldn’t believe it. This is really beautiful work, they’re craftsmen. All of that made me think that when they said do you want to try and do our program book for 2017, was to not spoil anything. It was to keep that feeling going in the book. The land and the feeling that you get there is not something to be imagined, it’s something you feel.
Summer’s early morning light.
Photo by Erik Petersen.
06:00 ZP: Bach is often cited as a great craftsman of musical structures and form. But beyond theory and imagination, for Bach, music was a direct connection with the divine by virtue of harmony. Engaging with the world through harmony also connected him with the entire lineage of music and a way to contribute to its history. Before the Goldberg Variations, Handel composed a theme and variations work based on an eight-measure ground bass. It’s not coincidence that those same eight notes find a home, again, in the first eight of Bach’s thirty-two-measure theme. It’s important to engage with the art and ideals of the time, and when Craig visited Tippet Rise, he took notice of the first summer’s program book.
07:00 CW: I was really impressed when I saw the size, meaning the number of pages of this program book, and the writing in it. And, I guess I eventually realized that Peter had written it - all of it. That’s when I first really got into Peter’s writing, starting to know it and know him. I remember thinking about how they could do such a beautiful program book, but it was in black and white, mostly typed articles and essays that Peter had written. It had very few pictures and some of them were historical pictures. At the end of that summer, in a conversation, I said do you know that I do design work, and I’ve done quite a few books? I think they knew I had a commercial background in film and I had worked at ad agencies and film studios, but I don’t believe at that point they really knew I was in the graphic business. They asked to see some of the stuff I had done and we came back in a couple of weeks after the summer to show them. And, they said, “OK, you’re on.”
07:51 ZP: It’s amazing when life and experience come together and unfurl to catch those gales of possibility, like when someone gives you that chance to shine and says, “You’re on.” And for Craig, this journey of art and graphic design began with a childhood fascination with color.
08:11 CW: It’s a long time ago and very far back in my memory, but my father had been an executive with a very large advertising agency in Chicago. He took me down to his office and I think I was five or six years old and he gave me a tour of the office. Back in those days advertising agencies were quite big and this one was quite big, and he took me to the creative department and then into the art department part of the creative department. In those days it was basically the radio and the copy department, and the art department. I saw all the pretty colors in the art directors office. You know, the pencils and magic markers, and I didn’t realize I had a sense for color, but I realized it then. From then on every time I would get any money saved up I would go get colored pencils, chalk, and all kinds of things as a kid. I always wanted to be an art director from that thing that happened when I was five years old in Chicago. I always enjoyed the print and the graphic business, but just couldn’t keep my hand out of the creative department, I was always in there. So, I was kind of like the Executive Creative Director whether that was my official title - instead of President CEO, my title was Executive Creative Director. That’s what I did, and when we finally sold the company, I said that’s it for me I’m going to work on my own. So, I started back where I started, and that was creating little things. Around the middle of 2005, somebody showed me a book that they were writing. I had never done a book before and I said, well, maybe I could give you a couple of suggestions. We published that book about six months later and that was my first book in 2005. That gave me my opportunity to play with color like I wanted to when I was five.
10:00 ZP: Flash forward twelve years and several books later where Craig accepts the challenge of translating the tippet Rise experience through the program books.
10:07 CW: In any book, whether it’s five pages or three hundred pages, the first thing you want to do when you want to design one is to make it inviting enough so that somebody is going to want to start to read it. And, you have to make it easy enough for them to read. Typography plays a very big part in that. Certain types of fonts are really wonderful for headlines and others to get attention. Other ones are made to be a little easier to read and to read page after page. That’s always a big part of starting to put a book together.
10: 40 ZP: Whether it’s making a program book, a piece of music, or having any shared experience, the invitation sets the tone for the work. And, the opening aria of the Goldberg Variations is one of the great gentle invitations in all of art. Music to soothe the pains of illness and calm the nerves during sleepless nights, as the legend has it. And on the title page of the score is inscribed: for lovers of music. At the intersection of art forms is where we find thematic analogs, and lovers of music and books will recognize these same universal traits.
11:22 CW: I love music. I listen to it in one form or another almost every hour I’m up, everyday. It really is kind of a musical piece in itself when doing book-making. Part of that really does kind of sit in there. You feel it, you feel the pace of the movements, and where there’s highs and where there’s lows and what would fit in where. It’s a story inside a story. It really has to have a pace to it and it can’t all be the same. I think that the program books there are very much that way.
11:52 ZP: If we’re thinking about music and the program books in terms of theme and variations, then we have to ask what does it really mean to establish a theme and can all of Tippet Rise be consolidated into one theme? Is it even possible to define its absolute essence?
12:12 CW: It is so different and so spectacular in the feelings that you get when you’re working there, when you’re at Tippet Rise. You can’t duplicate it, you really can’t duplicate it. You can try and make it as good as you can, and I have the feeling that I can’t push it - I can’t make it more than it needs to be. You don’t want to over do this because it doesn’t match the source. If you do it for yourself you’re going to enjoy it but maybe nobody else will. I try and think, what does this look like and what does this tell somebody that doesn’t know anything about this place? It can’t be from just my view.
12:48 ZP: To move beyond a singular view towards an aggregate totality is a big first step in approaching essence. There’s a lot of discussion about the landscape here in Montana. But, what is land without sky? Maybe the essence of this place comes from the 3 billion year old Beartooth mountains. But, what are mountains without the surrounding valleys? What are forests without prairies, rivers without desert? Emerson asks, “A leaf, a sun-beam, a landscape, the ocean all make an analogous impression on the mind, what is common to them all?” What is our connecting thread?
13:38 CW: To try and figure out a thread that will keep the reader and the people who will read that book really interested in it is a challenge, and they’ve allowed me to do that. Authors and writers usually don’t tell the designer to do it your way. That’s really a nice thing to have happen in your life. It makes you a little afraid at times. But, the other thing is if you accept the challenge, then it’s going to work.
14:00 ZP: The challenge of theme and variations, as we’ve mentioned begins by defining a fundamental thematic essence. Remember that eight-measure theme that Bach draws on, notice how its placement is in the fundamental bass register. And, notice that it’s a collection of eight notes, all dependent upon each other - one note needing the next one, one note leading to or becoming the next, in the same way that mountains need valleys or how prairies become forests. Bach’s theme must be defined enough to be recognizable, and yet open enough to allow the fruition of variations. He does this by allowing the theme to become malleable. It sets the foundational structure of the work, yes, but also welcomes the harmonious engagement and novelty of each new variation.
14:54 CW: But you don’t want to take that good bass, what you feel and what you really want to show to the people, to someplace that it’s hard for them to see or hard for them to feel. It’s easy to put stuff around and sooner or later, you’re crushing the bass or the core of the actual piece or feeling. I think that translates very well to the work at Tippet Rise. It’s best done when they realize it is a variation of what you’re doing with one thing to another. In this case, I think it’s very natural. I don’t know how - I wish I knew how Bach wrote, but when he composed, I have a feeling that the reason it is what it is, is because that was in his mind as well.
15:37 ZP: There’s no denying that there has been much discussion about how Bach composed, and for good reason. Below a rippling surface of beauty is a deep well of logic, a theory of harmony still being taught in music programs over two hundred and seventy years after his death. Bach’s more than one thousand pieces grew out of this music theory, and as you can imagine, it’s grandeur and strength are made possible by the extreme attention to the micro details.
16:12 CW: Everything we do should have that kind of attention to detail to it. To think that is this going to detract in any way from what we are and what we do. The irony of that is if you look at the twelve thousand acres we walk around every week, the detail is in the greatness of it. When you think of something that big, you’re not thinking of little details. But, everytime I go out onto the ranch or on the land, I see details that I’ve passed up forty times.
The greatness of the ranch is in the detail.
Photo by Erik Petersen.
16:40 ZP: There are endless details upon innumerable works of nature, to learn about and share. Nevertheless, imagining how to consolidate and share them without trivializing them is the artist’s challenge. But ours is not the first generation to accept the challenge, and if we look for them and transpose their relevance, we can find helpful models throughout history
17:06 CW: You can love classical music like I think our audiences do and like we all do, but it’s not easy reading to know what went behind a composer’s mind hundreds of years ago in times when things were different, and what made them do what they did. Well, when you start to have that logic put together, it’s not that logical. So, you have to make it easy enough for people to understand and want to know more about it.
17:32 ZP: The simple act of wanting to know more and seeking those sympathetic connections with composers of the past will reveal entire worlds of potential. If you’ve ever had the desire to create anything or make something for someone else to enjoy, then you share that desire with Bach. As we mentioned it was the very reason for composing these variations. Once he established that thread of the theme, it was then a matter of how to present the variations in a pleasing and logical order - to create a path.
18:10 CW: Readers sometimes want a path. In this case, you have to do your very best to think about what each story means and might mean to a reader, and then try and set the path for them. And they’re not like chapters, they can’t really be chapters. But, they can be about things that happened in somewhat of a chronological order. How do you illustrate that with photos and so forth? And, I think that’s somewhat intuitive. You just say this is something that makes me feel good for these words, and you just use it. It’s just if it’s comfortable for that story, if it’s comfortable for that part of the book. Part of that is experience and the other part of it is you just have to immerse yourself into what you’re working. So much so that you really become part of chapter and verse.
18:52 ZP: Chapter and verse is faithful analogy of Bach’s encyclopedic output of keyboard works. The variations are the fourth of four volumes of this practice music, including the Harpsichord Partitas, the Italian Concerto and French Overture, and Organ Music. To immerse oneself in this extraordinary collection is to step into the language and mind of Bach. And, even within the Goldberg Variations, there’s a sound formal logic. The thirty two-measure aria theme is reflected in the thirty variations plus the aria endcaps - the microstructure reflecting the macrostructure. Each carefully considered variation offers us yet another context for this thematic essence. And, Craig’s organization of the program books parallels this kind of micro and macro frame.
19:50 CW: I look at the book as if every four or five pages should have a feeling to it, and it’s not a tangible feeling. It doesn’t change from five pages to five pages, but if you’re only going to look at five, I want people to feel they know something they didn’t know before about Tippet Rise.
20:10 ZP: Whether you’re putting essays or music variations into an order, the hope is to place them in such a way that the experience opens up gracefully, like a flower in bloom.
20:27 CW: In designing pages, I never really wanted to have a great number of pages together that didn’t have a little relief in it. And so, in doing those I have certain places that I use a different type of a headline font to mix in with it and it gives it little resting points and starting points. Then, of course, there’s photography. We have two or three really exceptional photographers that work up at Tippet Rise, and I try and mix those types of photos into - well, it’s easy if it’s an essay about ranch work. I mean, you’re going to have some cows and some sheep in it. I have the ability with the photographs that everybody takes up there, of that special land, and I mix that in with it as much as possible. So, there’s relief through the book and it kind of takes the fear of all that text.
21:20 ZP: Not only are there innumerable works of nature, but Emerson reminds us that nature isn’t simply the material, but also the process and the result. In the way that time is needed for a seed to mature to harvest, time is also needed to engage with art and nature. And, the idea of it taking time, as in taking time away from you, isn’t really the best way to frame it, but more like receiving the benefits of time, like the mature crop, because the ultimate harvest nourishes the body and the mind.
22:00 CW: When you have a music program book that’s nearly three hundred pages or more, that’s not a quick read. Particularly, when you’re reading about classical music through it. The essays that Peter and other writers have done for the books - it’s not that they’re technical, but they are full-featured. They really go into the depth of the artists that have done the sculptures there, the musicians, and Peter’s knowledge of music. It’s not a quick read. Will people have the time in this busy world, particularly now, when your concentration levels are a little tough. I read today that it’s going to take a long time for people to settle in their minds, and the problem is we’re all used to doing more than one thing at a time and doing well at it. All of a sudden, that’s hurting us. You’re trying to do what you normally did and it’s not working because you’ve got hidden psychological blocks in their right now. There is a relaxing thing about being there even though we’re busy from sun-up to sun down. There’s a good feeling up there and I could use some of that.
23:10 ZP: Like Craig’s first experience on the land, there’s a moment when you realize that you are no longer the metronome of your own time, but are now a part of a different tempo and vibrational frequency. It would be impossible to see quickly all of the art center, and that was by Cathy and Peter’s design. Each sculpture has been placed in its own space with sometimes miles in between. Time and distance become your personal guides as they balance your outward and inward senses. This is the window that opens to the extraordinary.
The window that opens to the extraordinary.
Photo by Erik Petersen.
23:48 CW: What we have at Tippet Rise, the sound and the sites, they’re out of the ordinary for sure. So, trying to give the feeling of Tippet Rise isn’t just in a program book. Just reading about a place and seeing wonderful pictures is good - it’s a good start. It’s no replacement for reality or being there. Going back to this thing I learned in advertising is consistency in what your message is, and what you’re doing is very important. If you give too many messages too quickly or change too often, you don’t really get it. You don’t get the feeling that there’s really anything in depth to that product or that place. And I think with Tippet Rise, I try and do anything that is connected with the music or the visual arts, whether that’s a sign being on the property, or its a poster about a kids concert in a grocery store, or an ad in Art In America, it all has to have that same feeling.
24:00 ZP: the essence of Tippet Rise is infused into the programs books through stories about art, music, sustainability, ecosystem, philosophy, the ranch, geology, and incredible photography. And, these books are given to every guest as a keepsake to take home and share.
25:12 CW: For so many people that come there in the summers for our concerts, particularly the people from out of state, that’s probably their one and only time there, and their one and only program book they’re going to see. There’s so much in one program, they probably just have tickets to come to one concert. And, to be able to give them something that in time will instill the feeling of Tippet Rise, hopefully through the photography - you need that if you’re only going to be at a concert, you need that book to be everything because there’s so much there to learn and see, and you can’t do that on a two hour concert at night. That was part of my thinking in how do you build what all Tippet Rise is, for people to take that experience with them if they don’t have time to share all that time there. I’ve had people sitting in the audience during the concert at the intermission and I’ll be sitting there and they’ll have the book. They’ve been kind of leafing through it as they listen to the music, and they’ll turn to me and say isn’t this book amazing? To an artist that’s a wonderful thing to get and I got a lot of it. Of course it makes you feel very good, but it made me feel that what I was trying to do I was doing it right. It was the first time I had an experience to be able to say I can do a lot more here than make a music program. I can give them something that is shared thought from all of us to them.
26:34 ZP: For shared thought to weave into an algorithm greater than the sum of its parts is the Tippet Rise mission and it grows from the intersection of art, music, land, sky, and poetry. These connections and correspondences make the hidden synergies visible through metaphor. For Bach it was through harmony. And Emerson’s answer to our common thread - beauty. They are themselves variations, all microstructures reflecting one macrostructure, all pointing towards the real and the true theme. At the top of Bach’s score is written “keyboard practice”, but maybe that’s also a practice of seeing the world through its variations - to take your time with each one, to enjoy and revisit them time and time again.
27:37 CW: As good as the first time felt up there, every time I’ve gone back it was just an extension of the atmosphere. It does change, but it changes nicely. Nothing is so cut and dry and so absolute. It suddenly takes you and I think you need to experience it as gradually because you can appreciate it with more depth and feeling. It’s true, I kind of cherish the difference of a day. I think as others do so highly of Tippet Rise it’s almost like you don’t want to shout it to everybody. It’s almost like - I don’t want to ruin this. But, at the same time, being selfish with it is not good either.
28:10 ZP: Profound experiences are Impossible to summarize but easy to share. Bach’s final inscription reveals his hope for the variations, he composed them to refresh the spirit.
The profound experiences of art, music, and nature refresh the spirit.
Photo by Erik Petersen.