31 August 2010

ALT/1977: We Are Not Time Travellers

Uploaded to: The Behance Network
Created: March 2010
By: Alex Varanese

"What would you do if you could travel back in time? Assassinate Marilyn Monroe? Go on a date with Hitler? Obviously. But here's what I'd do after that: grab all the modern technology I could find, take it to the late 70's, superficially redesign it all to blend in, start a consumer electronics company to unleash it upon the world, then sit back as I rake in billions, trillions, or even millions of dollars.

I've explored that idea in this series by re-imagining four common products from 2010 as if they were designed in 1977: an mp3 player, a laptop, a mobile phone and a handheld video game system. I then created a series of fictitious but stylistically accurate print ads to market them, as well as a handful of abstract posters (you know, just for funsies).

I've learned that there is no greater design element than the anachronism. I've learned that the strongest contrast isn't spatial or tonal but historical. I've learned that there's retro, and then there's time travel."

The Vinyl Factory Group mission

A lot of the ideas I've been touching on in the report regarding the importance of collectability to physical formats and the potential benefits to digital releases is summed up succinctly by The Vinyl Factory Group. Known for their lavish box sets and stunning artwork [including the previously referenced Monkey: Journey From The East and Hot Chip's One Life Stand], the company has a manifesto flagged under the title 'music is art'.

"The music domain is increasingly polarized. On one end we have digital, on the other end specially crafted editions, where music becomes art, because music is art.

Music is a physical experience. The Vinyl Factory embraces this and helps crystalize music into unique spaces and products, through a unique process.

Products that take the shape of finely crafted limited edition box sets, as the ones produced for The Pet Shop Boys or Damon Albarn. Vinyl + Digital editions that marry music and art.

Spaces like the VF Galleries in Soho, Berlin and up and coming NY.

The Vinyl Factory through its label, is also changing the way music is funded and produced. It’s getting professional investors and fans to empower their favourite artists with the funding necessary to materialize their projects.

The Vinyl Factory understands that music is art and should be treated as such."

Michael Cina for Ghostly International

Below is a selection of recent Michael Cina work that I view in much the same way as the ECM sleeves. Although I'll avoid trying to pinpoint what kind of response they are trying to initiate as Michael has agreed to answer a few questions about them. I can hopefully post his responses soon.

Delicacies and Delicatessen artwork

While gathering ideas for the last project I referenced a batch of work completed by Kate Moross for Simian Mobile Disco. Consisting of two videos - that appeared to link sound to shape-shifting geometry - plus an attractive album concept, these have paved the way for the creation of the the identities for the duo's Delicacies label and, a new experimental club night, Delicatessen.

In collaboration with Jack Featherstone [who works alongside Moross under the ISO banner] it picks up on the act's concept for the linked projects with a rather unsettling series of imagery. The label itself will be releasing records/downloads where the name of each track comes courtesy of one of the world's more frightening gourmet delights while the club offering is an opportunity to try out more challenging sounds within a selection of venues. 'Aspic', '1000 Year Old Egg', 'Nerve Salad' and 'Casa Marzu' [a.k.a. 'maggot cheese'] have already been released and, for me, they fit with this visual work that appears to evoke that Victorian approach to the exotic and the extreme. In a way, it touches on the kind of aesthetic employed previously by Andrew Weatherall for Two Lone Swordsmen and Rotters Golf Club: suggesting something unsettling and a bit murky. Perhaps perfect for the exploration of off-kilter techno. While undeniably British.

I'm actually fascinated by the employing of a strong concept for the titles. As Simian Mobile Disco discuss in an interview with Beatport:

"My personal favourite is Ortolan which is a French delicacy. It’s basically an endangered species of bird that is really small. Apparently, they are fattened up, drowned in brandy and eaten whole. The tiny bones cut the insides of your mouth, which is meant to be part of the pleasure. When you are eating it, you wear a cowl over your face to hide your shame from God…"

30 August 2010

Hurts promo package

Featured at: Popjustice

Nothing says sartorial elegance and remnants of a bygone era better than a Hurts comb in a lovely box. Lucky recipients also get the bonus of a CD version of Happiness - the debut album by the Manchester synth-oriented twosome. Although I suspect it's really all about the comb. And the box.

Beat that, iTunes.

Antony and the Johnsons - Epilepsy Is Dancing collage by Joie Iacono

The 2009 single for 'Epilepsy Is Dancing' by Antony and the Johnsons featured a collage by Joie Iacono. It consisted of a photograph of hermaphrodite mathematician Dr. Julia Yasuda by Don Felix Cervantes mixed with a drawing by Antony Hegarty (the creative force behind AatJ). [Dr. Julia Yasuda is also in a short video Iacona made entitled 'Feminine' which is featured on www.antonyandthejohnsons.com.]

It's an arresting, haunting image [that has a touch of the David Shrigleys in the penmanship] that really stands out amongst some of the bland artwork that exists elsewhere. But then it can be a challenging approach given the artsy nature of Antony and co's music. That still doesn't stop me wishing that Leona Lewis' label might have attempted something as troublesome with whatever god-awful histrionics she last released.

Bjork As Book by Bjork in collaboration with M/M

Bjork is one of those musicians that has used the medium to experiment visually by recruiting a who's-who of contemporary photography/design/director talent. While the Icelandic singer has delved into technology (a process perhaps best represented through the artwork created for her by Me Company), I admire how she also will use more lo-fi methods. The book featured here was a collaboration with Paris' M/M and it fully understands Bjork's relationship to the collectable image and the use of physical media as 'artefact'.

Everything Everything - Man Alive

Manchester quartet Everything Everything obviously have design knowledge. (One of their singles was titled 'Photoshop Handsome'.) So it's perhaps because of this that the cover for the album that they're releasing through Geffen turns out to be pretty decent. I'm not sure who is responsible for the use of the interconnected broken typeface and the fox photo with the digital glitch details but it's a great combination of fairly unrelated elements.

Speaking of glitches, the band also got L.A.'s The Glitch Mob to produce a furious mash-up of the long-player that condenses it into just seven minutes. The label has been using this to promote the proper release via the downloadable/embedable [if that's a word] Soundcloud file featured below.

Everything Everything - Man Alive - The Glitch Mob Album Mash Up by EverythingEverything

Moldover CD packaging

Featured at: http://www.bandsanddesign.com

The CD packaging for this Moldover album actually has an inbuilt Theremin.

Monkey Journey From The West packaging

From: Creative Review
Date: 30/10/08

The Vinyl Factory - a company in London that owns Phonica record store, EMI's old vinyl pressing plant in Middlesex and FACT magazine, has recently started to produce limited edition musical packages for vinyl-lovers... The first package they did was a boxed edition of Beautiful Future for Primal Scream but we've just clapped our eyes on their second project – which packages sumputously the music and artwork of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's Monkey Journey To The West – and felt duty-bound to post up some images:

The red, cloth-effect box measures approx 40cm wide, 35cm high and 4cm deep

Open the box to find the text-free cover of a gatefold double vinyl pack...

Remove the gatefold vinyl pack and a folded print on bible paper to find a small book of artwork housed snugly in a foam surround...

Open up the vinyl pack to reveal more artwork on the inside and also on the two printed inner sleeves. The music is spread over three sides of the vinyl discs with the fourth side adorned with etched illustrations by Hewlett

Here's that etched vinyl

So, to recap - here's what you get when you purchase this box: Double vinyl pack, small exclusive book of artwork and an art print on bible paper - not to mention the code to download a digital version of the album

We can't deny that this box set is lovingly conceived and produced to a very high standard. In fact it feels like pretty good value for £65 - although we are left wondering how we'd store it at home... The fact is that we've become so used to storing music digitally that being faced with such a nicely produced, oversize box of vinyl and printed goodies is slightly discombobulating. And let's face it, this isn't something to keep with your other records. It's a collectors item that demands to be kept somewhere safely away from the harbingers of greasy fingerprints and clumsy hands...

The Vinyl Factory's Sean Bidder also told us that there will be a special edition of the Monkey box set that will cost £250. So what do you get for such a sum, we hear you ask? Sean sent us a list of what will be included within the clothbound, foilblocked box:

• Four exclusive Jamie Hewlett giclee-on-somerset prints, each stamped, dated and numbered, one signed.
• Exclusive hardback, cloth covered 78-page 12" size art book containing story, exclusive sketches and illustrations.
• Two super-heavyweight 200-gram vinyl LPs will be housed in the book, containing six bonus tracks not available on the commercial release. Pressed on the classic EMI 1400, with one-side specially etched.

Also, when you purchase the box, you also receive a digital version of the album. And, if you're among the first 500 customers to order the box set, you will also receive a custom-made special limited edition Monkey Om Box, with musical tones composed by Damon Albarn and artwork designed by Jamie Hewlett. As soon as this is ready (release date of the special edition is next week) we will endeavour to post up images here on the CR blog. In the meantime, read more about The Vinyl Factory's collectible box sets here.

Barbarossa - The Pallyacho Tapes

Designed by No Days Off, a limited run of 100 articles for the folktronica act. Hand-made at their studio by fixing plasticated sleeves with a neon latex seam along each edge, the fluro colour was mixed specially and is half way between orange and pink.

29 August 2010

Ghostly Discovery for the iPhone

"A streaming radio station and mood-based music discovery tool, Ghostly Discovery is a free app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that lets you listen to the Ghostly International and Spectral Sound catalogs (full songs, nothing less) and share your favorites with friends."

From: Cool Hunting
Date: 22/07/09

Ever ahead of the music industry curve, Ghostly International today released its first (100% free) iPhone application, Ghostly Discovery, a slick listening app that uses mood-based tagging to generate playlists from the Ghostly International and Spectral Sound (its dancefloor-oriented arm) catalogues. Designed in conjunction with o2 creative solutions, Discovery represents a unique departure from the "if you like this, you'll like this" approach to streaming music. 02_PlayScreen-1.jpg

The steps to creating a playlist based on one's mood is pretty straightforward. After getting familiar with the seven mood colors in Ghostly Discovery, users can select a hue that meets their emotional state (yellow is energetic, for example), then toggle the digital/organic and faster/slower sliders. The app then generates a track listing based on these parameters. While tracks are streaming, users can tap the menu under the cover art to get an artist bio, favorite a track, or purchase it directly from the iTunes store. Once a user has registered his email with Ghostly Discovery, he can visit his collection of favorite tracks online and share these as a unique playlist with friends (this feature is super beta at the moment, as there is no way to delete or re-order one's favorites). 06_ArtistInfo-1.jpg

Curious to see how effective the song tagging was, I ran Discovery through a battery of mood tests. Introspective / digital / slow gave me a melancholic track by Solvent which met the parameters perfectly well, though was wholly inappropriate for the summer weather at hand. So I reset the indicators to energetic / organic and slightly fast. This gave me a Four Tet remix of Matthew Dear's Deserter. It seemed to be a pretty upbeat, sunny day selection, befitting my current mood. Eager to hear what an aggressive / organic / slow song sounded like, I reset the indicators once more and got a rather dark and menacing track by Twine. Lastly, I wanted to see what Discovery would dish out if I maintained complete neutrality. The first number, a Deru Remix from Lusine's Podgelism, was a meandering, chill tune—neutral, in fact.

Naturally, since Discovery just launched, there are a few improvements to be expected. One major complaint is that the playlists are always ordered in the same sequence. If you continue to set the indicators to frenetic / digital / fast, the playlist will open with the same track and proceed in the same order. While the application interface is both polished and subtle, some of the fields are difficult, if not impossible, to read in daylight. Finally, I would love to see a second generation that takes advantage of the iPhone accelerometer and flips the app orientation to a vertical layout.

Still, if there's one final word on Discovery, it's the chance to hear something new. I've been listening to Ghostly artists for about a decade now and thanks to this new app, I've just discovered 10:32, Australian Tim Koch's new project with Ghostly. What's my music mood now? Energetic.

Check out a brief Skype interview with Sam Valenti IV, founder of Ghostly International:

Cool Hunting: Why Discovery?

Sam Valenti IV: People are always asking me how to "find good music." Because of my profession, it's presumed that I know everything about indie and/or electronic music, but i don't. So I'd send them to blogs, Pitchfork, rcrd lbl, all good sites. But these sites still assume a good deal of knowledge. The least I could do is offer a solution that didn't ask a lot of the user and actually complimented their mood. So the mood-based tagging idea was born. This made it into a conversation with our friends at o2 in Detroit.

We were talking about doing a media project together, where people could use this tagging system to find music at kiosks (this was last year). o2 took this idea and shrunk it down to the app size, which felt really great, and it made sense as a way to let people find new music and either stream it passively (at work, at home) or to learn more, download, or "favorite" the music to create playlists of their own which they can download or share. It's like having a record store clerk in your pocket! (But all the music on the shelves is Ghostly).

There are more ideas on where to take this thing, but for now these are the vital stats of the app.

So you decided to start with the Ghostly catalog, which makes perfect sense, but are there plans to expand Discovery to include artists from other labels?

Yes. We wanted to of course start with our artists, get some feedback, learn what users want and be able to offer a free service to start. But we'd like to build a community with this app, starting with the artists we work with.

How on earth did you guys tag every song in the Ghostly catalogue?

We have a very hardworking and talented team in-house. : -)

To be sure... But what kind of metrics were used to measure the emotional content of the songs? The digital vs. organic and faster vs. slower is rather straightforward, but how did you guys come up with a rating system?

Well speed is scientific—bpm. Analog vs. digital is subjective. We did some tests where multiple people tag songs and we found fairly consistent results. Same with mood. There's a relative subjectivity to it, but the point is that it is subjective. It's our "opinion" of what the songs are. We didn't want a computer tagging these to start with, though as it scales, it might increase.

What does Discovery represent for you?

I see this app as a prescient tribute to the record store of tomorrow. One idea, amongst many good ones out there, to light the footpath for how music will be sold.

Creating Favorites on Ghostly Discovery from Ghostly International on Vimeo.

Stanley Donwood in San Francisco

From: Creative Review
Date: 27/08/10
By: Eliza Williams

Link via Dave [thanks!]. The quote about how there 'doesn't have to be a product to buy' fits in nicely with where I'm currently at with the report.

Stanley Donwood, who is famed for the artworks he has created for Radiohead, is staging his first US exhibition from next week, at the Fifty24sf gallery in San Francisco...

The show, titled Over Normal, will include a series of paintings influenced by the vibrant colours he saw on a trip to California, and the contents of spam emails that he's received. Writing in a newspaper that he has created to accompany the exhibition, he says: "The work that would eventually become Over Normal started in California, and maybe it will end there. I found myself in the Golden State once, back in 2003, trying to make an artwork. I'd just arrived, and I was with a well-known 'rock' band who had decided that they were going to record an album in two weeks. Similarly I was supposed to produce the artwork in two weeks. Ho hum. It was the first time I had been to the west coast of America. It's an eerie place for a European; incredibly familiar from television and movies, inhabited by people who mostly speak the same language, but at the same time indefinably foreign. This foreign-ness, I thought, was at least partly to do with scale. Huge skies, huge buildings, huge highways, huge vehicles. Part of this massive scale involved the many advertising materials and traffic signage employed along the multi-lane highways that dissect the built environment.

"I was in the car with my notebook, and for something to do I was writing down what all those signs and advertisements had to say. I realised that they only used a very few colours and the colours were bold, brash, and used in very visually compelling combinations. I became convinced that about 90 per cent of the messages that flicked past my retinas were using just seven colours. I noted these colours down: red, green, blue, yellow, orange, black and white. All, I think, made from pigments derived from the petrochemical industry, the same hydrocarbon trade that has made the modern world, its complex and energy-hungry civilization, possible. I decided to paint using these colours, straight from the tub. There were all sorts of practical difficulties involving viscosity and opacity, but soon I had my palette, which I eventually referred to as the 'California palette'.

Donwood's studio, photographs by Ambrose Blimfield

Donwood used this palette in the artworks he created for Radiohead's album Hail To The Thief, and has used it in a number of projects since. The colours work well with the words from spam emails, another form of communication known for its shoutiness. Combined, they make striking, and noisy, paintings that are difficult to ignore. "These paintings are like some kind of weird, blatant advertising," writes Donwood in the newspaper, "advertising from a zone inside my head where words are enough and there doesn't need to be a product to buy."

The exhibition at Fifty24sf opens next Thursday, September 2, and will run until October 27. For those of you that can't make it to San Francisco though, Donwood has made the newspaper available to download from his site (where you'll also find his witty musings on blogging). Visit the site here.

27 August 2010

Slightly Windy by José Ferrufino

From: Dezeen
Date: 26/08/10

Slightly Windy / Reuge (music box makers)

This was a project done at ÉCAL for Reuge in collaboration with the Campana brothers. Reuge is a music box manufacturer company since 1865. They possess an incomparable knowledge and craftsmanship in music box making.

Before visiting the Reuge manufactury, I had never seen nor heard an authentic 144 blade music box. I was moved by the beauty and the finesse of the mechanism creating the movement and the melody. It takes us to a world of lightness and gentleness.

There had to be a way to transpose and intensify this emotion into the new music box.

This is how the music box works:

The motor gives movement to the cylinder. The pins on the cylinder hit the blades of the keyboard. The pins are placed accordingly to the music chosen in order to play the right notes. It is this action that creates the melody.

The music box Slightly Windy uses this movement to animate the barley. It translates the lightness of nature being lulled by wind and music.

Since the power generated by the motor is just enough to create the rotation of the cylinder; one of the challenges of this project was to enable the barley to move without creating a resistance that could slow or stop the motor.

The mechanism parts are made of brass. It has a gold look-a-like effect and good machining properties. The resonance case is made out of peach tree wood known for its musical properties. It is used for musical instruments because of its resonance. Real barley painted in gold is used at the tip of the brass tubes.

The track ('Son of a Preacher Man' by Dusty Springfield) played by the box was custom made.


I like this although I don't get the relevance of 'Son of a Preacher Man'. Maybe 'I've Got a Brand New Combine Harvester' or a piece of music more elegantly pastoral would have worked better? However, it did remind me of the very limited edition music box that Badly Drawn Boy produced back in 2000 that played eleven seconds of his 'I Love You All'. And I'd love to see one of these being used to translate some futuristic techno track via those cute enchanting chimes.

26 August 2010

Various Artists - MVSICA by Sawdust

From: Creative Review
Date: 10/02/10
By: Gavin Lucas

MVSICA – a limited edition CD compilation of down tempo music by various techno producers. Limited to just 200 copies, the package, designed by Sawdust and printed by Generation Press - comes with a plastic tiddlywink so you can (if you wish) scratch off the gold latex panels that cover all text on the CD pack...

"Because it's a down tempo compilation by purists within the techno genre, the packaging was designed to reflect that," explains designer Rob Gonzales. "It's aesthetically minimal throughout from cover to CD. There isn't even a disc tray within, only a button to keep the CD in place." Label: Fine Art Recordings

[Sawdust also did the Fabrice Lig packaging that was posted previously.]

Ian Anderson on vinyl

“Vinyl records, like stupid 2mm high, 300mm wide holey plastic gods for the faithless, have a bizarre place in their adherents’ Midi-belief systems with collectors and neo-Luddite DJs expecting us non-believers/users to justify our own Babylonian misdemeanours for using, let’s face it, more conceptually profound mediums of music dissemination.”

Ian Anderson, Grafik, Issue #185, pg 61

Autechre - Quaristice by The Designers Republic

Another beautiful project that has been documented over at Hard Format. This limited edition version of Autechre's 2008 album is a combination of elegantly printed card and laser cut steel by The Designers Republic.

In 2009 Ian Anderson announced that his influential tDR would be closing. After the announcement of redundancies, he later explained that the design company could be reverting to its origins with a smaller practice that, he said, would hopefully bypass the dealings with account managers and return to working directly with like-minded creatives. Earlier this year Autechre's tenth album Oversteps was issued complete with stunning artwork by The Designers Republic.