9 September 2010

Immortal Melodies (dead)

As part of my own experiments, I got around to lasering some items today. I realised that the machinery's cutting funtion is different to the etching function in as much as the software traces the basic outlines of the jpeg. This also offered the option of altering the contours of the outlines so I further simplified the serif stencil-friendly typeface I had used. It ended up bolder and more 'custom'. You can see how it was used on the 'Immortal Melodies' 7" that finally had its date with destiny. The message reads "WHAT GOES AROUND".

8 September 2010

Un-Convention panel

Just a quick update on the other Un-Convention activity that I whispered about earlier. I will be moderating a panel about Music Art as part of the conference (http://www.unconventionhub.org/). The venue is the excellent People's History Museum and it is pencilled in for starting Saturday 2nd October at 4.30pm. The panel features Mark Brown, Simon Rowlands and Si Scott with a couple of other names that are still to confirm.

I'm stepping in for Tash on this. Those are some big shoes to fill.

Taylor Deupree interview

Sound artist, record company owner, photographer and graphic designer Taylor Deupree is responsible for the elegant 12k label. Despite being consumed by explorations of minimalist music and forward-thinking electronic/acoustic combinations [and then working out visual solutions for the respective releases], he very helpfully offered his views regarding physical media and the role of music artwork.

What's the approach to formats for the label? Why does having physical media matter when the music can be sent rather easily via iTunes?

As a listener, lover, and creator of music, music, to me, is more than just a generic list of text on a computer screen. while the convenience of iTunes is fantastic, and I'm a big user of iPods and the like, think we are seeing a generation of kids being brought up on the idea that music is disposable. The ramifications of this are huge. Among other things, music is about mystery and suspense... about putting that CD or record on, and reading along as you listen, or enjoying a bit of what went into creating the album, or learning something about the artist. Maybe these are becoming old-fashioned ideas, but if they aren't preserved then the music itself will suffer. Fortunately, in a lot of the creative and forward-thinking musical genres there is some wonderful packaging going on that either combines a downloadable format with a beautiful package or retains the CD and creates identity.

What legacy do you think there is for specific formats? How important is collectability? And 'a visual manifestation'?

I think someone's library defines who they are. Whether it's a library of books or a library of music. These stacks of books and records help create a person's identity and show off their passions. There are many ways to do this, of course, but a music library is one of them.

Also, have you seen the 'Totem' format for the new Matthew Dear album?

Yes, this is what I'm talking about.. a fantastic marriage of a downloadable format with an object... and where I hope music heads if the CD dies out. Unfortunately, a package like that is out of the reach of most small record labels to make. And if you start to have 1000 of such objects in your own musical collection... well, it'll end up being a lot bulkier than your CD collection ever was. But, there can be a balance and a blending of media, working together to create a creative whole.

How does your role as a designer fit in with those roles as label boss and artist? How important is it for you to find what you see is the 'right' visual solution for a release? And does it matter to the music? Does it alter the listening experience?

I'm not sure a CD cover directly alters the listening experience except in perhaps the first impression someone has on the music. I buy a lot of music based on album design and, similiarly, pass up a lot of music if it doesn't LOOK like something I'd like. So, in this sense it's a curatorial device, very often. When I'm preparing a release for the label I will always have a discussion with the artist about what they are envisioning for the album cover. Many times the artist themselves will have an image that they'd like me to use, and other times they'll want to use one of my photographs. It's important, of course, that the cover image has a relationship to the music; either an abstract visual representation of the sound, or something more literal... such as the new Seaworthy + Matt Rösner CD cover with a photograph they took in the Australian wetlands as they were recording the album.

What has been the response to the making available some of the artwork as ltd prints? And do you think it changes the meanings behind the imagery when it is removed from the packaging and the music?

In the case of 12k, I think many, not all, but many, of the cover images can stand alone as photographic art on your wall. Stripped of all text and branding. Most of the images were initially take as "photography" and then applied to a commercial package. The problem with selling prints like this is the production cost is quite high and people have trouble paying a couple or few hundred dollars for a print. But, hopefully that won't stop everyone.

Any influential music artwork that you think is worth referencing?

When I was a teenager growing up in new england I would go to the closest great record store to my house, which was about 40 minutes away (and is sadly not there anymore) and buy a lot of records based on album art alone. Many times it would be a band I'd never heard of yet I'd get home and 95% of the time I'd like the music. when i paid attention to the liner notes I started noticing a pattern... I was buying a lot of albums by the same designers... Neville Brody... Peter Saville... and in turn starting to pay attention to record labels, which I hadn't before... and the whole experience was teaching me about record labels as identities and creative wholes.. Factory Records, or 4AD come to mind as big influences of how to create a record label with a visual identity.

This all ties in to your first question.. and certainly is how I grew up and how I got into music... but the visual aesthetics are quite simply what introduced me to so much music and have always been and important part of my musical life.

6 September 2010

Immortal Melodies

I bought this old 7" classical release and really needed to document it as tomorrow it has a date with a laser-cutter. It's a bit of a shame really as I love how it currently looks: from the layout, logo and use of colour through to the grubby old Sellotape holding the back together. The title - 'Immortal Melodies' - might suggest otherwise but, sorry little record, all good things must come to an end.

2 September 2010

Michael Cina interview

I'm a big fan of Michael Cina's output. But it's evident that the designer is incredibly busy with a whole raft of projects emanating from his Minneapolis base. Which makes me even more grateful that he agreed to answer my annoying four-questions-in-one enquiries.

The work you've produced for Ghostly appears to explore your more abstract side. Are there distinct meanings between these images and what you hear? Are they meant to be obscure enough that they can be read in a number of ways? And who do you have in mind when you create them?

What I have tried to do for Ghostly is to make work that explores my interests, thoughts, and feelings. If work has no content, it is just an image. I have tried to produce something that is timeless and very personal to me.

The trick is, when I am creating this work, it is also for someone else also. So there is a duality that plays in the creation. I consider the music in every cover, but some pieces are tied to the music more than others.

Like all art, the viewer has to come with some interest in "seeing" the work to get anything out of it. With abstract work, you have to be a bit more open and have a willingness to learn.

The process also plays a big part. I explore a lot of ideas and directions for most of the projects. Some of the covers took me over 75 pieces to get to that final one. Very few of the projects have been nailed on the first try. So I really just think about my ideas and also if those ideas work with what I am doing. This is where the design background comes in handy.

How do you feel these images on formats might relate to the idea of providing a physical form for music? How important is it for you to find what you see is the 'right' visual solution for a release? And does it matter to the music? Does it alter the listening experience?

I have been making artwork for a long time and I was tired of the work being reduced to a jpg on a screen. I am not naive by thinking that music packaging is often taken seriously, but that is a shame. Anything that a person does should be done with care and thought. There is too much garbage out there already. My hope is that people will buy the album for the cover, even if they don't like the music or buy it out of curiosity. I have purchased many albums just because of the cover and it does make me think about the music from the context of the cover.

I am a perfectionist, if you don't give me feedback in one day or so, I will keep working in different directions. I have had a couple of projects where I have overwhelmed the musicians with the amount of visual work I show them. Deep down I normally know if it is right or not. If something makes me feel uncomfortable, I know I am almost there.

What are your thoughts about the Matthew Dear 'Totem' as a representation for music?

I really love it. Will Calcutt is a bright guy and a talented artist. Music packaging has to change. I have been pushing the art print aspect at Ghostly since 2008. It is important that people make work that challenges and that is exactly what the totem does. It is a little early for the viewer / audience to wrap their heads around what Ghostly is doing, but the day is coming. The totem is beautiful and serves as a work of art but also has a connection to the album. It isn't just for art's sake.

How do you think the download age changes music artwork? Is it good that we're moving away from artwork not needing to be 'packaging? Or are we potentially losing formats as significant cultural emblems?

The download age for sure changes music artwork. Cover art isn't as important and also is reduced to 100 pixels when sold or viewed most of the time. It makes an argument for more minimal graphics but it also puts the cover as a secondary aspect of the album. In the 70's and 80's the cover was almost as important as the music. I can only guess this is why there is so many bad covers out there now.

I don't see the cover as packaging. I see it more like art that represents what is inside. It should add to the experience. The music that Ghostly releases isn't disposable. They put a lot of thought and care into their artists and what comes out. It is a crime what some designers do to an amazing album of music. It doesn't make me sad to see the shift away from not needing packaging, but without a proper solution, such as prints, we are losing something significant to the music experience.

I only buy music on vinyl unless I am forced to buy another format. I think vinyl has been the only format that has been successful combining visuals and audio. That is why so many people are interested in this format. Until high definition audio comes, there is really no other alternative for me.

What's the approach to formats for the label? Why does having physical media matter when the music can be sent rather easily via iTunes? What legacy do you think there is for specific formats? How important is collectability? And 'a visual manifestation'?

I don't know if I have the liberty to speak for Ghostly, but I do know that there is a lot of skepticism over the CD format and also vinyl, for that matter. Ghostly has been pressing limited vinyl releases with better packaging now. I love this because if I really like an album, sometimes I will buy two copies, just incase. I am a collector though. I have a handful of friends that do the same thing. Some people don't care as much. To me, the CD format is on it's last legs. You can download uncompressed audio and make your own CD if you want.

[Ghostly founder] Sam Valenti is extremely concerned with the visual manifestation of the covers, more than anyone could know. I think he cares about the visuals just as much as the music.

What has been the response to the making available some of the artwork as ltd prints? And do you think it changes the meanings behind the imagery when it is removed from the packaging and the music?

People really seem to respond well to this. I have a couple of people who want all the prints and buy all of them on sight. I don't think that hanging a print on your wall detracts anything. It can only add more aspects if other people like the work and don't know if it is an album cover as well.

Any personally influential music artwork that you think is worth referencing?

Easy ones are almost anything on 4AD, ECM, Factory Records, Blue Note, and a couple of others. I like Hipgnosis, Peter Saville, Vaughn Oliver, and Barney Bubbles. I am attracted to odd art and concepts on covers.

Michael Cina links:



Squarepusher - Shobaleader One - d'Demonstrator

Release out 18/10/10 but, for now, a breakneck, exhilirating taster that's a bit like Daft Punk attempting heavy metal. But more scary than 'Aerodynamic'.

I sort of like how someone who is seen as a vanguard of electronica is perceiving the guitar solo as cutting-edge. But mainly I like it as a video with lights in it.

Squarepusher presents - Shobaleader One - d'Demonstrator from Warp Records on Vimeo.

Chubby Wolf - Ornitheology

Another one featured at the very good Hard Format.

Artist Chubby Wolf
Title Ornitheology
Label Foxy Digitalis
Year 2010
Designer HMSlatex
Music Enveloping ambience (excerpt)

Notes Chubby Wolf was the solo project of Celer’s Danielle Long. Ornitheology is part of Will Long’s series of posthumous releases of her work. The combination of dreamy music, soft latex and the cassette cover’s downturned face makes for a subtly unsettling experience.

The design was commissioned by Danielle from the Parisian latex designers HMSlatex and it makes for another wonderful, unusual object that takes its place alongside Celer’s pyramids.