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big black delta photoshoot_120913

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back in june when big black delta were in new york playing a series of shows, we were approached by the experimental photographer jeff brown to do a photoshoot. already huge fans of jeff’s instagram feed and his rich portrait work, we were both flattered and excited.

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settling into jeff’s bushwick studio with enough loud music, alcohol and smokes to fuel several epiphanies, we watched him work his magic.

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photo by camila grey

the general approach i’d discussed with him of course centered around something cosmic, yet within the realm of standard portraiture.?in order to achieve this he brought several cameras to the fore, including a canon 5D and a hasselblad?501 cm?loaded with FP 3000b instant?film. the latter make of camera was responsible for the still photographs of mankind’s first steps on the moon, so it seemed appropriate for this.

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in terms of process, jeff tried a number of interesting techniques including photographing the paper that was peeled off the instant film after an exposure, and then making a negative of this. additionally he scanned the instant film in all manner of shitty ways to create a distressed quality that felt like stars, space dust and other atmospherics.

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once the images were ready, he passed them along to us. we then added a little something?where necessary to bring them that bit further into the big black delta universe. it goes without saying that?the punk nature of the shoot gave the images a more raw, personal and humorous quality. we felt this was important as the same can be said for jon’s own communications with the world, as he continues to push big black delta into new territory in his own personal fashion.

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at the last second jeff insisted i get into the frame for a few shots and ? well let’s just say it was a pretty sweet nebula.

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manifold_102913

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a while back i came head to head with the work of one of my design heroes, eike k?nig. i’d been asked to redesign the logo for the german band booka shade, after many years of eike having been their go-to design guy. it was frankly a terrifying prospect. whilst i was quite sure eike would probably never see the work i did, i would be immediately compared to him by both the band and their large fan base. settling down to create the logo i realized of course that you just do the best thing you can, and make sure that at the very least it’s nothing like the other guy’s work.

when matthew pusti of makeup and vanity set asked me to do the cover for the soundtrack EP to anthony scott burns‘ forthcoming sci-fi short, manifold, i sighed a similar breath of despair. why? because ash thorp had done the film’s poster and of course once again i would have to be compared to someone of considerable status in the graphics world. suffice to say here’s the poster ash had made –

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turning away from it, going for several walks listening to the soundtrack and spinning the film’s ideas around in my head, i realized of course that ash had the visual concept wrapped up. particularly in terms of subtly explaining what the film was about, but not so much as to spoil the film. every idea i wrote down or got momentarily excited about felt too similar to what he was saying with his treatment.

what he didn’t have however, that of course applied in particular to the job i had to do, were the tracks on the EP that had remained unreleased up until now. these were tracks that had been written for, but not actually used in the film. in particular the track ‘yearling,’ which featured original foley work, vied for my attention every time i put the record on.

mulling over these differences i decided to take a different route, one that i’d been flirting with for a while but never really had the chance to test out – a route i like to call the ‘polish’ route. now i must stress this is a route i still haven’t fully explored, but the work i was to do on manifold?certainly gave me the impetus to do so. it is afterall a firmer step in that direction, and excitingly so.

after watching the film several times i began to feel a tingling, almost aching pain in my face. furthermore i began to think about how much value we put in the face and what it means in terms of not just our identity, but our chances in life. how being beautiful can both be a blessing and a curse, and how in many regards you can either be born with a ticket on a certain kind of ride, or a ticket on an entirely different ride. all of this based on your face and how it develops as an image to others.

i then started thinking about how technology is really quite an organic extension of the human form and mindset, and that it wouldn’t be too long before these things merge imperceptibly. in fact i’d written an essay for the IFP on this subject just a few weeks before, so to say the idea was on my mind a little was an understatement. the sense of menace one feels as we start to worry about the increasing amount that technology governs our lives, is really just a greater understanding of our own constant need for distraction from ourselves.

this is when i started to realize what i had to do for?manifold, and furthermore i knew exactly where i was going to start. skipping through the film to a very particular shot, i cut it out and began work. i had to make an image that encapsulated, for me at least, that sense of terror beneath the ever prettier face of technology, and at the same time capture that actual physical ache i felt in my own face after watching the film. as i worked i began to realize that i was also edging closer to this aforementioned ‘polish’ route.

now, by ‘polish’ route i of course mean making a film poster that uses little or none of the imagery from the film and instead offers a more emotional, impressionistic interpretation of its narrative. the eastern-european film posters that have been created in support of US films (with particular reference to poland), are a powerful lesson in creating an image that, to paraphrase jim steinman, you’ll never know the meaning of, but you’ll know how it feels. much in the same way a piece of music moves you in a fashion you cannot put into words, eastern-european posters often remove all trace of the film’s visual, its recognizable characters and its story, and delve headfirst into making an entirely original image. an image that still conveys the film’s ideas, but often in a darker and less conventional style. consequently it’s this approach that has come to feel so incredibly liberating to designers working in US and UK markets. to quote??on the subject??”there?s something captivating about those things that feel inseparable from a haze of abandon, existing to give hope to the creatively forlorn.”

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left: philip gips, US. right: wieslaw walkuski, poland.

when i presented the final cover to matthew pusti, he said it was perfect. i know he would have let me take it even further into the horrifying abstract had i wanted to, but then we both agreed that it was as important to keep things familiar this time around. after all it wasn’t our film and we could just as easily go to poland next time.

you can buy the full manifold soundtrack here, and you can watch a trailer for the film here.

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kaleidoscope pr_101413

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back in 2008 we created a rather simple and elegant flash website for the art and fashion-based PR firm, kaleidoscope consulting. aware now that their site was useless on a range of new platforms but still very much in love with the look and feel of it, they asked us to recreate the site using HTML5 and javascript. in response we proffered that we might add another dimension to the site, and began to scheme this new black + white edition you see before you.?the result is a site that’s fully iphone and ipad compliant, and features not just a kaleidoscope that can be populated with images from your webcam, but also now hand drawn sketches too.

once again we reached out to mr. doob (who’d previously worked with us on the intro to daft punk’s?tronsoundtrack.com) and asked that this time we might integrate elements of his harmony drawing engine into the site. happily he gave us carte blanche and soon we had a new kaleidoscope engine on our hands – one that caters to both the photogenic and sketchy among us.?for this newly ‘harmonized’ white side of the site, our in-house sound designer and composer gavin singleton (aka accelra) created a new piece of music that felt more suited its hand-drawn, softer tone.

lastly we rebuilt the original site’s entire ‘key’ navigated client section around a wordpress backend so that the client could now more easily and swiftly keep this information updated, along with any other site copy.

we trust you’ll enjoy navigating the site as much as we enjoyed the challenge of putting it together.

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wild light_100313

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creative review?asked?to include 65daysofstatic’s wild light album cover in their monthly round-up of great album covers. in doing so they interviewed us about what went into the making of the sleeve –

could you tell me more about the inspiration for this design, how it relates to the music and how you came up with the idea?

65daysofstatic have always had a strong socio-politcal mindset whether that has directly influenced their music or not. therefore it came as no surprise to me that whilst in the studio they’d read and discussed a wide array of contemporary and historical political and artistic literature. for this reason when they approached me to create the artwork for the album i was given a good deal more than just their definition of the term ‘wild light’.

leading with ezra pound’s imagist poem ‘in a station of the metro’ they lead me down a path of minimalist, suprematist and futurist thinking including snippets of conversations they’d had over instant messenger, photographs of sculptures, scans of paintings and lengthy 20th century manifestos. my favourites of which were a book called ‘the vagrant light of stars’ which depicted a memorial to albert einstein being launched into deep space traveling on a beam of light, and a supremacist, communist, modern art children’s book called ‘about 2 squares.’

i’d had the demos for the songs for a while and around the time I received the above documents from the band i’d been given a near final version of the album. what struck me immediately was that whilst minimal in its conception, cinematically speaking the sounds on the record created some incredibly beautiful, richly coloured and vibrant images in my head. tracks like ‘heat death infinity splitter’ and ‘the undertow’ took my mind from a sense of something vast moving through the chaotic depths of outer space, right down to microscopic organisms and cells living in our oceans and under our skin.

bearing all of this in mind I made the cover you see now. appropriately adopting where possible various lines in supremacist, futurist and imagist visual thinking, i created a wide-format piece that i felt resonated with the music as much as with those old explorations of artistic expression. if those were one band of hapless, anti-establishment types trying to evolve our way of thinking about and perceiving the world, here was another band with their designer in tow – trying his best at the impossible task of visualizing music for those who’ve seen everything before.

i understand you’re a fan of 65daysofstatic – how important is it, do you think, that the designer creating cover art engages with or enjoys the music?

in 2006 i wrote to 65 and asked if my business partner giles and I could make their website. i’d seen them live in 2005 in london and knew that – like many of the bands I’ve asked to work with over the years – i’d make my best work if their music was the soundtrack to it. little did I know we’d become such good friends and that I’d be sitting here today having finished not just my third album cover for them, but also the best record cover I think I’ve made to date.

from my perspective being a fan of the music is essential. i give talks to independent filmmakers here in New york on the same subject. I implore them to not pay money to anyone that isn’t already immediately and very clearly a fan of the film they have made. money cannot and will not ever be enough motivation to make a truly beautiful and appropriate design or piece of artwork. despite having worked over 10 years in this role, i continue produce some of my worst work when I am not a fan of the film or music i’m working to support.

the graphic designer david carson pointed out that it’s a gross misconception that you should not judge a book by its cover. everything about how a band presents itself is a reflection of the amount they have cared for and thought about the the music they have made. a record cover is a huge responsibility, particularly so when you’re handed a record like ‘wild light.’ something this good demands to be heard and it’s my job to make sure someone clicks on that cover on the net or picks up that record in the store, even if just out of curiosity. It’s debatable to this day whether an image can represent a sound, but I work based on the belief that you can at least try to achieve such a thing.

an excerpt from this interview can be found on the creative review website here, along with some write-ups of some other great covers. we hope the above interview gives people some further insight into what it’s like working with a band like 65daysofstatic, who’s intense worth-ethic continues to push us to new levels.

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record cover + poster exhibition_091213

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we’ve created an exhibition of our ongoing record cover and poster work over at squarespace. the format of their site and the nature of their templates was immediately conducive to such a concept. immediately following the posting we received a very flattering review over at one of our favourite blogs

“i’m a huge fan of the work of?(version) industries. from their work in?film?to?web?to?video?to?design, they do a grand job every time. they recently launched this?record covers + posters collection?and it’s amazing to see all of their print work at once. i never even realized the big black delta covers were?sewn?together?in that way or that this?makeup and vanity set poster?even existed.”

we hope you enjoy the show.

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i think we’re alone now_090613

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if you spend enough time working on the internet and living up to today’s social networking standards, you certainly begin to feel your mind ache in a way that’s perhaps hard to put your finger on. my latest IFP essay is a brief examination of why this might be and some musings on the future of this situation. here’s an excerpt –

“in 1983 donatella baglivo?filmed an interview?with the russian filmmaker andrei tarkovsky. it was an extensive interview that covered a number of subjects, and fortunately so as tarkovsky was to die but three years later. about an hour into the piece baglivo asks Tarkovsky what advice he had for young people, to which he responded with the following –

‘i think i?d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. i think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. this desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. every person needs to learn from childhood how to spend time with oneself. that doesn?t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn?t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.’

what immediately struck me upon hearing tarkovsky?s words is how they contradicted not just the lyrics of the?beach boys?song i?d had on in the background (don?t worry, baby), but also they seemed at odds with my overall instinctual grasp of the situation. after all, it?s not unfair to state that a recommendation that one spend adequate time alone in order to be comfortable with oneself is unexpected advice. what?s more interesting however is that looking around now, 40 years since tarkovsky said these words, our culture has made it increasingly difficult to find the solitude he recommends at all. the latest advances in technology have filled even those moments when we are physically distanced from people with the constant sense that we have? a distracting amount of company. it would be no exaggeration to claim that it?s actually difficult to be by ourselves, nor do we feel like we want to, a situation that the psychologist and MIT social studies professor sherry turkle has suggested is more symptomatic of our loneliness than a cure for it. so as tarkovsky suggests, perhaps despite our social pretensions we are all hiding from ourselves in plain sight.”

you can read the rest of the article here.

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activator_090313

activator album cover

the new york thrash metal band activator are releasing their debut album in two weeks. i’ve known the guitarist jared drace for some time now. his apartment is like a museum version of my formative years. packed full of vintage horror film posters, action figures, comic books, guitars and a vast alphabetized collection of records, i spent the first half hour i was there just staring at the walls. i shared my first boarding-school dormitory with an english metal guitarist who had a redwood washburn N-series N2, with humbucker pickups and a floyd-rose tremolo. this guy had me listening to extreme, van halen,?steve vai and joe satriani. my first record cover was a pencil crayon copy of satriani’s the extremist sleeve. i’ve never told jared this, but i didn’t really have to. suffice to say i lept at the chance of creating the sleeve for his band activator’s debut LP.

almost a year ago i was in london sitting in my brother’s apartment scratching a rat’s nest of unwashed hair on my head, staring at a crude biro drawing of the image you see above. just days before i’d downloaded a mastered version of the record and it was once again upon me to try and make an image that might get people more immediately into the headspace the band were in with these new songs.

the album is a fast-paced and brutal affair with lyrics that delve fiercely into the bleaker side of personal relationships. it opens with the sound of rats screeching as they run through city streets and as a new york resident myself i was immediately transported to a place i’d seen many a rat in my days – waiting for a train as we all have on those sweltering summer nights. closing my eyes and turning up the music, i then tried to think of a way to step over the still fresh vomit of ?’tough love’ clich?s i’d seen on record sleeves of this kind in the past. for one, the failed love stories on this album had such a battering of a soundtrack that i knew i had to find a way of turning the gun on the protagonist somehow. badly sketching out a train platform, i drew in the dead body of a guy, blood streaming from his corpse. next up was of course the question of who killed him and why. if you were to sympathize with the lyrics on this record you’d certainly at least joke that a girl must have killed him. you know, metaphorically speaking … and that’s when it hit me.

i scribbled in the rest of the drawing details, took a photo of the sketch and emailed it immediately to john delucca. if there’s anyone on this planet who can not only whip up an incredible pencil rendering of a scene but also style it to a level that fits my particular idiosyncrasies, it’s john.

3 days later i had a finished pencil drawing in my hands. not one change was necessary – he had nailed it. immediately i set to work on colouring it in, adding textures, type and any other specific little details that i felt would really bring the concept home. i was already smiling – listening to the music as the image slowly came to life, i knew we’d nailed it.

so what was the big idea? well, take a closer look at the image above and you’ll see that the girl hiding around the corner holding the bloody knife is merely coincidental. she’s in fact just a picture of a girl on a poster. she didn’t kill the guy. she’s not really there.

the truth in fact being that something else killed him and the question of what or why that could be is open to the listener’s imagination. one interpretation might be that it’s a more supernatural, as-yet-unseen danger stemming from the bands own obsession with horror films and comic books. another could be that the girl in the poster is?a simply a metaphorical commentary on all the album’s ‘this relationship is killing me’ lyrical content. either way the visual allegory is there and we hope it provokes more than just a passing interest in all activator have to offer. the fact is you won’t find classic thrash this rad with ease, so why not let yourself be seduced.

activator is out on september 17th and you can pre-order it digitally, on CD or on vinyl here.

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surachai_090313

surachai embraced cover

i met surachai sutthisasanakul?through alessandro cortini. alessandro would always be laughing about something surachai sent him via email or ichat – usually something grotesque pulled from the murkier depths of the internet. sharing a penchant for the disgusting to the point of having a secret online forum where my friends and i post the most vile things we can find, i knew one day i had to meet this surachai.

the first thing that struck me about surachai’s music was that it didn’t immediately fall into any categorization other than the one he chose to put it in himself. it was spawned from black metal for sure, but really it was a melange of things both experimental and cinematic. moreover it marked a departure from the slightly ridiculous “second wave” of black metal?that i’d read about in the pages of UK rock rag kerrang! during my teenage years.

surachai put out two LPs before he and i had a chance to work together. both of these releases in terms of their accompanying artwork revealed once more a taste for a more refined, original and considered presentation than you’d expect from the genre. surachai himself even quipped that his sound was more ‘plagued’ metal than ‘black’. either way all my friends were impressed with the sounds he was making and whilst it still wasn’t entirely my scene, he had me convinced it was worth some serious attention.

it must have been late last year that surachai told me he wanted me to work on the artwork for his next record. given he’d already employed the likes of?bridget driessen?and?sarah sitkin?to handle such duties on his last two records, it came as a great compliment. he said the record wasn’t anywhere near done yet, and in typical fashion i told him i’m not really much use until i hear something closer to the final music. it’s always the sense that something’s close to done that allows me the chance to fully immerse myself and see what images come.

finally in march of this year i holed myself up in my studio for the weekend, put the record on loop for the umpteenth time and let loose. i remember clearly that i’d wanted to create something close to how it felt to read the end of DM thomas’s novel?the white hotel. this was a book i’d recently finished that had an ending so fiercely out of left-field that i’d found myself in tears on?the train i was riding at the time. the feeling of despair i’d been left with was quite unmanageable and combined with a photograph surachai had shown me a few weeks before of fingernail scratch marks on the wall of a concentration camp gas chamber, i felt compelled to make him something that would tear the world down. something that at the very least was as harrowing and sad.

however, as i’ve learnt over the years if you go into these things trying to force a thing like that or even start with a visual idea so incongruent from what you were actually hearing in the music and lyrics of the songs, it’s not going to work. i hold the belief that the artwork for a record must in some prevalent capacity be a visual response to the sound. it can speak to outside influences without question – doubtless you and the band will have discussed the many ideas that went into making the songs – but hopefully you’ve not been hired to simply imitate another artist or illustrate someone else’s description. hopefully your job here is to interpret what you hear visually, and in so doing create something that gives people a unique and unconscious taste of what they’re about to receive.

the lyrics to?embraced?of course painted a dark, bleak and hopeless image, but one of a resoundingly science-fiction nature. in fact once i started to really listen to them in the context of the music, all the imagery and ideas i’d had up to that point about how the record should look and feel just fell away. i was all of a sudden very clear on what i wanted to make and soon i was looking at a dark field of stars with some kind of nightmare seeping slowly and bloodily out of its shadows, ruptured amniotic sacs and all.

surachai embraced outside sleeve

not wanting to make the visuals too alien and dissociative for people, the album’s inside spread was a way for me to humanize the overall story i was trying to tell. i wanted to show some kind of ‘down to earth’ response to the horrors out there in space – some kind of worship perhaps. it was then that i remembered i’d taken photographs of my friend lena marquise performing a macabre burlesque piece in the early hours of the morning at a club i used to work at. flipping through them again it wasn’t long before i was adapting them to this new world i’d created.

surachai embraced inside sleeve

surachai didn’t hesitate for a moment when i sent him the final layouts. in fact i think it was just minutes after emailing him that i got a message from him on ichat saying, ‘i fucking LOVE you.’ still i can’t say i wasn’t terrified as to what he’d think. interpreting someone else’s music with a picture takes a lot of trust, and you just have to hope they really understand what they’re asking when they hire you for the job. in this case i think it’s fair to say we made a good match and i’m still incredibly honoured to this day to have been responsible for producing the artwork for such a fantastic record.

you can listen to and buy embraced here.

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the east_060113

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fans of hard working, thought provoking science fiction would do well to tune into the work of brit marling, zal batmanglij and mike cahill. collectively through their films sound of my voice and??another earth?they are pushing for a return to the lo-fi, conceptual science fiction that andrei tarkovsky and his ilk brought to our shores in the 1970s. these days watching a film that presents a challenging alternative and forward thinking perspective, in which most complex visual effect is a tattoo or another planet in the sky, you can’t help but smile. the world has fallen so hard to its knees at the shrine of multi-million dollar visual effects that we’ve had to pretend it’s the only entertaining solution we have left for fear of revealing our broken knee-caps. fortunately this new crop of angry young directors, including shane carruth, seem out to prove that we don’t need a great deal of money to take you on a hard and fast trip into the vortex of psychological imbalances our future clearly holds.

i was fortunate enough to catch an early screening of director zal batmanglij’s new film?the east in new york a couple of weeks ago. whilst zal has steered away from science-fiction for this outing, its anger for change is still achingly present and once again i raised my proverbial glass to the immense power of a relatively low-budget production and how loud it can scream when in the right hands.

of course i had an inkling that once i’d seen the film i’d end up in front of my computer carving out some visual bits and pieces just to help myself calm down. i’d come very close with?sound of my voice and another earth, and as some will have noted?could not be held back when it came to?beyond the black rainbow. so what you see here, both above and below, are a series of posters i made as the images, sounds and ideas that?the east presented to me lingered in my head.

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the east poster 4
the east poster 7
the east poster 5
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protomen 10 year anniversary_042513

protomen 10 year poster

our dear friends?the protomen are 10 years old this year – the same age as us in fact. above is the poster we created for their anniversary show in nashville this weekend. hidden in it are various artifacts dating back to when they recorded their first song, due vendetta. hard copies are of course available at the show, and likely afterwards too.

here’s to another 10 years as magnificent as the last.

cheers,

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