Amateurism is my graduate thesis project at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Developed over the course of six months from Sep 2016 to Mar 2017, it first unleashes my musician alter ego and then combines it with my designer self resulting in a diverse yet cohesive body of work. The project consists of the following three chapters:
About 8 years ago, on my 17th birthday, my dad asked me what I wanted as a birthday present, to which I replied, “Can you get me a guitar please?” A couple of days later, I had a basic acoustic guitar in my room that didn't amount to more than $20. I tried to play it for about a month but I sucked. So I put it away. A year and a half later, I picked it up with fierce determination to learn how to play it and never looked back.
I have wanted to be in a rock band, write my music and play shows since. However, it never really worked out. Therefore, I began working on my music in the background by myself and over time, my abilities developed. Shortly after moving to Baltimore, I wrote and recorded my first original song in 2015 at the Graduate Research Lab (Grad Lab) at MICA. Although I’m not a fan of the material anymore, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me.
I asked Patrick Hunt, the Grad Lab co-ordinator, whom I also consider my brother, if I could come by regularly and use the sound studio to further my skills. He was happy to help. We scheduled 3 hour sessions every Friday for several months and I worked until I was exhausted.
When the time came to pitch the ideas for thesis projects, I had gotten to a point where I was confident that I would be able to actually write and record songs and put them into a compilation that will be a part of my project. I was aware of the challenges but I had enough faith, courage and the right attitude to overcome them and cross the finish line.
I wrote most of the lyrics in the Intermediate Poetry Workshop class at MICA and recorded demos on my phone in my bedroom prior to tracking them down at the Grad Lab. I played the guitars, bass, did the vocals and backing vocals while my friend Ben Jones played the drums. The entire process took about 16 weeks and Patrick helped me record, track, engineer and mix the music.
A combination of forthright, playful, introspective and assertive lyrics, and sound that’s influenced by alternative rock and grunge music of the early 90’s, coupled with the affinity for human imperfection inherent to the spirit of rock and roll, Mountains And You present their debut EP, “Amateurism”.
Genre: Alternative Rock
Released: March 27, 2017
Produced by: Patrick Hunt and Shrenik Ganatra
For the visuals, I wanted to incorporate both analog and digital approaches to image-making in a way that was analogous to the approach I followed to make the music, which was through a combination of analog (instruments and hardware equipment) and digital (DAW software) media.
The driving force behind the content for the visuals was the idea that this “band” is on the rise and touring underground venues. The following assets were designed/developed to support the idea:
2. ALBUM ART AND TYPEFACE DESIGN FOR THE ALBUM ART
I treated the album art design as if it were a logo and designed a typeface that was appropriate for screen, print and materials like wood, at varying sizes. Both the extremes of my album art design—a 96px x 96px version for screen and a 32in x 32in version made out of wood—were included in my exhibition.
3. ALBUM ART PIECE (32in x 32in)
A physical album art piece with wood as the primary material. I laser cut the type in 4 layers (collectively corresponding to the drums, guitars, bass and vocal stems in the music) and glued them together. I then painted them white and finally solidified them on a 32in x 32in black painted wood base which is about an inch in thickness. The idea here is that due to the nature of human imperfection, the 4 layers aren't going to line up perfectly—similar to how the music won’t line up when different people are playing different instruments live—and that's absolutely fine.
4. JACKET PATCH
5. TOUR POSTERS AND SUPPORTING PRINTS
A tour, be it real or fictional, is incomplete without tour posters. I designed these posters inspired by the visual style of alternative, indie, new wave, grunge and punk underground tour posters of the 80’s and 90’s. Sketching, scanning, blowing up the image, tracing and digitally manipulating a few of the source visuals were some of the techniques I employed in my process.
6. DISC AND RECORD PACKAGING
I purchased a set of 50 compact discs and jewel cases from Amazon, burned the discs and studied the dimensions of the jewel case prior to designing and producing the disc covers, inlays and the booklet. I also got a record pressed and designed the packaging myself.
7. WEB APPLICATION
Using HTML5 and jQuery, I designed an application that plays all the tracks on the EP. For a given song, it displays the lyrics and chord progressions. Additionally, the application includes the features that any standard music player has to offer—play, pause, seek, next track, previous track, volume control, etc..
I designed my exhibition like a record store environment that revered the band. The audience had the liberty to experience the music and visuals in different ways, thereby defining multiple entry paths into the exhibit.
On one hand you had this complete experience of getting the record out of the jacket, putting it on the record player, getting it off the player and finally, back to its original position. On the other hand, you could put the headphones on and listen to the songs on the app on the iMac. There was also a third entry point, which was by playing the music on the phone/electronic device by following an online link.
The tour posters were strategically distributed on the wall along with objects like the jacket and the physical album art piece, along with the guitar and drum sticks—the instruments in the recording process. Additionally, there was a pedestal set up that showcased the disc packaging and several prints that captured moments from the recording process.
Amateurism was part of the MICA Grad Show 2017 and the exhibition was on display at the Meyerhoff Gallery in the FOX building from Mar 27, 2017 to Apr 09, 2017.
The discussion for the thesis exhibition critique was led by visiting critic Abraham Burickson of Odyssey Works and supported by MICA GD MFA directors Ellen Lupton, Jennifer Cole Phillips, faculty Jason Gottlieb and my classmates.
I would like to conclude by thanking the following people for their support, guidance, expertise, input and help during the different stages of project development:
My parents and my sister for their unconditional love and support
Patrick Hunt, Ben Jones and Unique Robinson
Ellen Lupton, Jennifer Cole Phillips and Jason Gottlieb
Kristian Bjornard and Issac Gertman
Ninad Kale and Connor Davenport
Noah Reyes, Isabel Gadd and Daniel Frumhoff for assistance with photography
Finally, massive shout-out to:
Michael Ward-Rosenbaum, Kavya Singh, Kristi Gallup, Potch Auacherdkul, Brooke Thyng, Rachel Rusk, MICA Exhibitions and the MICA community