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Julie ebbutt
Given the visually homogenous nature ofvinyl records, the development of differentiation, via the medium of theenclosing protective sleeve, allowed record companies to advertise theiroutput. Album cover artwork communicates with the consumer, using consensualmotifs and themes to denote different genres and styles, and so give a visualindication of the aural contents (Heller, 2011).

Over the course of the previous decade the musicindustry has faced declining revenue streams (Seminari, 2006), with the end ofa boom period of people replacing cassettes and vinyl with compact discs freshchallenge to the standard business model came from file sharing over theinternet. The ease of internet piracy, and avoidance of paying royaltiesto the record companies has caused an increased dependence upon the variouslabel’s back catalogues as a cost effective alternative to investment in newgroups (Economist, 2011). As such, back catalogues are constantly beingrevisited with a view to re-release to an established consumer base, as well asto potentially new consumers. However, during the hiatus in prominence of albumcovers, the ongoing conventions and metaphors were not continually beingre-enforced against the process of cultural drift. Therefore, it follows thatthe relevance of the imagery, iconography and typography utilized may not be asvalid as when the designs were first released. Resultantly, the original albumcovers may no longer have the same initial resonance to the intended consumeras it would previously have had, reducing the impulse to purchase. Thesefactors drive the consideration of an album cover redesign.

The aims of this study were to explore the practicalapplication of these objective considerations through the undertaking of asubjective redesign of an iconic album cover. This was based primarily on threefactors: time (and its effect on cultural references); visual imagery(concentrating on use of photography); and typography (in terms of usage andcontextual value). The purpose of this report is to reflect upon the processundertaken; the alternatives explored; and the effectiveness of the final piece– all viewed from the perspective of personal development during the journeyfrom initial research to end product.

A research process was undertaken toensure a better understanding of the subject area, to be more informed in makingdecisions and to identify candidate album covers for re-design (ResearchFolder); allowing the work to be relevant and effective. Subsequently, arepresentative selection of album covers was made with a view to form the basisof a trial redesigning process; allowing the identification of individualstrengths and weaknesses in practice (Journal 1). Finally, the choice of finalcover to redesign, and then the realisation of that design (Journal 2, 3). Thenecessity of this process was mandated by the experience of limitations imposedupon previous projects, and was a direct measure to alleviate any futureimpediments at an early stage.

The research was conducted on two main fronts: areview of an album cover design chosen to provide a sample over a period fromthe 1960s to 1990s; and a literature review conducted in order to identify thecurrent field of academic thought. The principal concerns of the cover reviewwere to identify the use of imagery, particularly in photography, andtypography to convey a message to the viewer. The literature review wasconducted alongside the cover research. This allowed the easy acquisition of avariety of opinions, acting to immediately validate personally held views, ordiscard ones which were shown to be false. Furthermore, exposure to a widerange of opinions and viewpoints instilled a wider understanding. This informeda part of the selection process initially; allowed a greater perspective on thecover designs being researched; and finally acted as underlying preparation forthe practical application.

By looking at album covers over an extended period,and with a definitive aim in mind of understanding how the design concepts haveadjusted, a comparative view was formed. By applying this consideration to thesample as a whole, specific consistencies could be seen within genres andcultural eras, relative to the whole. The album cover research was conductedvia two main avenues, the selection of album covers based upon personalpreference, and the supplementary use of pre-compiled listings of influentialalbum cover design (Ringrose, 2008)(Thorgenson, 1999). The rationale behind thetwo processes was to allow a structure and authority to underpin the sample,whilst still permitting the ability to reduce perceived gaps from a subjectiveviewpoint.

The chosen album covers were reviewed and annotated,to allow the identification of longitudinal themes and conventions.Simultaneously, by identifying the genres represented, it was also possible toconduct a cross-sectional overview to establish any prevalence of discreetconventions which may not change over time. In addition, the review wasperformed not solely in an isolated visual context, but to the accompaniment ofthe music the cover was designed to promote. This lent the potential for afuller understanding of the marketing messages which were contained, and helpedto develop a gestalt within which to empathise more accurately with thecontemporary observer.

The result of the research was to identify anincreasing complexity in the use of photography, with the development of anincreasing level of image manipulation evident in order to realise a variety ofreference based messages. An example of this evolution of context can be seenby comparing the brash and explicit representation of famous faces on the‘Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album cover; in contrast, ‘Nevermind’ from Nirvanauses an initially simple image, of a naked baby boy swimming, as a damningindictment of American corporate and personal greed; by the inclusion of a hookbaited with a dollar. Therefore, the images themselves develop in a non-linearmanner, and the reliance is formed upon the statement intended, as well as thevisual hook, causing a stepped rather than a gradual progression.

Furthermore, as an indication of perceived greatalbum covers a variety of awards could be considered, and it is notable that inrecent years a certain level of devolution or retrospective concepts havegained accreditation. For example, “Casadaga’ won the Best Recording PackageGrammy in 2008, which fitted a cloth badge inspired cover to the retro sound ofthe artist. Therefore, originality of thought in interpreting the music andconveying this impression effectively to the consumer can be seen to beparamount in the consensus of contemporary critics.

Typographically, similar paradigmshifts were observed, with the use of fonts highly dependent upon the socialforces in play at the time (Holm, 2009). As a result, the vibrancy of font forCream, through the futuristic Supertramp font to the cleanliness of thepostmodern Nirvana, a clear progression can be charted. However, similar to thedesign variances typography experiences abrupt alterations, in that each newgenre of music adopts its own distinctive font style. Generally, the typographywas shown to have had sufficient impact upon consumer knowledge conventionsthat certain fonts have become synonymous with specific genres (Holm, 2009).

Overall, the research showed that the typographyshould show a consistency due to its contextualised conventions, and that theimage should be unconventional in representing an impression of the music,whilst maintaining reference to culturally understood semiotics. Confirmationthat the academic theories which had been researched were applicable, andconfirmed by the manner of redesigns reviewed, permitted the extension ofresearch into practice with a degree of confidence.

Having identified the context of the re-designprocess, it was then possible to make a selection of the album cover which wasto be used. The chosen cover was from the ‘Division Bell’ album by Pink Floyd.Representing an iconic cover from an iconic band, it also contained a largeamount of representative elements within a single encompassing theme; themarriage of industrial output in a rural setting, with a subtext of resolvedconflicts and communication.

In the original version two large (aviation inspired)installation pieces are set adjacent to each other, showing two faces inprofile, which combine to form an overall image of a single face. The twosections are joined by points of light, to infer communication between them,and the entire piece is set in a rural context, with historical buildingsvisible in the extreme background. These aspects: communication, resolution ofconflict and the conjoining of natural and produced, were to be encapsulatedwithin the final design, and I intended to also attempt to convey a passing oftime.

The original cover was heavilydependent upon the use of a specifically designed installation piece whichdominated the image, giving a focus point. Therefore, research was conductedinto the original designer, Storm Thorgerson, to build a better understandingof the motivation to specifically commission the original work (Thorgerson,1999). A review of Thorgerson’s catalogue shows a variety of installation typepieces which made me smile and seemed self aware. It was also noticeable thatthe works tended to be embedded into external spaces, using beaches and circlesas a representation of the infinite. The combined use of humour and scale (andorganisational chaos) seemed to fit with Pink Floyd’s attitude, represented bythe album “Animals”, and the 40 foot flying pig. Another contributing designerto the original album was Keith Breeden, his works used a variety of naturaland manufactured materials to form the images of faces. However, his workappeared conflicted and generally felt menacing, as if the pieces wanted todescend angrily on me. This aspect of the collaboration reflected the darkerside of the band, with the aggressively disturbing horror of “The Wall” and theacrimony between members.

Having considered the original designers, Iresearched a variety of other installationists, with a focus on those providingrepresentations of the human form. I generally found that the works followedone of two main schools of thought: an approximation of the human form,fragmented in a harsh and abrupt manner reminiscent of the Cubist movement; oran amorphous silhouette, following Modernism, but generally showing structuralwork such as re-enforcing struts and rivets. However, I felt the music whichthe cover represented was relatively laid back and mellow, and such vibrantasymmetries within the core element would be counter-indicative to myexperience of the music. Therefore, I resolved to investigate the approximationof a human bust in other formats, including awards, and these became the mainavenue for further study. Initial consideration was given to therepresentations used in music industry awards, such as the BAFTA and Grammy,but preference was given to the figurine given as an OSCAR, which is alsoawarded to music in the form of film scores. The reasons were varied, butincluded that it simply felt more ‘solid’ to me, and as such could be betterrendered as if it was a large installation piece. I also felt that the OSCARscan be a bit sanctimonious, and it would be well within the nature of the bandto bury it up to the neck somewhere – similar to a pig over Battersea powerstation.

Having considered the core element of the new cover Ithen considered how to best achieve a cohesion to contextualise it. Theresearch had revealed a tendency towards retrospective artwork, which hasbecome more pronounced recently, with some proponents having success usingcloth and textile based designs. Notable use of this technique has been fromthe Grammy award winning Zack Nipper, designer of “Casadaga”, who produced aseries of album covers using textile inspired designs including “I’m wideawake, it’s morning” with an album cover resembling a bed-quilt.

The original “Division Bell” had a hard industriallook, which at the time referenced the viewer to the music they would expectinside, with a certain lack of compromise and conflict marking many of thetracks. However, modern culture has become inured to more extreme musical formssince that day, and as a contemporary listener I experienced the same music asmellow and refined. In addition, a part of the appeal of re-released albums isto the original purchasers, and their lives would have left the harsh brashnessof youth and entered a comfortable middle age during the intervening years. Byusing cloth as a base medium, these factors were acknowledged and promoted.This gave the design an internal coherency, as well as providing an impetus andrationale for the other alterations. I felt this was necessary as people canbecome highly possessive of an iconic design, and by avoiding a directfacsimile these concerns could be mitigated.

The original cover depicted as foreground a field,ploughed and then harrowed, showing the impact of mankind’s preparation fornurturing the next crop. In terms of where to bury the figurine, I decided uponthe beach. This then represents a margin between three elements: sky, sea andsand. Resultantly, informing a contemplation of the mutable and chaoticinterplay of external forces on the nature of life; juxtaposed against theinherent solidity of the centralized figure buried up to the neck in themiddle. In addition, by replacing the harrowed earth with footprints in thesand, the design hints the change in the listener since the original, from agrowing person to one surrounded by others, such as family. A commonly usedmetaphor, it also references a previous album, ‘The Wall’ having crumbled away,allowing a more cohesive and consensual society to carry on past it. Finally, Iadded a central area of the background that was free of details, showing anarea cleared by the tide. This allowed me to imply that time erases all hurts,and gives us new opportunities. This can be taken generally - or as a reminderthat this album was the first released following the departure of a bandmember, but that old arguments seem to be less divisive now. It also gave me aclear area free of distraction upon which I could place the installations.

Whilst wishing to retain the representation ofcommunication via light, I altered it in order to provide further context. Byturning the binary points into a continuous stream, reference was made toadvances in fibre-optical transmission of information. In addition, I alteredthe hue of the light to a blue from yellow to reduce contrast within the piece,and to give a cooler and less antagonistic feel. Furthermore, the use of prismsin order to direct the beam enables the light form to become a more definingpart of the new design, as well as providing further reference to the seminalalbum ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. That album cover is also referenced in a moreblatant form towards the right hand side of the picture where the beam of lightitself forms a prismatic shape.

To further represent people who may have entered thelistener’s life since the original release I placed mannequins on the beach.The mannequins were based upon photographs I made of installation artistAnthony Gormley’s “Iron Man” in Birmingham. These figurines were then shownwithout heads as a metaphor for the underpinnings which completed a perceptionof the central bust. Furthermore, by replacing the heads with prismatic lenses,the communication emanating from the bust could reflect them as constituentparts of the head’s social network. However, I retained the target motif on asingle head in order to indicate a single describing link, possibly with a lifepartner. Altering the colour pattern of the target from red to blue performedtwo tasks: by utilizing an opposing part of the colour spectrum it affirmed thechange from progenitor to recipient as intentional; and it also maintained anoverall colour scheme – as I felt retaining the original red colour was toobold, detracting from the coherency of the overall design. Furthermore, Iincorporated a photographic element at the base of each mannequin via the useof Photoshopped photographs of my feet, linking the mannequins to thefootprints shown above the tide-line.

For typography I had many options,trying each of my preferred fonts in Photoshop allowed me to decide that thebest option would be to use “Zig Zag”. Given that the design is to beupon fabric, the sewing-machine style is consistent and clean. Using tones fromthe sand I found worked well for the colour for the front, but I changed thecolour on the inside font to a dark blue, contrasted to extra Photo-shopping ofclouds in the background to heighten visibility and depth.

This blue was also then used for the exterior text onthe CD size cover, due to the reduced size needing greater contrast to remainreadable, and the positioning was altered to assist in this. In addition, thedifferent format covers of the original showed two different sets of heads, andI wanted to promote some differences to commemorate that. A similarconsideration drove my choice of the target from the re-designed cover as thesymbol for an Mp3 representation. Given the very limited space available Ineeded something more simplistic than the head, but which still formed a coreelement. By recreating the target in a 3D format, and animating it with a setof rotations using “Maya” I was able to drive the creation of an individual butcohesive decal.

Therefore, I feel that the completed redesignaddresses the original ethos of the album cover, and incorporates furtherelements to indicate a passage of time, as well as some light-hearted homage toother works. The literature on the subject of album covers was limited in bothscale and scope, and devolves basically to a “I don’t know much about art, butI know what I like” attitude. The rationale behind this was identified as beingdue to the requirement for album covers to be individual reflections of theband and specific period, as identified by that particular album. As such,although trends can be observed in general – such as the association of certainfonts to genres – the continuing need to re-invent and individualise designsforces a reactionary development curve. To this extent it was necessary toconsider the individual elements; their contribution to the gestalt of theaggregate; and to consider them as being the mutable element in need ofre-connection to the cultural associations which drift over time.

Finally, the process of this re-design has lacked thestructural integrity I had originally envisioned, relying upon a much higherdegree of esoteric input than expected. Research obviated much of this lack,and the application of lateral thought processes enabled the outcome to berealised successfully. The calm and coherent feeling of union inspired by thecover reflects the way the music is perceived by a modern audience, but retainswithin its conception and execution sufficient subtext to create newassociations and resonances.