Thursday, August 14, 2008

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

I couldn't have been happier when my wife told me that David Byrne and Brian Eno have collaborated on a new album together, titled Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. She had also read that Stefan Sagmeister would be designing the package. So, for me, this project couldn't be more perfect. It comes out in 3 days. More information here.
As I started to think about what it could sound like and look like, I started to think about all the covers for Talking Heads albums that I love so much, and the covers for Brian Eno's many different projects. Stefan Sagmeister began his career in New York at M&Co where Tibor Kalman ran the ship and did a lot of work with David Byrne and the Talking Heads. In recent years, Stefan has done a great deal of work with David Byrne himself. And I know, from a conversation we had, that he holds Brian Eno in very high esteem.

So, in anticipation of the new album's release, I pulled out all the records my wife and I have from Byrne and Eno and started to investigate the designs and who was responsible for them. With such a history of stellar album designs, the look back sets the stage for what's to come. In chronological order:

No Pussyfooting – Robert Fripp & Brian Eno (1973)
This is the earliest of all the records. One song on each side. Fripp plays the Les Paul and Eno mans the synthesizer, digital sequencer and modified tape recorder. The focal sound is the dreamy wailing of Fripp's guitar. The cover photograph and design is by Willie Chrystie. If anyone is into the band Battles, you may recognize the multiple mirrors concept. On this website, Sleevage, their is a discussion about it.

Here Come the Warm Jets – Brian Eno (1974)
I could be mistaken, but I believe this was Eno's phrase describing the initial rush of a heroin injection. The set design isn't credited but the photograph was taken by Lorenz Zatecky, and the design was done at CCS Associates.

Evening Star – Robert Fripp & Brian Eno (1975)
Here, the illustration isn't credited on the album but the typography is by Bob Bowkett at CCS.

Discreet Music – Brian Eno (1975)
I hadn't noticed until now (it's much darker in person), but on the seemingly black album cover, there is actually a photograph of what looks like architecture, or a few city blocks somewhere. The design is by John Bonis at CCS. And the music on this album is actually intended for a very unique listening experience. In Eno's description on the back of the LP, he explains the idea for Discreet Music. "In January this year I had an accident. I was not seriously hurt, but I was confined to a bed in a stiff and static position. My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of 18th century harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable difficulty, I put on the record. Having laid down, I realized that the amplifier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the stereo had failed completely. Since I hadn't the energy to get up and improve matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music – as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience. It is for this reason that I suggest listening to the piece at comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility."

Another Green World – Brian Eno (1975)
This album brings Eno's star-studded studio cohorts together: Robert Fripp and John Cale, with occasional percussion by Phil Collins. It straddles that strange gap between pop and ambient that Eno invented. The cover is a detail from a painting called "After Raphael" by Tom Phillips. Typography is by Bob Bowkett at CCS Associates.

Before and After Science – Brian Eno (1977)
Eno assembled his crew again for this one. The song, Kurt's Rejoinder, features vocals by Kurt Schwitters from the UR Sonata. And Phil Manzanera, from Eno's first band, Roxy Music, plays rhythm guitar on several tracks. The cover design is by Eno himself.

Music For Films – Brian Eno (1978)
This is an accumulation of work from 1975 to 1978. It includes many different artists – from Phil Collins and Robert Fripp to John Cale. All the work was either originally created for soundtracks and scores or ended up on them after being written.

More Songs About Buildings and Food – Talking Heads (1978)
This album was produced by Eno and the Talking Heads. It isn't the first from the Talking Heads but it is one of their earlier releases. The front cover concept is Byrne's; a life-sized photo mosaic of the band members, constructed from 529 close-up Polaroids, and reproduced by Jimmy de Sana. The back cover is more involved. In fact, there is a massive description about what it is exactly. In brief, it is a reproduction of Portrait U.S.A, an image produced by General Electric's Beltsville Photo Engineering Lab with assistance from the National Geographic Society and NASA.

Look closer for the full description.

Fear of Music – Talking Heads (1979)
Produced by Eno and the Talking Heads, this album is full of awesome one-word song titles, like Air, Animals, Cities, Drugs, Heaven, Mind, Paper and the amazing (not one-word song-title) Life During Wartime. Nicole Kidman became hundreds of percent cooler in my mind when my wife told me that this is her all-time favorite album. The cover concept comes from Talking Heads bassist Jerry Harrison. The type is simple, in the upper left hand corner, and the packaging is adorned with embossed diamond-plating. I was over the moon to read that Gene Wilder plays the congas on Life During Wartime and I Zimbra but apparently the Gene Wilder I was picturing...

might not be THIS Gene Wilder. The Wikipedia entry claims that Gene Wilder and Ari are drummers who were recruited from Washington Square Park. Does anyone know the real story?

Possible Musics – Jon Hassell & Brian Eno (1980)
Hassell is a composer from Memphis, who spent the initial part of his career in Cologne studying with Stockhausen and New York with Phillip Glass. Fourth World is what he believes to be music that reaches beyond the categorization of "world," "jazz," "classical," "minimal," or "ambient." The cover image is a Landsat photo from NASA of the White Nile south of Khartoum in the Sudan. The design is by Cream.

Remain In Light – Talking Heads (1980)
This was the first Talking Heads album I ever heard. Just back in 2003. I have had many friends recommend them to me over the years, but I wasn't ready until 2003, I guess. Laurie Rosenwald, a brilliant designer/illustrator and typographer runs a very interesting workshop which I cannot describe, because I shouldn't and I don't think I'm allowed. When I partook in this workshop, the first thing she put on was Remain in Light, and ever since the moment when Once In A Lifetime began, I've been hooked. Many songs were co-written and produced by Eno. The album artwork and design is by M&Co. Tibor Kalman made this design everything that the Talking Heads are. It's perfect. It's enigmatic, pop, revolutionary, undefinable. And the inverted "A"s give me type-shivers.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – Brian Eno & David Byrne (1981)
The title of this album takes its name from a book by Amos Tutuola (Grove Press). Byrne and Eno were highly influenced by sounds from the near East, including chanting from the Qu'ran. But there seems to be a higher concept about contrasting religions and cultures, East and West, as there appear recordings of Christian radio evangelists from San Francisco and New Orleans. The album is tremendous, and if this project is any indication of the quality of the Byrne/Eno collaboration, the promise of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is that much greater. The cover of this album is a photograph of a television or computer screen playing a video by Eno. And I was excited to find that the typography, simply set across the top of the album cover in Helvetica Bold, was done by Peter Saville (my personal design hero).

Speaking in Tongues – Talking Heads (1983)
Another pivotal album with a variety of hits like Burning Down the House, and This Must Be the Place (which is often played three times in a row). The cover art is by Byrne with thanks to M&Co.

The Pearl – Harold Budd & Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois (1984)
One of my personal ambient favorites. With rain outside and the volume quite high, The Pearl is enveloping. Born in Los Angeles, and raised in the Mojave Desert, Budd listened to the wind drone through telephone wires. His unique, atmospheric piano style came to the front when working with Eno on this album. The art and design on this album is by Russell Mills.

Old Land – Cluster & Brian Eno (1985)
Cluster is a German experimental ambient group, whose core members, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius are now in their 60s and 70s, respectively. They recently played several venues in San Francisco and the West coast. The cover photograph is by Michael Weisser, and depicts a strange bowed light in the evening sky. I can't guess what would cause a light like that, but I think the mystery is the magic.

Here is a Talking Heads box-set, Once In A Lifetime, designed by Stefan Sagmeister. It's the only thing here that I don't own. But, it was too beautiful not to be included. The paintings are by Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov. This packaging won Sagmeister a Grammy. And doesn't he deserve it!

This last piece, the Dual-Disc Brick, is from Rhino Records. Their design work is always impeccable and this piece equally so. It contains the Talking Heads' 8 official studio albums, remastered into surround-sound on the second side of the discs, with many special b-sides and remixes.

All this points to an important idea. Brian Eno and David Byrne have decided not to market their new album at all. They are not promoting it really. Because they want to see if the oldest advertising method on Earth will work for them – word-of-mouth. So here's to the cause!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RE: Gene Wilder on Fear of Music:

If I recall correctly from "This Must be The Place" (a book about Talking Heads), the guy would only give that as his name. They assumed it was a fake name, but, y'know, that was the name he gave.