François Schuiten record covers

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Claudine Simon (1980) by Claudine Simon.

Continuing an occasional series about artists or designers whose work has appeared on record sleeves. Belgian artist François Schuiten is a familiar name here, being the co-creator with Benoît Peeters of the Obscure World, one of my favourite zones of fantastic invention. The Obscure World has grown to become a multimedia endeavour so Schuiten’s involvement with some of the later entries in this post goes beyond providing the cover art to being connected to the music itself.

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De Wolkentrapper (1983) by Herman van Veen.

Herman van Veen is a Dutch writer and singer who produced a number of albums and singles in the 1980s featuring Schuiten cover art. The gravity-defying people are from an early comic strip unattached to the Obscure World mythos, Going to Pieces.

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Signale (1984) by Herman van Veen.

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De Wisselaars (1985) by Herman van Veen.

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Sedimental Journey (1985) by Peter Principle.

The Obscure World makes its cover debut on this solo release by the late Peter Principle, bass player in Tuxedomoon. Principle was American but Tuxedomoon were based at the time in Europe, and their record label, Crammed are Belgian. Obscure World aficionados will recognise the structure about to be submerged by a vast wave as the Network, an inexplicable object first seen in Fever in Urbicand (1985).

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Tomita’s Mind of the Universe

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In the week that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon here’s a cosmic flashback from 1984. (I wrote about my own memories of the Apollo era in July, 2009.)

Mind Of The Universe was an ambitious outdoor performance of music by Isao Tomita for the annual Ars Electronic Festival in Linz, Austria. I’d known about this event ever since the release of the subsequent live album, and always wondered if there was more of a visual record than the one or two short clips to be found on YouTube. This 65-minute documentary from NHK TV was made following Tomita’s death in 2016, and features a much longer recording of the concert, together with a look at the preparations undertaken by the composer and his Japanese team. The documentary is in Japanese throughout, but I’ve had Tomita’s albums on continual play for the past couple of weeks so it was a welcome discovery. The Linz footage is bracketed by a short studio discussion of Tomita’s work and the concert itself with two of his assistants, Hideki Matsutake and Akira Senju. Matsutake is better known for his programming work with Yellow Magic Orchestra, and his own albums under the name Logic System, but he began working with synthesizers as Tomita’s studio assistant in the 1970s; Senju is a composer of anime soundtracks. The documentary includes some all-too-brief film footage of Tomita’s studio in 1974, and a sequence (with Tomita-san on a motorbike!) concerning the Dawn Chorus (1984) album which incorporated recordings of the electromagnetic “Dawn Chorus” phenomenon.

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Part of Tomita’s Moog system, the backbone of his early electronic recordings.

Mind Of The Universe (or Tomita’s Universum as it was advertised to the citizens of Linz) comprised a nocturnal performance spanning the River Danube, with Tomita combining some of his earlier recordings with new pieces created for the event, including an extract from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. This was conducted by the maestro and assistants from within a transparent pyramid suspended by crane on the river bank. Speakers were positioned on both banks of the river, and there was a lavish lightshow with fireworks and lasers, all of which was somehow meant to depict the entire history of the Universe, from Big Bang to the present moment.

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Discussing Dawn Chorus, and a visit to a radio telescope.

If this wasn’t ambitious enough, Tomita had musicians and a choir floating on boats and platforms in the river: Goro Yamaguchi played a traditional Japanese piece on shakuhachi while seated in a perilously small craft being towed behind a larger vessel; the bigger boat provided a stage for violinist Mariko Senju whose excellent performance of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending is the musical highlight of the concert. This was followed by a violin rendition of the five-note motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a nod to Tomita’s UFO-themed Bermuda Triangle album, which introduced one of the less successful aspects of the event in the noisy arrival of a helicopter bearing a platform laden with lights and speakers. The helicopter provided the booming response of the Close Encounters mothership although this isn’t obvious on the live album where all you have is the music and the noise of the rotors. Tomita’s concept of “pyramid sound” is more evident in the TV documentary than on record.

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Into the Vortex

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I’m surprised this has managed to evade my attention for the past eight years but better late than never. Into the Vortex is an hour-long music mix by Radio Soulwax whose visuals are one answer to the question of how best to illustrate a diverse playlist, if illustrate you must. The solution, directed by Wim Reygaert, is to recreate with sets, props and a cast of performers every single cover from every record in the mix, with each cover recreation lasting the duration of the piece. Many of the recreations are simple affairs using paint and cardboard but the time and effort involved still boggles the mind. No surprise that the Radio Soulwax motto is “Why do things the easy way?”

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The best part for this viewer and listener is that much of the music is drawn from very familiar albums: German electronica or Kosmische music, its French equivalents, and so on. It’s a lot more satisfying (and surprising) seeing the alien head from Interface by Heldon being recreated instead of yet another Beatles cover design. On the musical side, one of the users at Discogs very conveniently put together an almost complete listing of the mix, together with links to the records. Collect the set.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Roger Dean postage stamps

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Roger Dean book covers last week; this week it’s postage stamps. These are exclusive to the Isle of Man Post Office, unfortunately, so there’s little chance of buying them over the counter in mainland Britain. First day covers, presentation packs and individual sheets may be ordered from the post office website, however. For those who can visit the Isle of Man there’s also an exhibition of Dean’s art running at the Manx Museum in Douglas until November.

Several of the paintings on the stamps are from the covers for albums by Yes and Asia, including the one above which was used twice on the live Yessongs album in 1973. (The large version inside the gatefold had a figure of a girl and a fish spacecraft added.) The version appearing on the stamp is Dean’s recent reworking of the piece. This removed the airbrushed clouds—added to disguise the footprints of his cats which had walked over the painting when it was drying—and also smoothed the gradients and added a reflection. I’ve been familiar with the album version of this picture for decades so I prefer the rougher original as it is on the cover (and in Dean’s Views book) without the girl and spacecraft.

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One other thing of note is Dean’s lettering design for the stamps. When I wrote about Dean’s art a few years ago I drew attention to the way his design work has been either marginalised or ignored altogether by people who dismiss him as a mere fantasy artist. All of Dean’s album covers have included unique letterforms that are immediately recognisable as his own (so too the logos and lettering he was designing for computer games in the 1980s) but I’ve yet to see this side of his work given any serious attention. (Postage stamp tip via It’s Nice That.)

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Roger Dean book covers
Design as virus 17: Boris and Roger Dean
Roger Dean: artist and designer

More Things to Come

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The organisers of the Things to Come exhibition at the Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Israel, sent me their photos of the show earlier this week. As with the other recent exhibitions that I haven’t managed to attend it’s good to see how everything looks in situ, and also see some of the other exhibits.

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The art pieces are all related to science fiction old and new, with my airship illustration (as seen in The Steampunk Bible) and a couple of other works representing the old (or new-as-old) side of things. I’m not used to seeing my work enlarged to such a huge size so this was a treat. The only larger reproductions have been a window display for one of the Cradle of Filth album covers which filled a whole window of Tower Records, London, in 2001, and stage backdrops for Cradle of Filth and Melechesh. I can’t identify any of the other exhibits until the catalogue arrives but I really like the iridescent metal construction that’s lying on the gallery floor. All the photos are by Elad Sarig, and are shown courtesy of the Petach Tikva Museum of Art. My thanks again to Doreet LeVitte Harten for selecting my work, and to Avshalom Suliman for dealing with the printing and other details.

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