Hipgnosis interview

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This is a frustratingly short piece of film—a mere 16 minutes—but it’s fascinating all the same for the brief views it gives inside the London studio of the Hipgnosis design partnership at the tail end of their golden decade, the 1970s. Being an occasional album cover designer as well as a minor Hipgnosis obsessive I like to see where so many of the team’s album covers originated. The two Hipgnosis founders, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson are both interviewed; the third member of the partnership, Peter Christopherson, is absent. The film is also undated but the discussion of the cover photo for Look Hear? by 10cc puts the year at around 1980. The views of the studio aren’t much different from the rather murky shots of the place in the first Hipgnosis book, An ABC of the Work of Hipgnosis: Walk Away René (1978), but the film gives a better sense of the dishevelled actuality: those stairs that Thorgerson runs up at the opening are the same ones that form the background to the melting Peter Gabriel photo used on the cover of Gabriel’s third album. Powell and Thorgerson are such engaging interviewees they really ought to have been profiled at greater length by the BBC or ITV, not given a few minutes to discuss some of their more notable creations by a small French film crew.

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Aubrey Powell shows off the mystery object from the Presence album by Led Zeppelin.

The Hipgnosis studio occupied two floors of a building in Denmark Street, a minor thoroughfare off the Charing Cross Road that used to be a home to music publishers, rehearsal rooms and many of London’s musical instrument vendors. For a few years it was also home to the original and equally dishevelled Forbidden Planet book and comic shop, a place I first visited shortly after it opened in 1978. I always used to visit Forbidden Planet when I was in the capital but the Hipgnosis team had gone their separate ways by the time I found out they’d been based in the same street. Had I known about this earlier I probably would have wandered around for a while wondering which door led to their rooms. With its clutter and blithe disregard for client-flattering furnishings (the reception room, said Thorgerson, had nowhere to sit down) the studio was a long way from anybody’s idea of a well-appointed design business. The place reminds me of the offices occupied for many years by Savoy Books in Deansgate, Manchester: ancient, first-floor rooms whose better days were long past, with tools of the trade littering every surface, recent works-in-progress on the walls and old stickers peeling off the door. In Walk Away René, Thorgerson also admits that the studio lacked a toilet so they had to resort to pissing in a sink, a disgraceful expediency also shared by the Savoy office. In such places was art once made.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 16: Prisms
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong

Quay Brothers record covers

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Institute Benjamenta (1998) by Lech Jankowski.

Continuing an occasional series about artists or designers whose work has appeared on record sleeves. Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve had this one in mind for some time but it’s taken a while to put together. The main problem has been the Quay Brothers’ habit of using a variety of different names when they were working as designers; variations include “Stefen” rather than Stephen Quay, the Brothers Quai, Gebr. Quay, Jumeaux Quay, The Quays, Atelier Koninck (or Koninck Atelier), and so on. The catalogue compilers at Discogs do a good job of keeping up with the alternate names of groups or musical artists but stumble over those used by anyone else associated with an album’s production. Consequently, this collection of covers shouldn’t be taken as complete or final. Some of the discoveries would have been impossible without the checklist of Quays ephemera that accompanied the MoMA exhibition in 2012.

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Blood, Sweat & Tears (1968) by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

This must be one of the earliest of the Quays’ commercial works. As with other covers from the first decade of their career, the credit is for illustration alone, graphic design came later.

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Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 2 In D Major, Violin Concerto No. 5 In A Major (“Turkish”) (197?); Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Zino Francescatti, Edmond De Stoutz.

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George Rochberg: String Quartet No. 3 (1973); The Concord String Quartet.

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Fiction Tales (1981) by Modern Eon.

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Weekend links 356

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Im Hag by ToiToiToi will be Ghost Box 027, available from 12th May. Poster and album design, as always, by Julian House.

• The week in the electronic outer limits: The Haxan Cloak recorded a new piece of music using Moog’s Mother-32 modular synths; The Herzog Tapes is a new album by The Electric Pentacle; and Drew McDowell (ex-Coil, etc) has a new album, Unnatural Channel, out next month. (Vinyl-only, unfortunately, like his previous album.)

• More from Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue by Aubrey Powell: How to design a record cover in 1977. The feature is a duplicate of Storm Thorgerson’s account in the first Hipgnosis book but since that volume has been out of print for decades it stands repeating.

• Talismanic Bookseller: Erik Davis talks to occult-book dealer and musician Richard Bishop talks about modern grimoires, scorpion gods, Orientalist imagery, and hunting down physical books in the age of the Internet.

Arbery Books, “the UK’s leading online dealer in rare and secondhand books and ephemera of gay, lesbian and transgender interest”, is closing its website at the end of May so there’s a sale on.

Amours Secrètes: Dans L’intimité Des Écrivains, an art book about the secret loves of five French writers: Marcel Proust, Pierre Loti, Renaud Icard, Roger Peyrefitte and Jean Genet.

• Ancient Methods and Futuristic Visions: Mark Pilkington & Michael J. York of Teleplasmiste answer 15 questions.

• Mix of the week: Homer Flynn, spokesperson of The Residents, compiles a playlist for The Wire.

Adrian Searle on Queer British Art 1861–1967 at Tate Britain: “strange, sexy, heartwrenching”.

Strange Flowers on August Endell (1871–1925) and the trees of spring.

Urania (1995) by Panasonic | Pan Finale (2010) by Pan Sonic | 5′ 42” (2014) by Pan Sonic

Monsieur René Magritte, a film by Adrian Maben

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Until the end of his life, [Magritte] preferred to take the tram.

Now there’s an attitude I approve of. George Melly in his BBC film about Surrealism mentions visiting Magritte at his home in Brussels, and we see Magritte’s house at the beginning of Adrian Maben’s 50-minute film about the artist’s life and work. Maben’s film was made in 1978 as an Franco-German TV production but the narration, by Maben himself, is in English. Surrealism seemed to be back in vogue in 1978: as mentioned yesterday, the Hayward Gallery in London staged an exhibition of Surrealist art that year, the BBC commissioned George Melly’s film as a result of this, while over on rival network ITV there was the marvellous documentary about Surrealist patron Edward James who modelled for one of Magritte’s most famous paintings, La reproduction interdite (1937).

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Adrian Maben’s name will be familiar to Pink Floyd obsessives as the director of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972), and if you’re familiar with that film you can recognise the same shooting style in his Magritte film which deploys similar slow zooms, tracking shots and images sliding in and out of the frame. The music is credited to a surprising combination of Béla Bartók (mostly piano) and Roger Waters, although some of the pieces from the latter are actually by Pink Floyd, there’s even some of the opening of Obscured By Clouds. In style and content the film is as good as anything the BBC were producing at the time, with extracts from a TV interview with the artist, and also some of Magritte’s high-spirited home movies made with his wife and friends.

Magritte and Pink Floyd are a fitting match, some of the Floyd’s album covers could be Magritte paintings rendered photographically: two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire; a giant pig adrift over a power station. Storm Thorgerson always acknowledged the debt that Hipgnosis owed Magritte’s example, it’s there in the title of the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René, and in this short Tate interview from 2011 where he mentions the Wish You Were Here album as being a very conscious Magritte homage.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

Robert Fludd’s Temples of Music

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For the past week I’ve been downloading more of the books at the Internet Archive illustrated by Matthäus Merian. Among the hoard there’s a two-volume set of Robert Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia (1617–1626), a remarkable work which attempts to cover all the metaphysical, scientific and artistic knowledge of the time, opening modestly with a detailed description of the creation of the universe. The illustrations for these volumes by Merian and Johann de Bry are so good they’ve been plundered endlessly, not only in later books but in the general culture; I’ve swiped details myself on more than one occasion so—once again—it’s good to see an original printing with all the accompanying text, and also all the less familiar treatises and pictures.

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One area of Fludd’s study concerns music, a subject which Merian and De Bry illustrate using a variety of graphic devices, the most fanciful of which are the “Temples of Music” displaying the notes and divisions of the Pythagorean scale. The largest of the drawings was printed onto a fold-out sheet which explains the unfortunate tear in this copy. I love all the details on this one, some of which are rather unusual: who are the people underneath the temple in the room with the furnace? What are they doing, and why are they naked?

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