Art Record Covers: A Book of Over 500 Album Covers Created by Famous Visual Artists

The list of musicians who are also visual artists goes on and on. We’re all familiar with the biggest names: David Bowie, Patti Smith, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, etc, etc, etc. Lesser-known alternative and indie artists like Stone Roses guitarist John Squire and Austin singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston created iconic imagery that adorned their album covers and merchandise.

Such multitalented individuals embody the kinship of sound and vision. But so too do the many collaborations between musicians and fine artists—hundreds of whom have gifted their talents to album covers of every conceivable kind.

Aside from obvious, historic examples (Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground covers come immediately to mind) such collaborations are often hiding in plain sight. Perhaps you did not know, for example, that the alluring yet mysterious deep blue photograph of Björk on the cover of her remix album Telegram is by Nobuyoshi Araki, one of Japan’s most admired and prolific fine art photographers.

Maybe you were unaware of how Conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, whose work “speaks truth to power,” contributed to the look of the 90s activist industrial hip-hop group Consolidated. Or how Yayoi Kusama leant her eye-popping dots to Towa Tei’s bouncy, electronic pop for the former Deee-Lite DJ’s 2013 album Lucky.

We all know that Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, features an iconic cover photo by her friend Robert Mapplethorpe. But did you know that the cover of Metallica’s 1996 album Load is a photographic study by artist Andreas Serrano—of Piss Christ fame—that mingles cow blood and his own semen between sheets of plexiglass?

You’ll find hundreds more such collaborations, though few as visceral, in Taschen’s new book Art Record Covers, a celebration of sound and vision in popular music. True to the arts publisher’s reputation for coffee table books the size of coffee tables, this survey is a comprehensive as they come.

The book presents 500 covers and records by visual artists from the 1950s through to today, exploring how modernism, Pop Art, Conceptual Art, postmodernism, and various forms of contemporary art practice have all informed this collateral field of visual production and supported the mass distribution of music with defining imagery that swiftly and suggestively evokes an aural encounter.

Along the way, we find Jean-Michel Basquiat’s urban hieroglyphs for his own Tartown record label, Banksy’s stenciled graffiti for Blur, Damien Hirst’s symbolic skull for the Hours, and a skewered Salvador Dalí butterfly on Jackie Gleason’s Lonesome Echo.

Editor Francesco Spampinato, an art historian studying at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, has mostly kept the focus on pop, rock, punk, metal, alternative, and indie. Including the full breadth of jazz, avant-garde, and other world musics would offer examples enough to justify another volume or two of Art Record Covers.

The focus is suitably broad, nonetheless, to show how “visual and music production have had a particularly intimate relationship… since the dawn of modernism…. From Luigi Russolo’s 1913 Futurist manifesto L’Arte dei Rumori (The Art of Noise) to Marcel Duchamp’s 1925 double-sided discs Rotoreliefs.” It's also a great way to discover new art and new music, and to see the interrelationships between them in entirely new ways. Order a copy of Art Record Covers here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Witness Rush Drummer Neil Peart’s (RIP) Finest Moments On Stage and Screen

Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart died this past Tuesday at age 67. Tributes have poured in from bands like Tool, Foo Fighters, and Superchunk and appeared in the pages of The New Yorker, a testament to Peart’s status as both a musician and writer. Drummers of all genres revere him, even if they don’t quite get the breadth of literary, mythological, and philosophical references in the band’s dense, epic song cycles.

Nor have Peart’s literary admirers always understood his technical virtuosity behind the kit. But it was never necessary to fully grok his brilliant contributions to Rush’s output to appreciate them—from his first album with the band, 1975’s Fly by Night, to his last, 2012’s Clockwork Angels. Certainly not all Rush fans shared Peart’s onetime fondness for the work of Ayn Rand, which influenced the band’s 1976 breakout album, 2112. Peart later claimed her work “no longer resonated with him,” as Annie Zaleski writes at NPR, and called himself a “bleeding heart libertarian.”

Yet even fans who loathe Atlas Shrugged don’t seem to feel the influence unduly compromised Peart’s creativity. His influences were vast and his “love of literature and reverence for history deeply informed his songwriting… he became known for his philosophical musings on road life and restless souls; critiques of power and greed; fantasy-tinged vignettes; and incisive political and social commentary, cloaked in metaphor.” For all their self-seriousness, Rush wasn’t immune to humor either.

2012 was all of these things, with a sprawling, epic fantasy/sci-fi, 20-minute opening title track, followed by an ode to pot called “A Passage to Bangkok,” in which Peart names “various cities and countries around the world where it is cultivated,” The New Yorker’s Amanda Petrusich writes, and proclaims “We only stop for the best!” Rush could wink at their goofiness while also fully embracing it without reservation, in “a kind of fuck-it abandon.”

Rush assembled an audience not by “extensive radio play or critical adulation or corporate positioning” but good old word of mouth from dumbstruck fans. They did secure their first U.S. record deal through radio play, however, right after Peart joined the band in 1974. Donna Halper—then a DJ at Cleveland radio station WMMS, now an associate professor of media studies at Lesley University—played their single “Working Man,” which “promptly took off,” notes Zaleski.

Halper explains why Peart earned the nickname “The Professor,” saying that “above all, his lyrics made people think—Rush fans were liberal, conservative, religious, non-religious—but they all united around their respect for the band and their admiration for how Neil could articulate their experiences, or give them a new way to look at an issue.”

As a musician, Peart made thousands of drummers feel the same way. “I still vividly remember my first listen of 2112, when I was young,” Dave Grohl wrote on the Foo Fighters Instagram page. “It was the first time I really listened to a drummer. And since that day, music has never been the same.” Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins had a more succinct statement: “Neil Peart had the hands of God. End of story.”

Peart’s own story may have ended but his musical and lyrical legacy will outlive us all. See clips of his incredible performances over the years above—on stages around the world and the set of David Letterman, in tours de force that show off not only his technical mastery, but also show how his drumming drew on as broad a range of influences as his songwriting.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Discover the Apprehension Engine: Brian Eno Called It “the Most Terrifying Musical Instrument of All Time”

Apart from the occasional Blair Witch Project, scary movies need scary scores. But much like making a genuinely scary movie, composing genuinely scary music becomes more of a challenge all the time. By now, even the most timid moviegoers among us have surely grown inured to the throbbing bass, the tense strings, and all the other standard, increasingly clichéd instrumental techniques used to generate a sense of ominousness. Given the ever-growing pressure to come up with more effectively dread-inducing music, the invention of the Apprehension Engine was surely inevitable. A part of the studio of film composer Mark Korven, it looks unlike any other musical instrument in existence, and sounds even more so.

With a normal instrument, says Korven in the Great Big Story Video above, "you're expecting it to have a sound that is pleasing." But with the Apprehension Engine, "the goal is to just produce sounds that, in this case, are disturbing." What we hear is less music than a sonic approximation of the abyss itself, which somehow emerges from his manipulation of a variety of strings, bars, wheels, and bows attached to a wooden box — as analog a device as one would ever encounter in the 21st century. "I originally commissioned the Apprehension Engine because I was tired of the same digital samples, which resulted in a lot of sameness," says Korven. "I was looking for something more experimental, more acoustic, that would give me a little more of an original sound."

Luthier Tony Duggan-Smith rose to the challenge of crafting the Apprehension Engine. "You're dealing with things that stir primal emotions and feelings," says Duggan-Smith of the sound of the instrument. Korven thinks of it as "not music in the traditional sense at all," but "it definitely evokes emotion, so I would call it music." In a composition career more than three decades long,  Korven has learned a thing or two about how to evoke emotion with sound. His best-known work so far is the score of Robert Eggers' The Witch, which no less a horror and suspense connoisseur than Stephen King has named as one of his favorite movies of all time. "The Witch scared the hell out of me," King tweeted. "And it's a real movie, tense and thought-provoking as well as visceral." And as the guitar-playing, music-loving King understands, we react to nothing more viscerally than that which we hear.

Though the first Apprehension Engine was built by its very nature as a unique instrument, it hasn't remained a one-off. The first Apprehension Engine begat an improved second version, or "V2," and now, according to the instrument's official site, "there is an official V2+ model which we are ready to produce in small numbers." Upgrades include custom magnetic pickups, a "Hurdy Gurdy mechanism," and your choice of two different mounting locations for the reverb tank. A handmade Apprehension Engine of your own won't come cheap, and all production runs will no doubt sell out as quickly as the first one did, but if you need to strike true horror into the hearts of your listeners, can you afford not to consider what Brian Eno, no stranger to the outer limits of sonic possibility, has called "the most terrifying musical instrument of all time"?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” & Other Bob Dylan Classics, Sung Beautifully by Kids

New Zealander David Antony Clark grew up with the music of Bob Dylan, and, like many his age, felt sad that the youngun’s had no idea who that was. Instead of moaning, he decided to produce Kids Sing Bob Dylan, an 11-track CD of covers sung by the Starbugs, Clark’s children’s group.

Before you flinch, check the YouTube clip above. These kids can actually sing, right? The harmonies are there...I mean possibly cleaned up a bit with technology, I can’t say for sure.

Here’s “Forever Young,” from Dylan’s 1974 Planet Waves. An appropriate song for this quintet: Jessie Hillel, Rebecca Jenkins, Sarah Whitaker, Ben Anderson, and Roisin Anderson, all from Wellington, NZ, and raging in age from 7 to 15.

According to a article on the release, Jessie Hillel said about the recording: "Hearing and listening to him was really fun. But you can do whatever you want to the songs, but at the same time I really wanted to have his standard because he did such a good job. I feel proud of myself, it's just so good."

Ben Anderson, age 12, was the only one with previous knowledge of Dylan: “"I'd heard about him a few times before, I was really excited. He's a really good singer, just the emotion that he puts into his songs, I was really excited to sing them. I was really nervous that I wouldn't live up to it, and do it right, but it got easier as the song went on."

Now, you might have noticed two things from a quick listen. One of the younger kids, Jessie Hillel, might be small, but she packs a voice from someone twice her age. (She handles the lower range in the harmonies.) The other thing: these videos are from 2011.

Where is Jessie now? Funny you ask:

In 2012 she made her way onto the finals of New Zealand’s Got Talent, and in 2016 she sang Puccini in Melbourne. She’s currently studying music in Melbourne and is in a jazz-fusion band called Jakal.

Sarah Whitaker also has her own music channel on YouTube.

Funny about kids--they grow up right in front of your eyes.

via Boing Boing

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Pink Floyd Films a Concert in an Empty Auditorium, Still Trying to Break Into the U.S. Charts (1970)

It’s hard to imagine that in the late 60s, the band who would become the most famous of the psychedelic era was still an obscurity to most U.S. listeners. Nowadays “Pink Floyd may be the only rock band that can credibly be compared to both the Beatles and Spinal Tap,” writes Bill Wyman in a Vulture retrospective of their entire catalogue. Indeed, it’s possible their stadium-sized popularity has been underestimated. According to the data, they’ve actually sold more albums worldwide than the Fab Four.

But they had to pay dues in the States. “In the last week of April 1973,” notes KQED’s Richie Unterberger, Dark Side of the Moon “reached No. 1 on the American charts. In the last week of April 1970, though, they had yet to crack the U.S. Top 50 after three years of recording and performing.”

Their first singer/songwriter, and later tragic muse, Syd Barrett, had come and gone after their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. They were already well into what Wyman describes as the second phase of “four, or arguably five, Pink Floyds.”

This version “was one of the founders of progressive rock, a psychedelic, space-rock-y, quasi-improvisational ensemble.” They were excellent live musicians and masters of mood and atmosphere. But their experimental direction didn’t sell. “At that point, they were really anxious to have whatever publicity they could,” says Jim Farber, who co-produced the hour-long TV concert film above for KQED, San Francisco’s public television station.

We did not have much of a budget. Pink Floyd did the performance and offered the rights for a certain number of airings for practically nothing. My memory is we paid them $200.

The band played in the empty Fillmore Auditorium for a film crew. The venue wasn’t empty because no one showed up. They could draw a crowd and had already played the Fillmore West and toured the U.S. three times. But, “for as strong an underground following as they were building in the United States,” writes Unterberger, they “were so eager for an American audience that they played a free concert at UCLA a week later” after the KQED taping.

The station, which in 1970 “was more known for Sesame Street than psychedelic rock,” had already begun to move into concert films. “Local icons” like “Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service all got airtime.” But Pink Floyd was something different indeed. The film, broadcast in January of ’71, “got an incredibly positive response when we aired it in San Francisco,” says Farber. “After that, it had two national broadcasts on PBS.”

You can watch the full “Hour with Pink Floyd,” as the program was called, just above. At the top, see the band play “Astronomy Domine” in footage cut from the original broadcast. Further up, see the sixteen minute “Atom Heart Mother,” a testament to how far out Pink Floyd could go, and how much a local public television station was willing to go with them. The track opens with five minutes of aerial footage of the San Joaquin Valley, the band nowhere in sight. When Pink Floyd finally arrives onscreen, the desert vistas continue to weave in and out.

In “Grantchester Meadows,” below, forest sounds and images introduce the song. The effect was to translate the mystique British listeners associated with Pink Floyd to U.S. audiences just on the verge of being blown away by a very different-sounding band who released Dark Side of the Moon three years later.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Coltrane’s Handwritten Outline for His Masterpiece A Love Supreme

Today we present a rare document from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History: Coltrane's handwritten outline of his groundbreaking jazz composition A Love Supreme.

Recorded in December of 1964 and released in 1965, A Love Supreme is Coltrane's personal declaration of his faith in God and his awareness of being on a spiritual path. "No road is an easy one," writes Coltrane in a prayer at the bottom of his own liner notes for the album, "but they all go back to God."

If you click the image above and examine a larger copy of the manuscript, you will notice that Coltrane has written the same sentiment at the bottom of the page. "All paths lead to God." The piece is made up of a progression of four suites. The names for each section are not on the manuscript, but Coltrane eventually called them "Acknowledgement," "Resolution," "Pursuance" and "Psalm."

In the manuscript, Coltrane writes that the "A Love Supreme" motif should be "played in all keys together." In the recording of "Acknowledgement," Coltrane indeed repeats the basic theme near the end in all keys, as if he were consciously exhausting every path. As jazz historian Lewis Porter, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music, tells NPR in the piece below:

Coltrane more or less finished his improvisation, and he just starts playing the "Love Supreme" motif, but he changes the key another time, another time, another time. This is something very unusual. It's not the way he usually improvises. It's not really improvised. It's something that he's doing. And if you actually follow it through, he ends up playing this little "Love Supreme" theme in all 12 possible keys. To me, he's giving you a message here.

In section IV of the manuscript, for the part later named "Psalm," Coltrane writes that the piece is a "musical recitation of prayer by horn," and is an "attempt to reach transcendent level with orchestra rising harmonies to a level of blissful stability at the end." Indeed, in the same NPR piece which you can listen to below, Rev. Franzo Wayne King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco describes how his congregation one day discovered that Coltrane's playing corresponds directly to his prayer at the bottom of the liner notes.

In addition to Porter and King, NPR's Eric Westervelt interviews pianist McCoy Tyner, the last surviving member of Coltrane's quartet. The 13-minute piece, "The Story of 'A Love Supreme,'" is a fascinating overview of one of the great monuments of jazz.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in September 2013.

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38 Major Pop Songs Played with the Exact Same Four Chords: Watch a Captivating Medley Performed by the Axis of Awesome

When we call music a universal language, it’s usually understood to be a metaphor. In its purest theoretical form, music may be more like math—a truly universal language—but in its manifestations in the real world, it resembles more the great diversity of tongues around the globe. Each regional, national, and global music has its grammar of scales, rhythms, and chords, each its syntax of melodies and harmonies, though these share some important commonalities.

The syntax of pop music, like its blues predecessor, consists of standard chord progressions, easily swapped from song to song: repeatable units that form a range of available emotional expression. Want to see that range on full display, in a bravado performance by an Australian comedy rock band? Look no further: just above, the Axis of Awesome perform their live rendition of “4 Chord Song,” a stunning medley of pop hits from Journey to Missy Higgins that all use the same four-chord sequence.

With the exception of an original composition, “Birdplane,” the ensemble’s selection of 38 songs includes some of the biggest hits of the past few decades. The tonal breadth is surprising, as we leap from “Don’t Stop Believing” to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to “With or Without You” to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Imagine Natalie Imbruglia, Green Day, and Toto trading licks, or Pink, the Beatles, and A-Ha. Maybe these artists have more in common, linguistically speaking, than we thought. Or, as one of the Axis of Awesome bandmember asks, mock-incredulously, “You can take those four chords, repeat them, and pop out every pop song ever?”

Well, maybe not every pop song. One could choose other progressions and make similar compilations. These particular four chords have something of a melancholy sound, and tend to come up music with an undercurrent of sadness (yes, even “Barbie Girl”). One can quibble with some of the particulars here. “Don’t Stop Believing,” for example, throws a different chord into the second phrase of its progression. But the ubiquity of this melody in pop is quite revealing, and amusing in this musical mashup. See the Axis of Awesome in a polished video version of “4 Chord Song,” above, and consider all the other ways pop music recycles and reuses the same elements over and over to convey its range of feelings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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