Of Music Albums and Artwork — Reminiscing the Glorious Days
If you are one of those who absolutely love the back-stories of album artworks and associated installations, read on…
In fine arts, when you make a painting, it’s just a painting. But if you make a painting in the entertainment industry, it can be an album cover or a t-shirt or a logo. I like that entertainment has this usefulness — that it’s ultimately trying to make a bunch of people feel something, and to think about life and be able to use things that were so simple and direct but potentially have a really powerful effect. — Andrew W.K., American Singer-Songwriter
As a kid in late 80s and early 90s, I was enamoured at the sight of colourful clothes, paintings and even books! Yes, I would pick up books judging them by their covers! Take, for example, the evergreen Moby books titled “Illustrated Classic Editions”. With their attractive cover art that incorporated vibrant colours and their compact size, these were instant purchases for me!
Every year on Children’s Day (In India, it’s celebrated on 14th November, the birthday of our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in remembrance of his love for children), there was a book exhibition organised on a grand scale, that featured many a treasure for a curious youngster like me. Priced at Rs. 10 (~30c at that time), I would pick up these books and not read them for days or even months but I would love and admire the artwork, consuming them in totality, including replicating the images as drawings. If you’ve come this far in reading this article, I am glad I was never alone in this beautiful journey!
Relationship with Visual Art — Those Memorable Covers
We all have a relationship with visual art — be it our unique interpretation of it, or an emotional connect with it, reliving moments in time that are otherwise hazy. I am sure we have our own favourites and I’d love to hear about yours in the comments. This relationship with visual art seems esoteric, with much left inexplicable from a scientific perspective. I have had a fascination for album covers since childhood. As Gabrielle Aplin, English Singer-Songwriter, says -
I feel very English. I’m proud of it. I wanted there to be a thread connecting everything, the songs, clothes, artwork, even the string arrangements. It all creates a certain atmosphere.
Those legendary covers of Pink Floyd (A big thanks to Storm Thorgerson), with their minimalism and simplicity, were strikingly bold and interpretive. With the band preferring to have art instead of their photo as their album covers, this had a huge impact on my psyche as I grew up with their music. Come to think of it, these were installations and required considerable creative thought and acumen for execution — prior to the days of graphic art.
Hugh Syme is another inspirational artist. A member of the band Rush and the person responsible for all their album artwork, his works are brilliant, conceptual art — Clockwork Angels, for example. He also designed album covers for Megadeth (Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia) among others.
As a contrast to minimalism, two album covers stand out in their complexity of design and detail — Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band.
And yes, those endless back-stories and trivia — Dark Side of The Moon and its 6 colour-spectrum, missing Indigo or Mahatma Gandhi eliminated from the legendary Beatles’ album cover as it was thought that it might not be sellable in India (the irony being Occultist Alistair Crawley finds a place in it!).
When you grow up with such back-stories and rich trivia embedded in visuals, you can’t help but create one for your own debut album. That’s exactly what I have attempted with my debut album “Think Void”.
A multi-genre instrumental music album inspired by the element Ether and its physical embodiment in the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram, India, the cover had to be minimalistic, ethereal, spacey and have visual elements accentuating the album’s concepts.
- The Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram
Dedicated to the element Ether (Akasha in Sanskrit) or the Void, the temple is home to the Cosmic Dance of Lord Shiva in the form of Nataraja (King of Dance and Music). There still exists a unique dual form of anthropomorphic-aniconic worship. In the sanctum is a Nataraja bronze, next to an empty curtained space, representing him as the element Akasha or Ether/Void. Much more than in the western or Judaeo-Christian world view, the philosophic concepts that have only recently emanated out of modern physics, such as the complementarity of matter and energy, seem to have been to an extent intuitively appreciated centuries ago in India. This metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art, and modern physics. Additionally, ancient temple writings seem to signify an alignment of the Nataraja idol with the winter solstice of the Northern Hemisphere — celebrated as a 10-day Arudra festival at the temple.
A notion of great revelation for me was that Lord Nataraja is the Orion Constellation with the Arudra Nakshatra (Betelgeuse). Hence, the ethereal image of Orion constellation and the Nataraja idol on the earlobe in the album cover — As is Above, So is Below!
As per the scriptures, the element Ether or Void is associated with sound and can only be sensed by the human ear. As per Science, the human body is contralateral i.e. the right-hemisphere of the human brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa. With the right-hemisphere signifying spatial, cognitive and creative areas of the brain, evidently it would control the left ear, in terms of sound. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that the left ear recognises music and tones while the right ear recognises speech.
Instrumental music can be detected through the element of sound, Ether, by the Left Ear — Therefore, the ensemble of Nataraja and the Left Ear in the album cover.
2. Dodecahedron and Icosahedron
From Wikipedia, Sacred geometry ascribes symbolic and sacred meanings to certain geometric shapes and certain geometric proportions. Known as 12-pointed star, a stellated dodecahedron is a polyhedron consisting of 3 tetrahedrons. In real world, double merkabah represents a stellated dodecahedron. While it stands for 12 sides, it is composed of 3 tetrahedrons having 4 sides each.
It represents the structure of nature, Ether and Consciousness, and the linear means to describe the structure of Consciousness. As per sacred geometry, it is supposed to contain within it, all the other geometric solids.
The album is structured around 3 metaphors, namely, World, Void and Web, with 4 songs in each — much like the 3 Tetrahedrons that make a Dodecahedron. Hence, the Dodecahedron on the album cover!
3. Stone Circle at Castlerigg and Icosahedron
Certain celestial truths were recorded in megalithic monuments owing to the systematic observation of their effects. The empirical truths of early civilisations continue to have interpretive implications and lasting cultural significance — A publicly available excerpt from the Book “Heaven, Earth & Humankind” by William Wadsworth.
Castlerigg Stone circle located near Keswick, England is one of the most dramatically situated circles in England with views of Cumbrian mountains on all sides. The circle is important to archaeo-astronomers who have noted that the sunrise during the Autumn equinox appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, a hill 3.5 km to the east. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions. One of the four alignments defined by the construction lines of the circle reveals the feat of indicating two solar events in the Neolithic calendar at opposite ends of the alignment — Summer and Winter Solstice! Tie this with the winter solstice at the Nataraja temple (Arudra)! Impressively, this early geometry had the capacity to establish at the Castlerigg site, the point of most southerly moon rising, using mathematics of geometric solids. Within the stone circle is a complex geometric shape of Icosahedron (A solid figure with twenty plane faces, especially equilaterally triangular.), created by the waveforms of the stones!
Dodecahedron and Icosahedron are known as Dual Polyhedra. By the duality principle, for every polyhedron, there exists another polyhedron in which faces and vertices occupy complementary locations. This polyhedron is known as the dual, or reciprocal. The process of taking the dual is also called reciprocation, or polar reciprocation. With Dodecahedron and Icosahedron being complementary, the serendipity of selecting a seemingly random photo on Internet, of Orion at Castlerigg (of Icosahedron) as a part of the album portraying Ether (of Dodecahedron) was absolutely mystifying!
At the Castlerigg Stone Circle, the moonset in the summer and winter solstice is marked by 2 stones, within a span of 12 — The coincidences seem to be endless, with the album having 12 songs!
As with any creative and for any creative person, this album has been nothing short of an experiential journey for me. The album’s artwork is a humble attempt to bring together a snapshot of the research that has gone into the making of this album — “Think Void”.
To put it in a nutshell, I’d say — Ether is all-pervading i.e. it is smaller than the smallest yet bigger than the biggest in the Universe — Serendipity brought these concepts together during the production of this album. Coincidence is within it!