When I was a kid, I got a big, shiny stereo for Christmas.
Yeah, I was pretty privileged. It had really amazing looking colored lights and a multi-disc changer and I was incredibly excited about it. I loved music, because music took me away to other worlds, and this massive device promised to open that portal even wider. I wanted to get lost in it.
There’s something about that kind of sculpted, blinking, crystalline 90’s electronic interface that was perfectly primed to capture the imagination of a tween. I spent so much time drawing swirling forms and sparkling gems and interlocking, organic waves of shining chrome with my colored pencils that the relationship between me and this object felt absolute. I could touch it and it would respond to my feelings, I could gesture with my remote (!) and the wonder would pour forth. It was a cybernetic alter covered with pulsing glyphs of power.
I liked a band called Orgy when I was a teenager (because of course I did) and that was the first CD I inserted into maw of this hungry organism. I skipped to track thirteen (yes I remember), which was called Chasing Sirens, because I’d heard it before and I wanted to hear it on the beast.
I was infatuated with electronic textures at that age and drank in that synth sequence at the beginning, but then there was that sudden bass hit — and I was sitting in front of the speakers, and it vibrated right through my sternum.
This was a depth of sound I hadn’t imagined, and an invitation to force I hadn’t dreamed. By the time the guitars kicked in, my whole body was electrified. I was sucked into a hypertube of translucent purple; I was moving at incredible speed.
If you listen to the way I’m writing about this stuff, it becomes clear that there aren’t super sharp boundaries between my sonic experiences and the rest of my senses. At that age I was obsessed with metaphors of energy flow — I watched cartoons like Dragon Ball where the characters shaped raw emotional power into glowing orbs and used to accomplish physical tasks. So many of the action cartoons and games I played involved channeling a sort of flowing, pulsing force that was undifferentiated — it could become matter, it could become fire, it could become feeling.
I was surprised when I got older and some of my favorite artists echoed this childhood model of the world.
Kanye talks about this kind of thing a lot — how, when he couldn’t make clothes, he made the sonic landscape of Yeezus three-dimensional and stitched it together like fabric. How he feels music, translates it into color, then into lighting and video concepts. The entire modern experience of live music, really, is predicated on this seamless relationship between different forms of media, not just woven together but sourced, somehow, from the same core.
It’s almost as though these artists are working with a sort of “unified synesthetic field” — a landscape of sensory impressions with different features, and different expressions through media products, nevertheless linked by that…energy. It might be that thinking like a Dragon Ball character is the most productive way to think about contemporary branding. Where do you want your energy to go? What do you want it to become?
Imagine a rough texture versus a smooth texture, bright colors versus muted ones, powerful sounds versus soft sounds, sharp versus sweet tastes. What expresses you?
This is the kind of thinking that allows you to create brands, and that allows you to solve communication problems across different types of media. This is how you dream big, and how you create something that destroys current categories — you think outside them. Everything is the same thing. You want to know why artists and branding practitioners are talking about “energy” all the time? That’s why.
Did you ever pretend to shoot fireballs out of your hands? Reach back to your childhood and remember the magic.
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