I’m sure there are some of you who’ve already heard of UK sound artist Janek Schaefer. He has, after all, been recording and creating sound installations for past 20 years, and he even won the British Composer of the Year award in Sonic Art a few years ago. But, personally, I hadn’t heard of Schaefer until I heard a track from his new album on Tom Ravenscroft’s BBC 6Music radio show this evening.
Lay-by Lullaby, released this week on the 12K music label, uses “location recordings made in the middle of the night above the M3 motorway, right at the end of the road where JG Ballard lived, a couple of miles from Schaefer’s studio on the far west edge of London.”
Now, admittedly, the M3 has a special place in my psyche — I drove up and down it rather a lot in my late teens, often late at night — but more significantly Ballard also wrote his “seminal works on car culture” — Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974) – as the motorway was being built past the front of his house.
Schaefer’s 73 minute album was created last year as an installation for his show ’Collecting Connections’ at the Agency gallery in London. Apparently the sounds were played on infinite loop through a car radio installed in a little leather travel case and amplified by a pair of reclining traffic cones.
In other Ballard news, director Ben Wheatley announced earlier this week that he would start shooting his adaptation of High-Rise in June with Tom Hiddleston in the lead role.
The teaser poster for the film was created by artist Jay Shaw. You can read more about Shaw’s work, including his poster for Wheatley’s current film, A Field in England, which opened in New York this week, in Adrian Curry’s column for MUBI this week.
Sara Wood kindly let me know that fellow designer Steve Attardo has not only started his own freelance studio NinetyNorth Design, but also delivered this rather fine jacket design for Laline Paull’s forthcoming novel The Bees.
The book’s publisher Ecco has put together a rather nice trailer based on Steve’s cover design. It was conceptualized by Ecco’s art director Allison Saltzman and animated by Justin Cassano:
“Are you filming, or am I wasting my fucking time?”
A short film by Jamie Roberts about British fashion photographer David Bailey, who I will forever associate with David Hemmings propeller-purchasing photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up:
Author Rachel Kushner discusses her novel The Flamethrowers(now out in paperback), and the importance of images to her work, with The Quietus:
I’m inspired by visual art and film… Whether or not I’m writing about those mediums directly, as I sometimes do in Flamethrowers, I’m always thinking about images… I always wanted to have images in a book, and with [The Flamethrowers], after I got to have my choice of the image on the North American cover, I got a little bold, and asked about putting images inside. My editor said yes, so I quickly put together a short list of ideal visual passages. I didn’t want anything that would illustrate the narrative. I wanted, instead, images as kind of pauses, or counterpoints, but that would complicate, function in a relation, but not an obvious one. There’s a Richard Prince image, and he’s a shadow presence over the course of the book (one of the characters is also the name of Prince’s alter-ego, John Dogg). There’s a photograph by Aldo Bonasia, of a riot and police tear-gassing the rioters, in Italy. There’s a still from the movie Wanda, which figures in the book…
Funnily enough, I have feeling that Scribner have actually stuck closer to the hardcover for the front of the US paperback edition and slapped needless award stickers all over it, but I prefer the restraint of the version above left. The cover on the right is the UK paperback — a vast improvement on that mystifying hardcover).
Llewyn is the solitary fame seeker, doomed to be disappointed. Perhaps the Coens think he needs a brother to accompany him or be his manager, rather than his critical sister? Always he sings alone… and glares when the audience or even a friend tries to join in. For a story about the folk scene of the 1950s, there is little sense of the unconfined energies of the period, the sense of bonding and belonging that someone like Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, or a host of others could elicit in their audiences. Nor is there anything in Inside Llewyn Davis about the politics that the folk movement wore so explicitly on its sleeve.
Pete Seeger was nothing like Llewyn Davis. He was an emissary from the Popular Front of the 1930s, when leftwing politics was merged with American history and ideals through theater, art, and song. He had a long, rich life, long enough to see changes in American culture unimaginable in the 1950s, and he kept singing. And we, whenever we weren’t too cool to do so, sang along with him.
“Supercut Genius” Nelson Carvajal has put together a seven-minute tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who died on Sunday, aged 46. Surely one of the greatest actors of his generation, Hoffman’s extraordinary range and versatility are on full display in the video.
In the seething, druggy summer of 1969, a room in the Chelsea hotel gave me my first view of New York. The establishment – a Queen Anne folly with a rooftop pyramid on West 23rd Street, opened in 1884 – was not quite the dream palace of Sherill Tippins’s title: it struck me more as a trauma ward. Pimps and pushers loitered in the lobby; a transvestite dispensed room keys behind a shield of bulletproof glass; a trip upstairs in the elevator could get you high in more ways than one, given the captive cloud of pot fumes in the clanking box. The marble stairwell resounded to the ululations of resident rock bands, and once in a corridor I collided with shaggy Janis Joplin, awash in a swill of Librium, tranquillisers and heroin topped up by Southern Comfort, as she staggered towards the overdose that killed her a year later. I had never felt so grubby, so at risk, or so excited.
Mies had dreamed of building skyscrapers since the early 1920s when, as a young architect in Berlin recently returned from the war, he’d been seduced by images of the thrusting New York skyline. Influenced by the utopian futurism of Paul Scheerbart, author of Glasarchitektur, Mies proposed a 20-storey tower completely sheathed in glass. It would have loomed over Berlin like an enormous faceted crystal: each wall was positioned at a slight angle to reflect and refract the light. He was fond of quoting St Augustine – ‘beauty is the radiance of truth’ – and wanted to celebrate rather than disguise structural form. ‘Only skyscrapers under construction reveal the bold constructive thoughts,’ Mies wrote, ‘and then the impression of the high-reaching steel skeletons is overpowering.’ In his glass tower, the bones of the building, with their cantilevered floor slabs, would have been visible through a shimmering, crystalline skin.
The glass skyscraper was, as Schulze and Windhorst put it, ‘beyond the threshold of constructability’ (and would only be possible in the 1970s – Mies was fifty years ahead of his time), but it was intended less as a realistic proposal than a radical, modernist statement. It would thrust him to the forefront of the European avant-garde.
I am very late to this, but Miriam Markowitz’s article for The Nation ‘Here Comes Everybody‘, on women and book publishing in 2013, is well worth reading:
More nuanced fiction that isn’t of an obvious commercial genre—much of which is written by women—often brushes up against the literary. Publishers have various terms for the books that straddle this line. One of the ugliest and yet most useful is “upmarket.” The writers who may be lumped in this category are diverse in their output and their ambitions.
One commercial editor told me that many of her writers once cherished literary aspirations, but that they’re comfortable in the “upmarket” category, in part because it’s more lucrative. “If you cash in on the monetary market, you won’t get prestige. A lot of writers are OK with that.” Few writers have control over their covers, let alone the way their books are marketed, but if an agent or publisher says that this lacy dress or that whispery veil might entice more readers, who are they to object? Readers of literary fiction, especially women, will buy commercial titles as well. But the phenomenal popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey or the Twilight series or Nora Roberts among women who do not specifically identify as “readers” suggests that the reverse is less true. It’s hard to blame women writers for trying their hand at the commercial market when the literary one is so inhospitable.
For writers of work that is unambiguously ambitious, this choice is more difficult in that it may not be an option at all.
“Dimensional typefaces toy with human perception, challenging the limits of cognition. Whether framed by a subtle tint or a bold silhouette, in color or in black and white, a shadow adds bulk, enabling the words to rise voluminously from otherwise flat and unmonumental surfaces. Shadow faces are typographic trompes l’œil, fascimiles of real three-dimensional letters and inscriptions in sculpture and architecture… This sculptural essence of shadow type adds not only to the letters’ visibility, but also to their continuing allure.”
Just thinking about how much Steven Heller writes makes me a little giddy. The renowned art director, educator, design historian, and critic provides a steady stream of design commentary in newspaper, magazine and journal articles (not to mention his blog for Print magazine, The Daily Heller). He has authored, co-authored, or edited over 100 books on design, illustration and typography, including the recent Shadow Type: Classic Three-Dimensional Lettering, co-authored with his partner Louise Fili.
Shadow letters started to make an appearance on merchants’ signs in the 18th-century, and were introduced as metal typefaces as early as 1815, but they did not become common in printed text until later in the 19th-century. After a surge in popularity among printers and their clients, type foundries began to provide a wide selection of styles and sizes, and by the late 19th-century shadow wood type was also in demand, coming in extra-large sizes so it could be used outdoors. “Whether custom drawn, or as metal or wood type, shadow letters animated newspaper and magazine mastheads, product labels, and, indeed, all kinds of signs and posters.”
Published in September last year by Princeton Architectural Press, and distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books, I had the opportunity to ask Steven about Shadow Type, his interest in design ephemera, and how he finds time to write.
Do you remember when you first became interested in design?
I was interested in pictures at an early age. I wanted to be like Jules Feiffer, a comics artist. Design came later. I was studying the work of some German satirists, who were also designers.
Did you grow up in a creative household?
Where did you begin your design career?
At 14 I worked for an ad agency doing RussssTogs. Didn’t go well. It took another 3 years before I was hired by an underground paper to do layouts.
When did you first start writing about design history?
When I was at the NY Times as OpEd art director, I did a little bit of writing on those Germans I mentioned. Then it accelerated to writing about publications and other historical themes.
How do you find the time write?
There’s always time.
Do you still get excited when you hold one of your own books in your hands for the first time?
Yes, the thrill is still there. But the high lasts shorter. An addict gets used to the fix and needs another and another. These days, I don’t rip the envelope right open. I let it sit for hours, so I have something to look forward to. Weird, I guess.
Why did you and Louise decide to write a book on classic three-dimensional lettering?
We did the first one on Scripts. We’ve done series before, they didn’t start out that way, but evolved. This evolved into Shadow Type. I have long loved the dimensional, colourful, sculptural letters.
When was the heyday of ‘shadow type’?
19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Its never gone out of style. But the golden age was late 1880s to 1940s.
Why did it become popular?
Dimensionality on flat surface. Our eyes love to be fooled.
Why do you think there is a renewed interest in ornate typography and lettering?
It comes and goes. I see a shift away again. But it has to do with the joy we get from ornament and I think it parallels what goes on in clothing.
Has Louise’s work contributed the revival of decorative type?
Possibly. But she’s not decorative per se. Her type choices are elegant. She’s about precision and aesthetic pleasure.
Do all the examples in the book come from your own collection?
For Scripts and Shadow yes. And for the next one too, that’s Stencil Type.
Why does design ephemera hold such a fascination for you?
I’ve come up with all sorts of reasons, but the all seem bogus. I feel the stuff somehow represents who I am. But I also love being a repository of history. More than that, I cannot say.
Your son, Nicolas Heller, recently made a film about your den called “The Cave.” What was that experience like?
He’s a great talent. I just set him loose. And he made his film. The stuff in that place should be interpreted by others. The juxtapositions of objects and books are at times wonderful.
What’s Nicolas working on now?
He’s doing a series of documentaries on eccentric New Yorkers called NO YOUR CITY, he’s also filming designers for documentaries produced by Brian Collins.
Do you have a favourite book?
Of my own? I’ve done over 165, but I love Iron Fists. Of other people? There are too many to say.
What books are in your ‘to read’ pile?
I just finished Deborah Solomon’s biography of Norman Rockwell – smartly done. And I finished Year Zero by Ian Buruma about the year 1945, makes the blood chill and boil. On the pile is a thick book about the Beatles. Not sure I’ll get to that.
Is there one book you think all designers should read?