Monday, September 20, 2010
The fine folks at Soundscreen have been producing an incredible pairing of music-inspired design and art in their Artist Music Journals. For their 10th release in the series, they called upon Brian Roettinger, the man behind the design studio Hand Held Heart.
In turn, they received something wonderful and unexpected - not only did Roettinger create the desired book of art, but he also created new music along with the band No Age, a group he is well known for collaborating with visually. That combination has led to Grammy nominations for packaging in the past, and now it gives back to the ears as well as the eyes, with an exclusive 10" record accompanying the book.
We had a chance to pair designer and author John Foster with Brian, to discuss the new release as well as his relationship with music and his design upbringing. Listen in.
It's rare that a designer gets to have an intimate relationship with a label - much less a specific artist these days - yet you have this concrete bond with No Age - what brought you all together, and more importantly, what has tightened that hold as the years have moved forward?
Dean and I grew up in neighboring neighborhoods. I am a few years older then him. We were both into skateboarding and punk. He was in a band called Unit End and I was in a band called Phil's Throne (w/ Aaron Hemphill from Liars). Years later we would reconnect via shows at The Smell and he told me that he use to see Phil's Throne play.
The collaboration has gone so well because not only do we seem to share a very similar in interest in visual aesthetics, but that in each collaboration, much like conceptual art, the "idea" or "ideas" always takes precedence over the aesthetics. It's always the most important factor in the collaboration and to share that mode of thinking really bonds us together.
How did you decide to collaborate with the band musically and what surprised you about the results?
We spoke about it for awhile. Rather than design, let's try our collaboration on their side of the fence with music, and with the AMJ, it made the most sense, the joining of music and art. I've made music by myself as a side project and just as a general time waster, as I rarely keep anything or do anything with what I've made.
There is a strong theme in the black and white work here, as well as a ton of imagery - is this something you were working/ruminating on before the music portion came about or only after?
It really happened before, during, and after the music, but the general sense of how I wanted the music to feel and work with the book was always there as somewhat of a series of soundscapes or sound collages based on field recordings and samples we made or collected.
This is a change in your relationship with Soundscreen (you did their identity work.) What was it like coming in as an "artist" they are publishing as opposed to their "designer?"
My "design" and "art" process share similar responsibilities, in that my primary focus is about presenting an idea rooted from an idea, sometimes that is clear - sometimes it's not. What differs is that usually the design involves a client who, unfortunately in the end, has the final say. With my "art" and the AMJ, it was really up to me on what I wanted to do, or in this case, not do.
How did they respond to the idea of putting out a limited edition record to go with the book this time - the first time that has happened in the Artist Music Journal Series.
They were just as excited about it as we were, as long as it was affordable and the final piece was in the same price range as the others in the series.
Some of your work has a lot of production bells and whistles and then others seem to cling to a lo-fi application- with equal success - is that a budget (gallery vs indie band) or conceptual consideration?
It's a little bit of both, but more importantly, it depends on the basis of the project and presentation of the content regardless of its exhibition catalog, monograph or 7-inch record. The form and material, is for me, always a by-product of the idea - although I really enjoy and embrace the quality and "crappy printing" or lo-fi printing techniques like photocopying, Riso, screen-printing, newsprint (Webpress). These are all cheap modes of production that have become aesthetically pleasing regardless of budgets. Coming from a DIY background, I have always been budget conscious (Soundscreen would probably laugh at this) and very hands-on and involved in every step of the process from production, to making, to distribution.
Did you study under Louise Sandhaus at CalArts? What is it like being a student there and then returning as a professor?
Louise was my design instructor during my second year. The year most designers either make it over the hump or shit the bed trying, and transfer over to experimental animation. My first year of teaching I still felt like a student. I had only been out of school for a two years and was teaching a class that I took, in a studio that I spent 18 hours a day in for a year. It was my home away from home and to come back as an instructor was somewhat abstract.
(Super "inside" question - did you do any of the REDCAT posters while there? I will have to see if your work featured in an article I did on the program in 05. Might have just missed you.)
Yeah I did a poster in 2004. I think it was the first poster the museum produced. Here it is:
How much do you think that "CalArts" mode of thinking about typography influences your work even today?
I think, like most designers, the form typography takes and the importance of language is something that were all obsessed with and is a huge part of my process when it comes to design. This was even before CalArts, but CalArts taught me how to really look and understand with a critical eye.
How difficult has it been to stay small and nimble as a studio and what are the benefits and drawbacks to working that way?
It's difficult when you're on the cusp of having way too much work to do by yourself, but not enough work to be able to pay someone to be around full-time - so I have friends who freelance on projects every now and then. The unfortunate thing about having a lot of projects is that I spend a lot more time emailing and project managing than I do designing.
What does the immediate future hold for Hand Held Heart and who would be your dream artist to work with next?
Easy, if Dieter Roth and Joseph Beuys came back from the dead.
To wrap it up on a light note, everyone loves lists. Even random lists. Jon (who runs this operation over here) and I both love this game where you list out the first 5 songs to come up on random shuffle on your itunes/ipod - no cheating and eliminating embarrassing Vanilla Ice (the metal version, nothing embarrassing about those smooth raps.) Go!
1. Lil' Wayne - Let The Beat Build
2. Def Leppard - Photograph
3. Syd Barrett - Wouldn't You Miss Me (Dark Globe)
4. 52nd Street - Cool As Ice
5. Run DMC - Son of Byford
Instead of just talking about the book and 10" you've got an opportunity to put one in your hands in exchange for your feedback in the comments to this post. Let us know why Soundscreen should send you above all a copy, and the best of the bunch nabs the book.
We'll give you a week to drum up the perfect response and remember to leave us a contact email address and by signing up for the giveaway, you'll also get to hear more about Soundscreen's awesome products! Contest closes at noon 9/27.
Posted by Jon at 10:47 AM