Denise Burt

Graphic arts and design for music

CD: Michael Gordon – Dystopia

Los Angeles Philharmonic, David Robertson, conductor; Bamberger Symphoniker, Jonathon Nott, conductor

Released on Cantaloupe Music, 2015

 

Read about how this cover art was created on the online version of my book ‘Seeing New Music’ 

 

dystopia-coverdystopia-inside-1

dystopia-inside-2

 

 

Composer Michael Gordon has been collaborating with filmmaker Bill Morrison over many years, on a series of works inspired by big cities. Bill Morrison often uses degraded historical film fragments in his work. They are gorgeous in their patina and create a very distinctive visual style. This CD however, was not to include Bill Morrison’s visuals so I was free to create a new visual interpretation for Gordon’s music.

 

Dystopia, the title work on this release, is one of the pieces in the city series – inspired by Los Angeles. Gordon’s stated goal for the work is to ‘start at high speed and never slow down, like a ride down the freeway at 90 mph with few detours’. It’s fast, chaotic and loud – with all the energy of a mega-city.

 

The other work on the release is Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony where Gordon ‘mashes’ Beethoven’s 7th – ‘at the time it was written, it was probably the loudest music on the planet.’

 

He takes a fragments or ideas from Beethoven’s symphony as inspiration to create something entirely new for each of the four movements. He described it in an email to me: ‘From the first movement, I couldn’t resist working with the huge barbaric opening chords. From the second movement, I took the divine and other-worldly theme, adjusting it slightly so that when it ends, it is in a key one half-step higher. The theme continues to cycle around and slowly spirals up. From the third movement, I lifted the background accompaniment and brought it to the foreground. From the fourth movement I used the main theme.’

 

Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony took me by storm. For the first time (ever, I think!) I had the urge to actually get out of my seat and dance to a symphonic work. It’s loud and dramatic – and gathers momentum to a climactic release.

 

Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, with it’s slurring, upward-moving structure made me think again of cities, of elevators. The loudness, the dizzying heights, the grandness of a skyscraper landscape.

 

I was looking for images that could express the vertiginous quality of the city and in my hunt, I found some suprisingly low-cost stock illustrations of skyscrapers that were exactly what I was looking for. Minimalistic in style and creating confusing optical effects. The pulsing and slurring come to life.

 

To compliment the monchrome cover images, I printed the inside of the wallet in plain, bombastic blocks of primary colour. Michael was happy: ‘I’m sure there isn’t a single orchestral album out there that looks like this’.

 

I don’t think there’s any other orchestral album that sounds like this either.

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