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’ 






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.