The Epoch is a hinge. We tend to follow a linear trajectory until a point at which we realize that through free will the path can be bent and redirected.
I’ve been very busy for the past year or so working on a new album so it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Now that the new Tycho album — Epoch — is out I wanted to write a little about the meaning and origin of the artwork. I worked as a graphic designer for 14 years until I decided to pursue music full time so the visual element of Tycho has always been at the core of the project for me. I think the imagery tells a story that the music can’t fully articulate, and vice versa.
Past is Prologue (2006), Daydream (2007), Dive (2011), Awake (2014)
The sun disc, both literally and as an icon, has always been at the center of the artwork. From Sunrise Projector and on I’ve used the sun and circle as a metaphor for life; the sun being the life giver and the circle symbolizing the closed loop, the interconnectedness of the human experience with the physical world.
· The Trilogy Begins
While I had explored a lot of these themes previously, I feel that Dive was the beginning of a trilogy of albums and so was the starting point for a narrative and symbology which have become central to the Tycho identity.
The cover for Dive was a foray into maximalism combining photography and design. I wanted to evoke the sense of being on an unavoidable path, one from which deviation was impossible. I wanted the viewer to be pulled into the image and be drawn toward the sun. I think this design speaks to the music in that it felt like the beginning of a journey and the multi-layered composition echoed the sonic aesthetic of the music. I spent quite a bit of the next couple years refining this style and creating various collage type images.
Dive Single (2012) – Another cover in the style of the Dive full length cover
· Enter Minimalism and The Trapezoid
Concert Poster (2012)
As a graphic designer I have always had a deep appreciation for minimalism and the simplified, efficient expression of ideas through form and color. But as a visual artist working within the context of Tycho my output had typically trended toward almost painterly styles, multilayered collages which were anything but minimal. But at some point after the release of Dive I decided that I wanted to get back to my design roots and bring a more simplified, refined style to the project. The beginning of this shift was around 2012 when we played The Independent in San Francisco. This was meant to be a simplification of the same path seen on the cover of Dive, the colors a reflection of the sun into that path. This was also one of my first uses of the trapezoid shape which would become core to the symbology of Tycho.
· The Awake Era
Dive was in many ways a breakthrough record for Tycho: it was when I first formed the live band and we began touring extensively. It also marked the period when I was finally able to quit doing freelance design and focus solely on the music and the imagery surrounding Tycho. After a couple years of touring it came time to make a new album and I knew this would be a pivotal release, quite literally a make-or-break record. I wrestled with the art direction for months before finally deciding to go in an entirely new direction from Dive and earlier works and create a minimalist direction for the release. I had always felt strongly about the spectrum and trapezoid from the 2012 poster and so I revisited the concept and incorporated the sun imagery to bring it into storyline.
Both the circle and the trapezoid symbols featured heavily in the videos and visuals for Tycho during the Awake tours (2014-2015)
Montana Visuals (2014)
Montana Video (2014)
During the Awake album cycle I continued down this path and lots of imagery followed for show posters and releases.
Concert Poster (2014)
Montana Single (2014) – the trapezoid combined with the triangle
· The Darkness
The overall direction for Awake was very light and halfway through the cycle I started shifting things into a darker space for contrast and to foreshadow the next album.
Awake Deluxe Edition (2014)
Concert Poster (2014)
Awake Remixes (2015)
Concert Poster (2016)
To compliment the darker themes for the Spectre and See singles I introduced the moon as the central element in place of the sun.
Spectre Single (2014)
Spectre – Bibio Remix (2014)
Tycho – See (2014)
· The Epoch
Awake had been out for over two years and it was time to start thinking about the next release. Up until this point, when doing minimal compositions I had been using textures and distressing to give some depth to the images and break up solid fields of color. For the next phase I wanted to further simplify and remove any extraneous elements. I wanted to cut to the core of the message and try to distill things into a language of basic symbols.
Artwork for the first single from Epoch: Division (2016). This was designed after the album artwork and was meant as a transition which would introduce the elements and colors that would follow in the full length release.
Musically, this album was about circling back while maintaining forward motion; revisiting and refining the concepts of earlier albums with a view to the future. My primary goal was to incorporate the color scheme of the very first Tycho release: The Science of Patterns EP (2002). I also wanted to revisit the simplicity of that artwork as Epoch was all about focus and efficiency, chiseling away anything which was not absolutely necessary.
The Science of Patterns EP (2002)
I also wanted to draw upon the two core symbols of the project: the circle and the trapezoid. But this time I wanted the circle to represent the moon, a body reflecting the light of the sun. In this way it was a metaphor for this album, a reflection of the previous works presented in a new form.
The following are selected iterations of the Epoch cover design which led to the final version.
The initial concept (2015)
An early concept incorporating a more three dimensional look. I ended up leaving this in favor of a more simplified form
The first simplification, the horizon line is still subtly implied
A tangental concept exploring the incorporation of more color. This ended up being the impetus for creating the alternate cover series for the countdown (discussed later)
Another alternate with more color and a defined horizon line
The final form: Tycho – Epoch (2016)
In the end I decided to keep the image ambiguous, the viewer should decide exactly what it was they were looking at and ascribe their own meaning to it. This meant stripping the image down to the essential elements, leaving a simple icon.
I felt that the power of this image would be in its simplicity and also in its portability. It could adapt to many form factors with ease and felt more like a modular system than a singular image. At this point you have to take into account that the vast majority of people will experience album artwork at a tiny square on a smartphone. At this scale a lot of nuance and detail will be lost. This is not to say that I intended to oversimplify purely for this reason, but it is a consideration.
Epoch Vinyl Packaging
Epoch was released 30 days after completion as a surprise, as such there wasn’t enough time to have vinyl and CDs produced; only digital versions were available on release day. As a stopgap until the vinyl arrived, we decided to offer a custom slipmat with pre-order purchase at retail outlets. More about the release strategy in The New York Times piece With Vinyl, the Musician Tycho Establishes a Physical Presence
For the Awake release I cut up a print of the cover art into squares and released it as nine panels as a way to count down to the release. For Epoch I wanted to create several alternate versions of the cover art to use for build up. This release was not announced ahead of time so it was fun to slowly release elements of the design without people fully understanding what was coming. Here are a few examples of the alternate versions.
Tycho Descent Burning Man Sunrise Set Cover
All in all this was an enjoyable and fulfilling process for me as a designer. I’m looking forward to the next couple years, creating future permutations and working with this design/color system. The first example of this is below, the poster for the show at The Fonda in LA.
Tycho Fonda LA Concert Poster
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply.
In a time where the devaluation of music seems to be at it’s peak, fans and audiences expect every release to be either for free or donation based, which forces musicians to tour extensively or resort to day jobs in order to support themselves. Deru, an electronic artist who questions this establishment, explores an innovative release of his latest album, 1979. His approach influences listeners to place themselves in an appropriate listening environment, delivering an entirely new experience.
To help him with his vision, Deru enlisted a team of people including the visual artist, Effixx, who collaborated previously on the Outliers, Iceland: Vol. 1 project.
I sat with Deru & Effixx to discuss the themes and concept behind 1979:
Soo many beautiful announcements happened for Jacob and Thomas from Beacon, first off they just announced the preorder of their debut LP along with a sugar based sculpted record holder limited to only 20 pieces. Before that they shared a new mix and some spring tour dates, all of it is here in one place along with the process video of the making of the art edition record frame.
About the artist:
Fernando Mastrangelo has exhibited nationally and internationally for the last decade. Mastrangelo uses materials such as sugar, coffee, corn, gunpowder, human cremated ash, and other more controversial substances. He often addresses social, cultural, and political issues with unconventional timely works. His works are included in numerous private collections around the world, as well as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, where you can currently see his 2008 sculpture “Avarice,” a rendition of the Aztec calendar cast entirely from White Mexican Corn.
Deluxe Art Edition Details:
Edition of 20 + 3 APs
Includes signed and numbered certificate
Dimensions: 13″ x 13″ x 2″
Weight: 10 lbs
Materials: Sugar, Epoxy
Limited dusty rose vinyl + download card included
Lukid – Snow Theme
Tornado Wallace – Always Twirling
Bambounou – Challenger
Tiger & Woods – T&W Lab File #07
Unknown Artist – What You Need (Coat of Arms Remix)
Marcus Mixx – Special Creme (Rub It Mixx)
S.K.A.M. – Outside The Box (Homework Perspective)
Shams – Wasted
With my love for trees and my love for prints I think Bryan Nash Gill’s Woodcuts are the perfect marriage. I love the complete organic nature of his prints. Be sure and check out the video as well, as it shows some of his process.
Image Blender is my go to app for blending and masking but I was getting frustrated using the brush tool to mask a straight line, then it dawned on me that I could use a solid black or white image to “knock out” the part I wanted to be transparent (or in this case to be opaque). Once I blended down the solid black or white I could bring the image back in and use the blending modes to get the transparency.
The screenshots above show this process. The original photo was the edge of a window frame. I overlaid a blank white image at four different angles. I then flipped it and blended it over the mountain photo. Tip: Swipe to the right to move and rotate the image and then from the main screen tap and hold to flatten down, switch images or copy. I did the final color adjustments in picfx, another go to app for me. If you have any other Blender tricks post them below!
A year ago, I wrote about a video I made for our Nosh 404 page. Shortly after the success of that video, we set out to film a sequel. The idea behind the followup centered around the same fictional Special Forces team we used to handle that very dangerous and exciting 404 mission. This new video is sort of like a highlight reel of all the skills and tactics they can offer in the “web services” realm.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a process post here, so I figured this would be a good project to start back up again with. It’s pretty far afield from some of the typical design writing I’ve done, but it was a really fun project and an interesting case-study in non-traditional marketing for startups.
Final video above as well as a quick breakdown showing the original footage and the eventual effected final output. Follow me on Twitter here.
I just recently finished a five day intensive Typography course called Crafting Type. My head is still spinning a little from being so immersed into the realm of type design and fonts. I was surprised at after learning a few techniques for sketching and drawing how quick it was to get some decent ideas down on paper. I highly recommend the course if you ever get the chance to take it.
The course was led by Dave Crossland with Eben Sorkin and Octavio Pardo. Dave is a firm believer in “Libre Software” (free software) and is now creating Libre fonts. He is currently working as ‘Font Consultant’ to the Google Web Fonts project and has contributed many fonts to it. He also is a large contributor to FontForge and set each of us up with his own customized version to design our fonts.
The interesting part (that I didn’t realize) about Libre fonts is you are free to edit them and improve or make variations of them, providing you contribute them back into the Libre community. This is completely opposite of the current commercial type model (philosophically and financially). It was an eyeopener for me into the possibilities of this movement.
As web designer having fonts that I can use freely in my designs (on the web) is huge. Thinking back even a couple years, it was almost an impossibility due to Licensing. Some might argue that with the free fonts there is less “quality control” and a model more like Typekit is a better solution (both for users and font designers). Either way with a player as big as google building its free font library its exciting for me to see the flood gates on type and type creation opening up, even just a little bit.
3. Cropped and mirrored and layered in Image Blender
1. Initial Photo of some shadows in a corner (taken with Stilla)
2. Cropped and mirrored
3. Final Image layered in Image Blender
1. Initial photo of some stairs
2. Mirrored (you may notice a habit here)
3. Final image layered in Image Blender
The first photos I started using in my designs were simple textures. (we’ve all seen the explosion of texture sites out there) but lately I’ve been using photos to get shapes that typically I would have drawn before. This has been largely driven by having a decent camera in my pocket at all times, allowing me to capture random staircases or light hitting the corner of an architectural feature just right. I find the natural light and texture in photographs have so much more depth in the final product then what I can come up with in photoshop …and its much easier to get to the end result.