Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Yeah, But Is It Art? - Pt. 1

Today is my birthday. Coincidentally, this is also my 100th blog entry. There has to be some sort of greater, much deeper significance there, but search me if I can figure it out. Instead, let's talk mix CD art, and if what I do in that arena actually constitutes "art."

I enjoy drawing and painting, but I haven't done either in quite a while (which is why I recently enrolled in a pen and ink drawing class down at the ol' community college). In fact, the last oil painting I completed was of an ex-girlfriend back in 2006, which may explain why I haven't picked up a paint brush in a while.

Collage art for my homemade mix tapes/CDs, on the other hand, is something I still enjoy producing. Ever since getting my first portable dual tape deck back in the Christmas of 1987, making my own homemade covers for my mixes has been a mainstay of my creative endeavors.

When CD burning technology hit in the mid-90's, my mix-making kicked into high gear, and so did the covers that went with them. I became a regular at my local Kinko's first, then OfficeMax of artwork (better quality control, in my humble opinion), mass producing covers on glossy card stock and giving these mix CDs out for free to anyone who wanted one.

I never thought of the cut-n-paste mixed media collage covers I was making as "art" necessarily. I knew they were amateurish and primitive, but hell if they weren't fun to make. Pasting images from magazines, junk mail circulars or even spent Pop-Tarts wrappers, however, didn't really strike me as art art. A creative outlet, sure, but would anyone ever go to an art gallery and take in the splendor of my homemade CD sleeves?

The following are some of the mix CD covers I've made from the last 10 years:

Hideous Control Now
c. 2004
Clip art, paper strips, ink, photocopy, and glue.

I've created a variety of mix CD's prior to this one, but no other compilation of mine has left me felling so, so self-satisfied as this one. Named after a line from one of my all-time favorite television shows, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (episode 303: "Pod People"), this mix was my first foray into "throw caution at the wind" territory (yes, I've lived a fairly staid life thus far). At the time, I just wanted to create something that sounded fun and not overly fussy or labored over. I had a collection of songs by bands that upon first blush didn't look like they would compliment each other very well (Belle and Sebastian, AWOL One and Daddy Kev, Nina Simone, etc.) and simply set about to jam them together into one Lego-meets-Erector Set-meets-Lincoln Log creation. After sequencing these songs together, I set about to create a cover for it. For some reason, I wanted it to look like those old 50's orchestral jazz covers from the late-50's/early-60's. The thin color strips were cut-out from a magazine, while the "stereo" banner was photocopied from a Frank Sinatra LP. The "widescreen" at the bottom was sliced right off the bottom of a DVD cover for the film Lost in Translation. Oh, and then there's the Whiteout. Plenty of Whiteout up there.

Pavement Sorted Sentinels
c. 2004
Clip art, paint pen, ink, Whiteout, and glue.

Pavement are one of my all-time favorite bands, and I've always loved the homemade cover artwork lead singer Stephen Malkmus would create for each of the band's releases. Obviously influenced by the covers Mark E. Smith would make for his band The Fall's early albums, Malkmus' collage art utilized everything from vintage cut-n-paste images from magazines, Whiteout, knife scratches, and his own scribbled handwriting. Having a bulk of Pavement CD singles in my collection, I decided to consolidate 18 of my favorite B-sides onto one disc, taking the name from a phrase scrawled inside the sleeve of the band's third (and my personal favorite) album, Wowee Zowee. The image for this mix came from a magazine, and I had to slice it in half to make it fit together better (the transmitter was originally below the children). The band's name is spelled-out with Whiteout (naturally), and the mangled French sentence in the thought bubble is copied from a note a girl gave me in high school once (I still have no idea what it says, but a French-speaking friend of mine assures me it barely makes sense).

The Human Drift
c. 2004
Clip art, ink, paint pens, stickers, Scotch Tape, and glue.

I suppose if I were hard pressed to name a favorite genre of music, indie rock would be it. Most of the albums in my collection are from this aforementioned sub-genre of rock-n-roll. This collection features 20 B-sides and rarities from bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, Pavement, The Clientele, and so on and so fourth. The title The Human Drift comes from a story I once heard on NPR about the late 19th Century author King Camp Gillette's book of the same name which outlined a proposed socially engineered utopian city. I simply thought the name sounded cool and decided to used it for this compilation of music. The image (which looks a lot like The X-Files star David Duchovny) came from an issue of Entertainment Weekly. I decided he needed some mussing-up, so I added some blood, scratches and a black eye. I had some stickers I'd been saving for just this cover-making situation, and added them on. I paint penned on the name, scribbled some verbiage, and voila!

c. 2005
Clip art, ink and glue.

Everyday has the distinction of being one of my favorite self-made mix CD's. It contains 14 songs that simply just do it for me. It's also very much a compilation CD of its time (the mid-Aughts) and relevant to me personally because it was compiled in the midst of a fairly emotionally draining breakup from a girl I just about thought was the koolest women I have ever met in my life (well, at the time, anyway - I am now married to the definitively most awesome woman I've ever known, so good things do indeed come from emotional adversity). Ancient heartbreak aside, this mix, I feel, has some of the best flow of music (featuring bands such as Low, Department of Eagles, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, etc.), from song-to-indie-rockin'-song. At less than one hour, It doesn't overstay it's welcome and finishes on a high note with Fruitbats' "When U Love Somebody" (oh, the irony). The images come from an issue of National Geographic, and I like the idea of juxtaposing zebra mating rituals with a near endless field of nuclear rod containment canisters from the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in Russia. That's not blood on the zebra's neck, by the way. They're exclamation points with hearts for periods.

Guided By Voices Potion-Controlled Nanobyte Sized
c. 2006
Clip art, ink, sticker, paint pen, and glue.

Far and away, Guided by Voices are one of my favorite bands ever. So much so, in fact, I have their rune tattooed on my right wrist (dedication - gotta love it). This compilation of 17 GBV songs is culled mostly from B-sides and rarities downloaded directly from the band's website. Robert Pollard, the band's lead singer, is also a very prodigious and accomplished collage artist in his own right, having constructed most (if not all) of not only Guided By Voices cover artwork, but artwork for his myriad other musical offshoots as well (Boston Spaceships, Circus Devils, and his own solo material - to name but a very, very few). For this compilation, I wanted to create something Pollard-esque. Thank gawd for junk mail, as this cover was created using a Jehovah's Witnesses pamphlet and a Victoria's Secret catalog. I have no idea where I came up with the name for this mix, but there it is.

Casual Young Animals
c. 2007
Clipart, stickers, ink, and glue.

I really like the look of this one. Hell if I can remember any of the bands that are featured on this mix, though. I know it's in a box I keep in my hallway closet, but after typing-out five of these mix CD descriptions already, I'm simply too lazy to get up from my desk and dig this mix CD out. Suffice it to say, this cover is really all that matters about that mix. The cassette tapes imagery was pulled from a Chocolate Skateboards advertisement featuring then pro Scott Johnson, and flipped upside-down. The mini blind instructions came directly off the old mini blinds in my bathroom, as the simply crusted off one day. Bananas are one of my two favorite fruits (the other being mangoes, so store that little bit of trivia about me away in your mental file banks for later use), so that explains the Chiquita Bananas sticker up top. Also: "NEW!"

c. 2008
Clip art, stickers, random vinyl debris, ink, and glue.

I'm sure I've discussed this here on this blog before, but for the uninitiated: just about every year my brother Mark and I engage in what we lovingly refer to as the "Holiday Mix-Off Series": an semi-annual Christmastime competition were we engage in yuletide battle by mass producing our own compilation CDs and giving them to our friends as homemade gifts, while also asking them to decide whose mix is better via anonymous, mail-in ballots. It gets pretty involved. Anyhoo... This mix was one of my HMOS contenders for 2008, but I decided to go with another, which ended up costing me dearly. I still like this mix, as it's a fairly eclectic hodge-podge  of music that has a pretty decent flow from one track to the next. The aluminum tree shot came from a holiday brochure of some sort, the red vinyl dot I found on the ground near a construction site, and the Euro-stripe from a letter a friend in England sent me. The stickers are random, as by that point I had been saving errant stickers for compilation covers like a horder, affixing them to nearly every surface near my desk for "...later use."

c. 2009
Clip art, ink, paint pen, and glue.

Talk about a clusterfuck of celebratory imagery! This compilation was made for my friend Richard, who asked people for musical recommendations one day on Facebook. I was only too happy to oblige him with a 20-song compilation of then-newish indierock songs. The title "((O))" preciously translates into "Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wahhh!" This is probably one of the most collage-y collage covers I've ever made, being that's it's made up of a shit-ton of images, mostly of people (Alfred Hitchcock, Chris Webber, Baby Jesus, etc.) celebrating their asses off. So, yeah: fun! This compilation was also made around the time the first Iron Man movie came out, and if you look in the lower right corner you can see the top half of Jeff Bridges head, which wraps around to the spine of the CD case. I dunno. I thought that was a fairly clever gimmick at the time.

Funeral Puddin'
c. 2010
Clip art, typewriter and glue

I once made the mistake of ordering a Brixton hat from this online surf wear company. The resulting monthly deluge of mail order catalogs was mildly annoying, but then I started to spot their clip art potential. Sure, there where pictures of bikini-clad, abs-of-steel beach bunny models in there, but the main draw for me were the artfully shot surfing pictures. So, when I was putting together this compilation featuring Real Estate, Best Coast, Beach Fossils, and Wild Nothing, a surf style cover didn't seem all that out of the question. But this image needed just a little something to not make it an out-n-out simple paste-up-from-a-source job. Enter my daily dose of junk mail and an unsuspecting McTaco-ery to provide stylish headgear for our surfing hombre here. This cover artwork is the first time I used dual-layering, having the copy person at OfficeMax photocopy the typed title directly onto the freshly photocopied image of the surfer. I have no idea why I did this that way. It was a tremendous waste of time.

Team Cream Presents: The Phantom Formal
c. 2011
Photocopy, ripped paper, Magic Marker, and glue.

And so started the themed compilations. I had this collection of songs that sounded like fractured and frayed lo-fi approximations of the 1980's new wave genre by bands such as Teen Daze, Neon Indian, Crystal Castles, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, and the like. This mix essentially sounded like some sort of warped John Hughes soundtrack to me when I completed it. The "story" behind this collection of songs was that it was a cassette tape found in the husk of an old burned-down high school where - back in the day - things happened that would turn David Lynch's white thicket of hair transparent (murder, mayhem, double crosses, lying, cheating, inappropriate sexual escapades, devil worship, ghostly possessions, etc., etc.) The cover image comes from an old year book photo I found online and I like that it's slightly out-of-focus. I scrawled the name of this mix on a piece of paper and simply tore it out of my note book, gluing it into place. I know these kids on the cover are probably having a great time, but their joy haunts me, man. In a " the final photo from The Shining" kind of way. Oy vey!

Continued next month in Pt. 2 ...