NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 44


The Designer’s Voice, On Designing Record Covers In Iran, 1975 To 2018

Meraj Ghanbari

The emergence of cassettes in 1975 had its influence on the production of vinyl records which used to be widely produced and distributed until a couple of years ago. Cassettes were cheaper, easier to use and portable; therefore, they were soon welcomed by the public. From 1975 to 1980, a number of vinyl records belonging to Institute of the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (“Chahargah-Shur”, “Mahour Segah” for instance) dated before 1975 (the Revolution) were changed to cassettes and new designs were used for their redistribution. These redesigns were performed by Mohamad Reza Dadgar, Houshang Amir-Ardalan, Mohamad Baradaran, to name a few. Those days and compared to the overall conditions, the products of CBS enjoyed rather different graphic designs. Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh has designed the covers of some of his works, such as “Shabaneh” himself; this obsession with the graphic design of musical pieces is noteworthy. 

After the revolution, most of the music recording and distribution centers stopped working. Not long after the revolution started the eight-year war; economic depression was a not-so-surprising outcome of the situation, followed by a forced stop in artistic and cultural activities. Those years, the “Sheida and Aref” band, led by Mohammad Reza Lotfi, created a new trend in the design of cassette covers. On these covers, you could see the name of Chavosh Institute, with a different composition that had a stable position in uniform, as well as the names of records and artists with similar features, designed by Reza Derakhshani. These covers are among the firsts with a pre-planned visual uniformity in the designs of musical records covers. Until the last years of this decade, most of the works lack the designers’ name and signature. In most of the samples, a photo of the singer, musician or the instruments has been used. In the graphic design for Iranian classical music, we often observe images of birds and flowers, picturesque sceneries, or a portrait of the artists as the main visual element. There existed also some professional artists with an eye for the future, such as Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Hossein Alizadeh, Parviz Meshkatian, and others. They have all been active members of the Center for Preservation and Dissemination of Iranian Music at some point in their careers. Morteza Momayez, Aydin Aghdashloo and Mohamad Erfanian were among the artists who designed the covers for their records.
After the introduction of CDs to the market in 1989, graphic designing for the record covers became a more serious business. The advent of this new auditory technology changed everything. Graphic designers such as Behzad Gharibpour and Siavash Mazloumipour produced some works of art back then. The visual features of the graphic designs of that era included widespread use of Nastaliq calligraphic design. After a while, music production companies missed using the portrait of the musicians on the covers and this led to a collaboration of designers and photographers, with a perspective different from the past. After the reopening of universities in 1990, and following the transformations of the 1990s, we can see a rapid increase in the number of educated graphic designers. Due to the dominant viewpoint in the country’s executive system, cultural and economic reconstruction had accelerated during this period, allowing cultural activities to enjoy the sweet recovery. One should not ignore the role of computers, alongside the developments in graphic, in the vast changes happening in graphic designing and the opening of a new world in front of the designers. Ali Khosravi, Jamshid Haqshenas and Ziauddin Javid were some examples of active designers in those years.
In the last 20 years, the increasing production of CDs has led to the older institutions coming back to the field and consequently, an increase in the number of music production companies. Various designers started to design covers with distinct and uniform visual identities for these institutions. In the early 2000s, Reza Abedini has performed some innovative designs on the covers of Farhad Mehrad’s works. Iman Safaei started working for Mahriz Publications in 2007. Up until that time, this institution used to have a rather fixed visual identity, but this designer made a drastic change in the graphic structure of Mahriz Publication. From among the music publication companies, we can name ChahrBaq, Sazavaz, Avaye Barbad, Avaye Khorshid, and  Hermes. Those days, a few of the older designers from the pre-revolution era, such as Abbas Kiarostami and Ghobad Shiva, have designed a limited number of covers. Kiarostami has designed the cover of Sallaneh for Hassan Alizadeh and Shiva did so for many different artists.
Among the designers focusing on designing covers of musical records, one can refer to individuals from different generations who have had more experiences than their peers, qualitatively as well as quantitatively speaking. 
Morteza Momayez has designed precious works in this field. Record cover design has been a serious field of graphic design to him, his behavior towards cover design being distinguishable from his other works of art in the field of poster design or the likes. In the 1980s and 1990s, he designed many cassette covers, Delshodegan or Doud-e-Oud being the most outstanding among his works. In the early 2000s, he designed many covers for Mahour Music Institution. One of the best examples of his superior collaboration with this institute is the creative CD cover design for North Khorasan music. He attempted to best depict the content and sense of the music of this region through the use of colors and forms.
Saed Meshki is one of the most active graphic designers in the field of album covers. He started music record covers in 1999 with Mahriz Publication. His works, in matters on form and technique, resemble his other works, such as his book covers. His works in Mahriz Publication have a flexible uniformity, a uniform which does not necessarily use fixed visual elements; rather, using features such as limited colors, handwritten elements, texture, high-contrastive spaces, and so forth, attempts to create a sense of harmony. This characteristic is eminent in works such as Qazal, Short and Senavazi. His collaboration with Mahriz continued until 2004. During the next years, many of Meshki’s works have been redesigned in Mahriz Publication.
Kianoosh Gharibpour started music album designing in 1992. He did not stop in the surface and the upper layers of cover designing and made an effort to aim the audiences’ feelings and make them think deeply about the concept of music. Maybe this is the reason why we observe fewer instances of the portrait of the musicians or the picture of the musical instruments on his covers. Taking advantage of his ability in illustration and typography, he tried to use different techniques in accordance with the musical atmosphere. Examples of his work are Modest Discoverers of Hemlock, The Melancholic Long Fest, and Loulian.
Majid Kashani started graphic design for music in 2003. Most of his works have expansive production stages, works that are produced through numerous etudes, spending a lot of time, and using various materials. He has never hidden himself behind a single technique or manner of performance and has used different methods such as maquette building, typography, photography and illustration. In designing covers for musical records, Kashani respects the concept of music and is not ignorant to the order and the audiences, as many of the designers are. He continuously seeks the opinion of the customer during all the designing stages. Besides graphic design, he has attempted to design works in the field of structural design and packaging, with a desire to experience new forms and take a step ahead of the norms of the market. His most outstanding works include Kayhan Kalhor Series, the Ten Ballad album, I Was with You All the Way, and Farewell to the Moon.
It is noteworthy that CD is seeing its last days. Music albums are no longer published the way they used to be and the production of musical pieces, in different styles, is now limited to single pieces. The covers have undergone changes; covers designed for distribution on the internet and media are popular these days. New technologies like motion fix have also had their influences on the recent changes. Since there have been plenty of records produced and published in the last 50 years in Iran, all the designed cannot be fully studied in detail. The author has sought the most eminent and influential examples of cover designs, the works of those artists whose main concern was the graphic design of music record covers and had been engaged in this field for years. These works have been studied in matters of their quality as well as quantity. In the last 20 years, the path of music and its relationship with graphic had a gradual slow, and sometimes fast, change, but there are very few designers and movements who made an influence along their way. The reason for this can be two-fold: music production companies’ not embracing risk on the one hand, and fear and avoidance of young graphic designers from having new experiences. The works presented here indicate the significance of the role of professional graphic designers in the success or lack of success of music records in the past years. There is someone to hear the sound of the graphic designers.

Magham-e-Mousighaie, Iranian Journal of Music, No. 5, Soore Mehr Publication, Autumn 2011
Neshan Magazine, No. 12, Winter 2007
Neshan Magazine, No. 24, Winter 2011
Neshan Magazine, No. 30, Summer 2013

Special thanks to:
Hosein Assaran, Omid Anaraki, Reza Abedini, Kianoosh Gharibpour, Majid Kashani.

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