NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 44


Edition Of Contemporary Music

Gazelle Parizad

ECM – the Edition of Contemporary Music – was founded by Manfred Eicher in 1969 in Munich. Eicher started his career as a musician with a passion for filmmaking. His role has been more than a founder — he’s ECM’s auteur.
Since its initiation, ECM has created a well-balanced visual language. Perhaps this is the result of collaborations between Eicher and designer Barbara Wojirsch. In 1978, a photographer and designer named Dieter Rehm joined the team.
“Enjoying a rare freedom unencumbered by commercial restraints, Eicher, Wojirsch and Rehm have created a body of work which, paradoxically, adheres to the rules of corporate identity and brand management, but is generated by artistic conviction and personal vision rather than commercial priorities.”1 “Eicher did not want the aesthetic of the cover to be controlled by sales and marketing interests. This is why most of ECM’s most influential artists were rarely seen on record covers in the years that followed the first releases of the American pianist.”2

As ECM’s art director (among other things), Eicher sees the cover as “a metaphoric translation, whatever it might mean, it’s a sign. It’s an envelope, the envelope of the given. He seeks silence, poses, thoughtfulness & contemplativeness.” His work with ECM touches on the fundamental connection between artistic disciplines in music, film, theatre, graphic design, photography and contemporary art.”3
With more than 1500 albums to date, and their motto being “the most beautiful sound next to silence”4 ECM has achieved world recognition for its cover art with numerous exhibitions in Western Europe and two books devoted to their visual language: “Sleeves of Desire” and “Windfall Light,” both edited by Lars Müller.
In an interview with the Irish times, Eicher claimed “There is not only too much music in the world, there is too much information on everything. There are so many books, so many pictures, so much everything, and the music needs to be selected in a better way. I’m not praising the old times only, but in the old days there were more producers who really understood what it means to listen, and to understand and analyse. Today there’s so many marketing people around who make decisions about what kind of music comes into the world. This is also a quality, I’m not diminishing that, but it’s not a criteria how to select good music”5
Since the early records, a coherent visual language on the cover art has connected the company’s various records. The covers convey first impressions before the music is heard. They are created by someone other than the musician, and must be well adjusted to the music. “Openness and trust are key words in the process that leads towards both a musical and a visual form of expression. Oddly, personal considerations and ambitions become less visible and prominent during this process because the people engaged know that they will not be alone in signing the finished product. You become aware of which space you are occupying, which laws and rules apply, and which grounds are valid when presenting your ideas.”6
Eicher always acknowledges his love for the masters of European cinema – Godard, Bresson, Tarkovsky and Bergman – and their influence is visible throughout the company’s sleeve designs. “Many pictures on the sleeves of ECM records look as if the camera was following a sudden movement, and do not give a clue as to the purpose of this movement. Or they look as if the photographer were still adapting the focal distance of the lens, which is why the object is not presented sharply, but blurred, with diffuse edges. This serves to resist perspective, the refusal to sort the view according to the needs of the viewer. Time and again there are street or road scenes on the covers. But these roads never seem to lead anywhere.”7
“ECM’s designers have used the same typeface consistently for decades. It has a calming influence, while at the same time imbuing all the company’s releases with immense authority. As a result, a number of individual forms of expression, encompassing both the aural and the visual, are gathered within the space created by ECM and Manfred Eicher.”8
Anyone who knows Eicher is familiar with his interest in the silence experienced in nature; many landscapes on his covers are from the northern Norway, Iceland, Greenland, the Arctic area, or Spitsbergen. Perhaps Eicher’s quotation from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (ca.1090–1153), best describes the label’s attitude “You wish to see, listen; hearing is a step towards vision.”
“His main objectives as a producer: rendering an expressive idiom visible. In terms of music, this means discovering the intrinsic value of each tone and acknowledging the necessity of taking a coherent view. And this can be transferred to a visual idiom: how many colours do you need? How much ornamentation is actually necessary?”9
ECM has remained autonomous; not all of their records have been commercially successful throughout the years. However, commercial success has never been Eicher’s benchmark. He uses the successful releases — cases such as pianist Keith Jarrett’s celebrated Köln Concert and Jan Garbarek’s crossover hit, Officium — to fund less commercial projects. “It was never my intention to record artists who had commercial potential, it was simply music that touched me deeply,’ Eicher claims.”10
Since the 1960s, record sleeves have been patrons of originality, but in recent years the music industry has obtained a new approach that favors dullness and traditionalism. One reason for this is the common adaptation of sophisticated marketing techniques; the other is the ever-growing influence of the artist’s involvement in creating the cover art. There have only been limited instances of successful collaborations. It’s uncommon for record companies to be recognized by a consistent visual language; nevertheless ECM has produced cover arts that perfectly visualized the distinctive European aesthetic of the music and taste. Musicians working with Eicher rarely interfere in the packaging of their recording. They are able to share their views with the design team, but most of them are content to be excluded from this process. It’s truly remarkable to be working with a company that has a different approach in opposition to the commercial market — one that tries to communicate with visual language, believing that people can connect to anonymous music visually.

1 Think of your ears as eyes, Adrian Shaughnessy, graphic designer, London, First published in Eye no. 16 vol. 4, Spring1995
2 Landscapes and Soundscapes, Ketil Bjørnstad, Windfall Light, The Visual Language of ECM Edited by Lars Müller
3 CDs Know That Ears Have Eyes, DANA JENNINGSDEC, nytimes Dec 26th, 2012
4 A review of ECM, CODA, Canadian jazz magazine, 1971
5 Manfred Eicher: the man who made ECM on working with Keith Jarrett, Steve Reich and Arvo Part, Irish times, Sat, Nov 28, 2015
6 Landscapes and Soundscapes, Ketil Bjørnstad, Windfall Light, The Visual Language of ECM Edited by Lars Müller
7 When Twilight Comes, Thomas Steinfeld, Windfall Light, The Visual Language of ECM Edited by Lars Müllerl
8 Landscapes and Soundscapes, Ketil Bjørnstad, Windfall Light, The Visual Language of ECM Edited by Lars Müller
9 Landscapes and Soundscapes, Ketil Bjørnstad, Windfall Light, The Visual Language of ECM Edited by Lars Müller
10 Think of your ears as eyes, Adrian Shaughnessy, graphic designer, London, First published in Eye no. 16 vol. 4, Spring 1995

Gazelle Parizad

is studied Fine Art in Azad University Tehran, Iran. later on she got her Masters in Graphic Design from the University of Arts London. She’s a member of Iranian graphic design society and had co-founded ‘band design and binding studio’ alongside Arad Farhadi and is the studio’s creative director.

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