Category Archives: Arts and the Consumer

Cultural consumption: fight for our rights and oust laziness

Sailing topographical oceans: the absorbing pleasures of the gatefold album

Ah, the beguiling Elysian fields of the gatefold-album. The grand vistas which floated into view at the marvellously magical moment of opening the twin record-sleeves for the first time. There’s something almost awe-inspiring, a religiosity about opening up a gatefold LP album for it to occupy a space wider than your own head. It’s something of an immersive experience, allowing you to explore the fascinating, intricate details of the album cover (particularly important with, for instance, Roger Dean’s artwork for Yes albums, and a feature of prog-rock). In fact, the wider vistas which the gatefold created were perhaps integral to the nature of the concept album, and the mystical synergy which allowed partnerships like Yes and Dean to craft a product where the outside mirrored, nay, even enhanced the inside.

The gatefold packaging of rock music, and of prog-rock in particular, demanded that you gave yourself over entirely to listening to an album, and the information often packed into the densely-loaded inner vistas which gatefold packaging offered turned the consumption of an album into a total immersion-type experience; you submitted yourself entirely to the sonic, visual and textual odyssey, surrendering the senses in an entirely legal (though not necessarily non-addictive) way. I remember one of the earliest gatefold LPs I ever bought, Never for Ever by Kate Bush, which features a plethora of animals, both real and mythical, bursting unstoppably from beneath the songstress’ skirt.

Bats, birds and butterflies adorned the inner covers, either hovering above them or seeming to burst through from the other side (I loved the implied three-dimensionality there), and there was now the chance (as always) of pressing your nose up against the lyrics to try and decipher their meaning. Was it THAT Delius about whom she was singing ?

Jazz, too, embraced the gatefold packaging; who can forget the back cover of Weather Report’s 8.30 featuring the band casually sitting around engaged in a whose-shoes-are-the-longest competition, clearly won by Jaco Pastorius in those impossible, never-ending, glowing-white winkle-pickers ?

Or the mysterious, hallucinatory, swirling panorama (perfectly mirroring the music) that appeared when you opened up Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and saw front and back covers side-by-side, turning into a single yin-and-yang image,  featuring what seemed to be a high priestess and acolyte engaged some sombre ritual on the left, mirrored by a couple standing in the surging surf beneath an ominously-looming sky on the right ?

Contrastingly, there was African Sun by pianist Dollar Brand, that offered the opportunity to sink into the front cover’s warm, orange glow.

Rather than simply printing the lyrics to the songs and the band line-up, prog-rock positively luxuriated in the creative possibilities afforded by gatefold’s inner and outer covers, and it was also a way for puzzled fans to really scrutinise the mytho-poetic lyrics, and really get to grips with all the references and the pastoral imagery of something like Nursery Cryme, from Genesis in its early years. Following the magnificent perspective of a impossibly-well manicured lawn hosting a malevolent-looking game of croquet, you flipped over to the inside of the sleeves to reveal what looked like a collection of postcards, complete with chintzy illustrations, each as though tucked into a presentation portfolio by its corners. The bearded figure emerging on a current of notes escaping from ‘The Musical Box;’ the mock-Victorian image for ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’ showed an innocent young girl standing by a towering weed. And now you could follow the words to ‘The Fountains of Salamacis.’

Or Foxtrot, Genesis’ next album release; you could follow the complicated narrative of ‘Supper’s Ready’ by perusing the lyrics, which unfolded against a (deliberately misleading) background of blue skies and fluffy clouds. And as prog-rock sank beneath the weight of it own over-inflated self-aggrandisement, heavy metal came in to occupy the void that it left behind.

(A shameful admission here; I also had the double-LP Livin’ Inside Your Love by George Benson (I know, I know…), which I bought when I discovered that he was the guitarist on Miles Davis’ Miles in the Sky, and rushed out to find something else by him (I should have done some more research first, shouldn’t I…); the LP’s soft-focus cover should have been a clue, hinting at the soft-focus music contained therein…sigh… )

Prince, too, saw the potential for gatefold’s symbolist evangelising,  in his Around the World In a Day (although the album, like Never For Ever was only one LP, rather than two); the cover is packed with references to the songs in a slightly trippy evocation of the mythical Paisley Park itself.

There’s a fascinating quote by (if memory serves) keyboardist Nick Mason (in Dark Side of the Moon: the making of a Pink Floyd Masterpiece by John Harris), who observes that the publicity opportunity afforded by the album’s presentation was missed; you could open the album out and have it leading across front and back covers in continuous fashion, an effect that he says would have looked spectacular in record shops, only no-one noticed the potential to display it so. (My copy is currently in the loft, and I only have the one so sadly can’t endeavour to create this phenomenon for myself to see the effect…)

Regrettably, cassettes and, later, CD reissues couldn’t offer the same escapism; it was impossible to immerse yourself in liner notes from a CD jewel-case that, when opened out, barely covered both your hands. The printed lyrics were tiny, and the amount of detail in those prog-rock, symbol-saturated album covers was lost at so small an incarnation. I bought Miles Davis’ fearsome jazz-rock album, Live-Evil, on CD years later, which endeavoured to recreate the mystique of the gatefold LP with an unfolding four-sides cardboard presentation style, but it wasn’t the same; it lacked the imperiousness of the LP’s sheer physical presence. And don’t even get me started on the (literally) unfolding, multi-level misery of Prince’s Emancipation on cassette…

I’ve necessarily limited this to a discussion of some of the albums I have, or used to have (there’s also somewhere in my loft Queen’s A Night At The Opera and, I think, Sheer Heart Attack, and Tippett’s impenetrable opera, The Knot Garden, plus Joni Mitchell’s eminently forgettable Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, in gatefold format); a full examination of the Gatefold Phenomenon would take years, and embrace such thorny issues as what was the FIRST gatefold release (do you include 78s that were released in this way ?) – Bing Crosby, Elvis, Bob Dylan ? – what was the most controversial (Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Black Sabbath’s self-titled album ?) – what about gatefold inner covers that just featured a nicely-pleasing photo of the band (Seargent Pepper ?) rather than going down the whole concept-art-tunnel ? Do you include albums that only had one LP rather than being a double LP release, the latter arguably a more justified reason to package with two sleeves ? You see what I mean…

These days, of course, streaming and digital platforms have all but rendered the physical presentation of an album obsolete, sacrificing (in my view) the ability to play whatever you want, whenever you want on your digital device for the sheer, tangible, pleasure of the impact of the album’s artwork. But vinyl is making a comeback – time for Gatefold Novices to get out there and experience the heady delights, that transcendent rapture, of unfolding a double LP on its first playing…

Donor card: a chance to thank our supporters

This morning’s reception in the foyer was a wonderful opportunity for us to say a very warm ‘thank you’ to some of the philanthropic supporters of the University, and in particular some of those who support music-making at Kent.

We’re very fortunate to have so many people interested in supporting the University in all manner of ways, of which supporting music through the Scholarship scheme and donations towards the Colyer-Fergusson building is crucial to nurturing, developing and encouraging all the young musicians who come to Kent. This morning’s reception was an opportunity for us to say thank you to some of them, for their continued interest in Kent and in the young minds and musical talents that arrive each September.

Two of our Music Scholarship students, soprano Kathryn Cox and trumpeter and singer, Joe Prescott, were among the crowd, talking about music-making and what the generosity of the supporters allows them to achieve.

Music Scholars Kathryn Cox and Joe Prescott. Image: Matt Wilson
Music Scholars Kathryn Cox and Joe Prescott. Image: Matt Wilson

A lovely occasion, and a reminder of the importance of what the University does, not only for those who are studying here, but to a much wider community. Our thanks to all of them.

The Arts: rejuvenating the county

I’m reminded anew of this article in the Guardian some months ago about the impact culture and the arts are having in East Kent.

Writing last year, the Director of the Turner Contemporary Gallery, Victoria Pomeroy, states that

the arts are leading the way in raising the profile of the area as a desirable destination. From Whitstable to Folkestone, Canterbury to Dover, arts and culture are making a significant contribution to the tourism offer.

east_kentWith the tourist industry bringing in ‘£3.2bn’ to the area annually, the partnership between the arts, heritage and the tourist industry is rejuvenating the county’s economic development, bringing visitors to historic and cultural attractions throughout the region.

Last year’s bid for East Kent as ‘City of Culture,’ drawn up by collaboration across venues and organisations across East Kent. may not have been successful, it’s true, but it does reflect a changing mentality across the county, triangulated in investment in iconic venues such as the recently-refurbished Marlowe Theatre and Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, the Turner Contemporary in Margate, and the University’s own award-winning Colyer-Fergusson Building. Since 2011, Revelation St Mary‘s has been developing an exciting series of events at the heart of Ashford town, and there are festivals such as the Canterbury Festival,  Deal Festival, Lounge on the Farm, and Sounds New attracting major performers to the area; this year, in May, the new Whitstable Literary Festival will be launched.

There’s a sense that professionals across these industries locally are starting to forge working relationships, building on the sense nascent in the City of Culture bid that there is a vibrant county-wide cultural presence that can make a significant contribution towards supporting regional economic growth. We’ve certainly noticed an increased cultural vibrancy both here and next door in the Gulbenkian Theatre, with its developing partner-groups and youth theatre projects, and the number of local, regional and national performers coming into the music building; Kent really does have a lively artistic scene, one that engages the community across the age-range and brings them a high standard of artistic experience The recent high-speed rail link means Canterbury, Ashford and Margate are within easy reach of London, and are now more readily accessible. Notwithstanding the impact the Colyer-Fergusson building is having on the student experience and music-making provision on the campus, it’s exciting to see it forming a part of the cultural landscape developing across Kent.

Read the article online here.

Music, students and employability

As I’ve written about several times previously,the employability of our students in Life After Kent is important, both to us as an extra-curricular department – the range of disciplines being studied in combination with musical pursuits at the university is extraordinary – and to the University itself, with its Employability Points Scheme and the Careers and Employability Service.

With this in mind (and with only a slight changing of ‘music students’ to ‘musical students’), here’s a useful article in The Guardian recently, focusing on the employability of music graduates and the range of skills they can offer that make them highly desirable in the employment sector.

The experience of organising, hosting, and performing in events that are open to the public provides them with skills beyond those on other degree programmes.

Read the article in full here.

Employability: arts vacancies Pinterest board

As a means of organising all the arts vacancies advertisements that I’ve hitherto been posting to our Facebook group, you can now Follow a special Arts Vacancies board on Pinterest.

As we come across arts vacancies in the south-east region (mainly Canterbury, but occasionally further afield – there’s currently one for Plymouth on there!), I’ll be adding them to the board with the closing date for applications indicated, so you can quickly see all the extant opportunities, together with direct links to the relevant website.

VacanciesBoard

This will be your one-stop guide to current arts-related opportunities, as well as provide an idea of various arts organisations and institutions that provide them.

Click here to visit: keep watching…

Early musical training produces ‘long-lasting effects on performance and the brain’

A recent article in the New Scientist reveals that starting to learn a musical instrument at an early age can coincide with a key period of neurological development.

MRI scans revealed that the white matter in the corpus callosum – the brain region that links the two hemispheres – had more extensive wiring and connectivity in the early starters. … the corpus callosum aids speed and synchronisation in tasks involving both hands, such as playing musical instruments…

…younger-trained musicians may have an advantage because their training coincides with a key period of brain development . At age 7 or 8, the corpus callosum is more receptive than ever to the alterations in connectivity necessary to meet the demands of learning an instrument.

Image: Mikael Damkier/Alamy

Although starting to learn early helps develop connectivity in the brain, the article goes on to say that this does not, alas, guarantee musical genius. Darn…

Read the full article here.

 

Head in the clouds: streaming your music

As a music consumer, do you feel the need to own your CD collection ? Or has your consumption been overtaken by streaming ? As a mark of how strongly companies believe consumers can be lured from the former to the latter, the French music-streaming service, Deezer, is about to launch in the UK to take on other services such as we7 and Spotify, according to a recent article in The Telegraph.

When LPs shrank to CD format, there was a lamentable loss of the tangibility of an album: those lavish gate-fold prog-rock albums from the 70s, often with lyrics printed inside and weird and wonderful cover-art, became a thing of the past.

Streaming services
Merrily down the stream...

Nowadays, with the advent of on-line listening available through streaming, listeners no longer even need actually to own a copy of the CD: they can listen to it whenever they like, add it to their Library, offer ‘shouts’ about their preferences and even share their preferred tracks with friends. Services such as Spotify are really taking advantage of this, enhancing their service with links to Facebook and the ability to integrate with Twitter last year.

Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, calls this moving people ‘from the ownership model to the access model,’ managerial-babble for enticing consumers away from purchasing music and encouraging them to access content via streaming services.

Will this be the future of your digital library, a cloud-based one that you don’t own but can access whenever you like just as easily as your own library on your PC or your shelves ? Do you still enjoy the pleasure of ownership, or does the ability to stream suit your listening lifestyle ?