1. Publicity Photos
First, we met to take some publicity photos in and around the Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago. We started with some 'action shots' of the duo improvising front of a blackboard that ended up providing a subtle yet detailed backdrop for the musicians. Then we wandered around Grant Park to get some exterior shots. They ended up using two of these for most of the publicity for live shows leading up to the album release in November.
2. CD Artwork
Some months passed, and James approached me to make the artwork for the CD package. A line from their setting of Thomas Merton's poem In Silence caught my attention, and I took it as my initial prompt for the visuals (bold text added by me):
“I will try, like them
To be my own silence:
And this is difficult. The whole
World is secretly on fire. The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me. How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning? How can he dare
To sit with them when
All their silence
Is on fire?”
This initial concept was met with some favor; I'd been playing around with a digital screening concept, using photos of stones at different thresholds as virtual stencils to 'paint' stones that had some inner fire charring their outsides.
Here are some source and process images from this concept stage of the design.
As often happens when I'm having too much fun, my initial design admittedly went a tad overboard/literal, and was rejected on those grounds. James wrote:
"Your work here feels dark/sinister/aggressive/literal
while our record feels (at least to us)
He later wrote:
"It strikes me that there is a lot of "humanity" on the record, that is to say, a great deal of first person narrative and references (nobody's fault but mine, this is my hand, alton sterling, etc) that there could be some oblique reference to the human form in the imagery. I don't think this would need to be literal, but something that suggests a physical presence of some sort."
This helped me dial the idea back to the versions to the right (the silhouettes were again deemed too literal) and then the final iteration of the artwork below. Once I get my hands on a hard copy, I'll photograph it and add those snaps here.
3. Music Video, 'And Yet Hope'
Having completed a music video for Drag City artist Bill MacKay earlier in the year, I was looking for another video project to use an excuse to practice the animation techniques I started exploring during that process. Once again, however, the unadorned video really resonated with the musicians, and no animation ended up making the cut. I'll animate a video eventually!
I took a field trip to Steelworker's Park, a former bulwark of the steel industry on Chicago's south side repurposed as a public park by the city in 2002. The site is heavy with giant concrete walls that have been eroded by years of languish by the lake, collapsing into the lush greenery that has developed since the steelworkers left the area, leaving exposed rebar and other detritus in their wake. That new life thriving amidst the abandoned human structures spoke to the themes we'd already explored in the CD artwork, as well as the contemplative nature of the music.