March 13th, 2009

Sounds For Sights, Sights For Sounds

By Kelly Aiken

It was a couple years after I graduated from high school before I started to pick up on the fact that Andre really was more than just a dude who drew stuff. I was playing in a band, Ancille, with a bunch of our mutual friends and we had started working on our first CD. Not having any experience in creating a finished musical product, there were plenty of aspects I neglected to consider — the most prominent being the packaging.

Luckily for me, and my former band, Andre had volunteered to design the package. He asked me for some direction about what we were looking for. I tried to give him an idea of what I was thinking through the lyrics and songwriting. I even listed some examples of other art that expressed a feeling similar to what I wanted, but the idea of translating music into visuals is a tricky one, especially for me. As someone who is completely inept at any sort of visual expression I was extremely thankful to have someone else take the layout upon themselves. Nonetheless, I still felt a certain amount of stress; even if I couldn’t communicate my vision, I still had a specific idea of what I wanted to see. I could share what I thought about the music, but I could not for the life of me actually articulate what I wanted to see when looking at the CD or lyrics. I just knew that I cared. A lot.

In the best cases, working with designers allows me to get exactly what I want, even if I don’t really know what that is. I can’t ever remember saying anything to Andre about trees or building skylines or earth tones. But when I saw those images, I recognized them as exactly what I wanted. Designers can figure it out for me, by understanding what I want better than I do.

Maybe it was less about trying to convert the music into art and more about assigning art to the music, rather than just transcribing it visually. We, as a band, had begun the process of taking what was essentially a hobby and trying to make it serious; the design took us one step closer.

The final product was a piece that, to be completely honest, stood above and beyond our music. Although I am quite proud of the songs we made and the lyrics I wrote, I am also realistic — my band, and the music we made, was amateur. I believe there’s something to be said for expression and sincerity, whether it’s amateur or professional, and to that extent I am proud of the things I was able to express through that music. But when I think about that album and those songs, I also get a very clear picture of the design work that accompanied them. Despite the fact that no one in the band actually created or even envisioned it, that artwork is now inseparable from the rest of the album. It’s an aesthetic that broadens the scope of the band’s artistic expression, and for that I am both thankful and impressed.

Kelly Aiken lives in Seattle, where he impresses the kids he works with by having tattoos, being in a band, and riding a motorcycle. It’s working great so far.

This essay first appeared in Never Sleep, a book written by Andre Andreev and G. Dan Covert, published by de.MO. Summary: There is a major disconnect between the life of a design student and the transition to being a design professional. To demystify the transition, we share the failures, successes, and surprises during our years in college and progression into the field: the creative process, monetary problems, internships, interviews, mistakes, and personal relationships.