From graphic novel to album cover: Richard Baker's debut album artwork

4th March 2024

Articles NMC Recordings

Composer Richard Baker writes about the process of choosing the cover art for his forthcoming debut album The Tyranny of Fun.

Having decided that the album would take its title from my 2012 ensemble piece, I found myself with the challenge of finding a suitable image to convey its various layers of meanings and associations. The piece is a reimagining of Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and La Valse – or, more precisely, a reimagining of them in Balanchine’s choreography – with disco-inflected beats and riffs in place of swirling waltz material. In fact, no foreground material from Ravel is heard at all: his music is only present as structure and harmonic background.

My piece consequently creates a slippage between the apotheosis of the waltz (and the associations this had for Ravel’s audience) and the disappearance of New York’s hedonistic gay club scene before HIV/Aids changed things forever. I spent many fascinating hours searching through photographs of the period and found several that evoked time and place perfectly. What stopped me, finally, from using an archival image was the sad realisation that many of the men in those photographs had in all likelihood died from the virus.

I became aware of Ed Firth’s work after he was a finalist in the Observer/Faber Graphic Short Story Competition in 2022. We first met over twenty years ago when he was a student, but had not seen each other since. Alongside a thriving portraiture practice, Ed has been documenting the highs and lows of urban gay life in a series of acclaimed graphic novels, informed by his work as a volunteer addiction keyworker.

The graphic novel panel that inspired the artwork (© Ed Firth)
The graphic novel panel that inspired the artwork (© Ed Firth)

On the first page of the first volume of the series, I found a panel that I thought was completely perfect, which captured exactly the kind of ambiguity I had been looking for, even though it was of a more or less contemporary scene. Coincidentally, it also used the same colour scheme — vibrant blues and pinks — as a photographic image I had been considering.

Firth's graphic art transformed into album cover

I wrote to Ed out of the blue to reconnect, and to ask if he might consider remaking the panel without text (and in the appropriate proportions) for my album cover, explaining a little of the themes behind my piece. I was delighted that he not only accepted, but delivered such a powerful and communicative image.

Richard Baker's album is released in full on the 15 March 2024. Find out more and pre-order below.

Find out more & pre-order the album

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Richard Baker

Richard Baker: The Tyranny of Fun

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