Our latest NMC Archive blog is by designer François Hall. François designed most of our booklets and covers until 2017 and in this blog he tells us about his artistic process.
My links with NMC began in the early 1990s when I was commissioned to design a CD (and cassette!) for Bingham String Quartet. Back then, I was working at the Southbank Centre designing posters for Messiaen’s 80th anniversary, the 60th anniversary of Stockhausen, and the Schoenberg celebration concerts, which has proved not dissimilar to designing CD covers. Both need to have arresting images that are uncluttered, atmospheric and conceptual – this is what I try to achieve when designing for NMC.
By the time the design for the first NMC sampler was needed, it was clear that the look and sound of NMC’s recordings stood out from the crowd. The ethos of NMC was so different from other record labels and suggested the analogy of the black sheep. Adding NMC blue, turning the stray sheep around and using the Warhol style we created the Pastures New artwork and the distinctive blue sheep logo was born (you can learn more about our blue sheep here).
Being presented with such a variety of ideas and concepts each time I’m asked to produce a new cover remains the most enjoyable part of working with NMC. Sometimes I am able to hear the music in advance – this especially helped with Richard Ayres' NONcertos, which is among my favourite NMC recordings, along with Judith Weir, Howard Skempton’s Ben Somewhen and Jonathan Harvey’s Body Mandala. I also enjoy jazz improvisation, which is not a million miles away from the way my mind works when in designer mode. And it always helps if I can listen to my favourite composer Thelonious Monk when I’m working!
To encapsulate these musical ideas and references can be a challenge but also fascinating because it leads me down avenues I would never have ventured if not for the title of a piece or the notion of a composer. Once I have the idea I then need to decide how to creatively represent it. This could be photography through a blue plastic stencil ruler on Portland beach (Lento), borrowing a real human skull from the local museum (Vanity), waiting outside a block of flats from light to dark (Poles Apart), photographing Art Deco wax dolls (The Intelligence Park) or delving into the incredible NASA website to discover mysterious sounds from Saturn (Saturn).
My favourite covers are Divertimento, On Memory, Lento and Prime Cuts.