What do we look at when we listen to music, and how does what we see influence what we hear? For the better part of human history, listening to a performance meant looking at the performers, and this habit persisted even after technology made it possible to listen to music without the musician being around. 19th century gramophone listeners pointed their snouts, like Nipper the dog in HMV’s famous logo, directly at the horn, the source of ‘his master’s voice’.
In more recent times, our focus of attention shifted from the speaker to the record - or more accurately, the package it arrived in. Now that music no longer needs a physical container to make its way in the world, releases still arrive with artwork as a matter of course, and for many, buying records remains preferable to downloading or streaming precisely because of the visual form that accompanies it. As musician Jan Jelinek puts it, “the binding to other forms makes music attractive to me”. Jelinek’s Faitiche imprint is one of four labels whose work is collected in ‘Seeing Sounds’, an exploration of the relationship between music and its visual form, curated by musician and author Andrew Pekler. Here, you’ll see record sleeves and other printed material from Faitiche, New Kanada, Shelter Press and ECM while listening to a continuous mix of the sounds they were designed to accompany. How much does the feeling of cathedral-like stillness in the music released by ECM owe to the elegant, modern sleeve designs of Barbara Wojisch? Are the striking red and black designs of New Kanada records the perfect visual translation of the music inside, or does the music sound ‘black and red’ because of the design? Perhaps a little of both - as Shelter Press’s Felicia Atkinson says, “everything works in echoes”.
For an imaginative journey through the history of listening, check out Lucy Dyson’s installation upstairs in building C.