2013年3月13日 星期三

CDs Know That Ears Have Eyes

CDs Know That Ears Have Eyes

Images From ECM
A selection of covers for albums that were released this year by ECM.

MOST of us think we know where fine art roosts: museums, galleries, studios, maybe the stray subway car. But one of the more unexpected places to find striking, thought-provoking art, year in and year out, is on the album covers of ECM Records.
The covers of the more than 40 albums ECM released just this year, for example, make for an absorbing gallery of art photography, graphic design and abstract painting. ECM radiates a unified field theory of what an album can still be. As music more and more becomes just another cultural entree on the e-hive’s digital tasting menu, ECM, of Munich, is still fixed on making its albums a complete aesthetic experience.
On (those increasingly rare) store shelves they manifest intelligence, stillness — musical cheetahs stalking customers of jazz and classical discs. And in scrutinizing an ECM album it’s clear that a singular curatorial mind is at work, one that understands that art and music, like the best poetry, are (ideally) lyrical re-enactments of our lives.
That sensibility belongs to Manfred Eicher, who founded ECM in 1969 and has run it since. Besides producing the music, Mr. Eicher is also ECM’s de facto art director. As with the sound, his word is final when it comes to the visual. And when he talked covers in a telephone interview from Munich, the word “marketing” never fell from his lips.
“The cover is a metaphoric translation,” said Mr. Eicher, who refuses to be a mule to the literal. “Whatever it might mean, it’s a sign. It’s an envelope, the envelope of the given.” He added that he’s after “silence, poses, thoughtfulness, contemplativeness” — apt descriptions of the covers, all from 2012, cited here.
The process couldn’t be more human. Mr. Eicher marinates in the music, then (most often) shuttles between the album and his archive of images until he lights on the right one. It’s intuitive and improvisational (like much of what he has recorded), he says of his search for images that have the intonation and playfulness of the music, that aren’t obvious, but contrapuntal.
“It’s a very personal decision,” he said of settling on an album’s visual score. “I’m going for aesthetic connotation. And it doesn’t take more than a week. It’s like a recording mix. I want to get it done.”
The cover for “Year of the Snake” by the jazz trio Fly is a good example, as the artist Lourdes Delgado tells it, of Mr. Eicher as the alchemist who finds images that speak to the music — and vice versa. The four photographs that make up the cover come from her “Chants to Nature” series, and she admires how they were used.
“My photographs were made with one of the first photography techniques — the wet plate collodion — from the middle of the 19th century,” Ms. Delgado wrote in an e-mail. “Since one has to use silver nitrate to prepare the emulsion, the images become very physical, almost tactile, a feature that I needed to be able to express the materiality of nature. I can see this physicality mirrored in the sound” of Fly.
Mr. Eicher, who started as a musician and who is also a filmmaker, is more than ECM’s founder, producer and chief — he is its auteur. That realization is reinforced by a current exhibition, “ECM — A Cultural Archaeology,” at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich. The exhibition includes cover art, a concert series, film screenings and photographs of musicians. In the exhibition catalog the show’s curator, Okwui Enwezor, wrote, “Eicher’s work with ECM touches on the fundamental connection between artistic disciplines in music, film, theater, graphic design, photography and contemporary art.”
It’s not unusual for ECM to get art-world attention. There have been gallery shows of ECM covers in Western Europe, and there are two thick books devoted to the label’s visual language, “Sleeves of Desire” and “Windfall Light,” both edited by Lars Müller.
Though rarely, the musician is sometimes directly involved in the visual mix. On Keith Jarrett’s “Sleeper,” a live recording made in Tokyo in 1979 but released this year, the red title type pops creepily from a black background, suggesting a poster, perhaps, for some long-forgotten horror movie. “The first impulse came from Keith,” Mr. Eicher said, referring to the red lettering, “and then we developed it.”
And the composer and sax player Tim Berne pitched both ends of a doubleheader when “Snakeoil,” his first ECM album as bandleader, also featured one of his photographs on the disc’s cover. “It sounds crazy,” Mr. Berne said, “but it was almost more exciting than making the record, because of Manfred’s exacting standards.”
Most ECM covers these days are moody and elemental photographs that tack toward the abstract: melancholy Bergmanesque cityscapes and landscapes swaddled in fog, waterscapes and skyscapes. They’re dreamscapes, really, all blur and chiaroscuro, layered onto albums with titles like “Canticle of the Sun,” “Canto Oscuro” and “Dream Logic.” It’s as if they loosely illustrate some neo-noir that only Mr. Eicher senses.
Hinting at an answer, if not an aesthetic, he said: “I really like the light in the north, and I’m a fan of Bergman. It reflects my atmospheric, poetic side.”
When it comes to the intersection of art and music, one of his favorite quotations comes from Gertrude Stein: “Think of your ears as eyes.” That helps clarify ECM’s artistic concerns, and applies especially to how the cover of Bach’s “Das Wohltemperierte Clavier” by András Schiff came about.
As Mr. Eicher explained: “Schiff sees music in color. The Bach cover was commissioned to go in the direction of color painting.”
The artist given this assignment was Jan Jedlicka, a Czech whose work has appeared on more than 50 ECM covers. The “Clavier” cover suggests multiple veins of musical ore, appropriate given that Mr. Jedlicka created the image using some of the more than 200 pigments he has made from the sands, stones and minerals of South Tuscany. “Found pigments,” he said, “just like in medieval times.”
Mr. Jedlicka added: “András suggested the colors he wanted, the color of the tonality. But the cover doesn’t have an illustrative relationship with the music.”
Then there’s the intimate give and take between painting and music on “Sunrise” by the Masabumi Kikuchi Trio. The painting was made in 2000 by Akiko Kitami, who was once married to Mr. Kikuchi. Though they are no longer together, her art has been “influenced by his life and his music,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It is included in mood and tone.”
One recent dawn as I listened to the floating abstractions of “Sunrise,” on which Mr. Kikuchi plays piano, I held the album cover up to the morning sun, let the brittle December light strike Ms. Kitami’s textured yellows and subtle blue-grays. As I looked and listened, the literal met the abstract to create a startling moment of stillness.
Mr. Eicher savors that silence, that stillness. Play an ECM album ... and often there’s five or six seconds of hush before the music begins. Amid the silence, he seems to say, is another place where we find art.


以ECM今年發行的40多張專輯的封面為例,我們可以看到一組令人心曠神怡的藝術攝影、平面設計和抽象繪畫作品集。ECM提出了一種實際理論,告訴 我們音樂專輯仍然可以是什麼樣子。當音樂漸漸淪為喧鬧的e時代餐廳數碼品嘗菜單中的一道文化主菜時,來自慕尼黑的ECM還在固執地為專輯構造一套完整的美 學體驗。
它們在(越來越稀有的)唱片行的貨架上彰顯智慧與平靜——像一隻只音樂獵豹無聲地向爵士和古典音樂唱片購買者靠近。把一張ECM唱片里里外外端詳一 番,很明顯能看到它的背後有一個非凡的頭腦在謀劃,這個人深知音樂和藝術就像最好的詩歌一樣,是對我們生活的一次(完美的)熱情重現。
這種感覺的源頭,是1969年創辦ECM並掌管至今的曼菲德·埃希爾(Manfred Eicher)。除了製作音樂,埃希爾還是ECM實際上的藝術總監。視覺上的問題跟聲音一樣,他的話就是最終決定。當他在慕尼黑接受電話訪問談起封面時,從頭到尾就沒提過“營銷”這個詞。
“這是個很個人化的抉擇,” 他這樣評價自己為專輯配畫的創作,“我求的是一種審美內涵。這個過程不會超過一周。跟做錄音縮混差不多。我是希望把事情給做成了。”
爵士三人團“飛翔”(Fly)的專輯《蛇年》(Year of the Snake)封面就是個很好的例子,藝術家洛烏黛斯·德爾加多(Lourdes Delgado)說埃希爾先生就像一個鍊金術士,能找到闡釋音樂的圖片——反之亦然。封面中的四張照片取自她的“自然聖詠”(Chants to Nature)系列,埃希爾對照片的運用令她心悅誠服。
埃希爾是音樂家出身,還是位電影人,他不只是ECM的創始人、製作人和領導者——他一手導演了它。正在慕尼黑藝術之家博物館舉 辦的展覽“ECM——一次文化考古”(ECM—A Cultural Archaeology)加強了這種感受。展覽包括封面藝術、一個音樂會系列、電影放映和音樂家照片。在展覽手冊中,策展人奧庫依·恩維佐(Okwui Enwezor)寫道:“埃希爾在ECM的作為,觸及到了音樂、電影、戲劇、平面設計、攝影和當代藝術的創作準則之間的根本聯繫。
ECM受到藝術界的注目並不反常。在西歐曾有畫廊做過ECM封面展,對該廠牌的視覺語彙,已經有兩本大部頭專著:《慾望的封套》(Sleeves of Desire)和《風吹落的光》(Windfall Light),都是由拉斯·穆勒(Lars Müller)編輯。
音樂家有時會直接參与到這種視覺縮混中來,不過不多見。基思·傑瑞(Keith Jarrett)的《沉睡者》(Sleeper)是1979年在東京的現場錄音,但是直到今年才發行,紅色的標題字在黑色背景上顯得凶神惡煞,可能是要提 示這是某部被遺忘的恐怖片。“最初的念頭來自基思,”埃希爾在談起這個紅色標題時說,“接着由我們做了一些發揮。”
作曲家、薩克斯管演奏家蒂姆·伯恩(Tim Berne)在《蛇油》(Snakeoil)里承擔了雙重身份,這是他作為領隊的首張ECM唱片,同時封面又是他的攝影作品。伯恩說:“這聽起來很瘋狂,但是簡直比錄唱片還過癮,因為曼菲德的標準可是極苛刻的。”
近年的ECM封面大多是些沉鬱、基本的攝影作品,趨近於抽象:哀婉的伯格曼式都市和籠罩在霧霾里的風景,水景和天景。它們其實都是夢景,形狀模糊但 明暗分明,蒙覆在專輯上,印着“太陽的讚美歌”、“陰暗詩篇”和“夢邏輯”之類的標題。彷彿它們都是在若即若離地描繪某部只有埃希爾先生自己才看得到的新 黑色片(neo-noir)。
對於藝術和音樂的交集,他最欣賞格特魯德·斯泰因(Gertrude Stein)的一句話:“把你的耳朵當作眼睛。”ECM的藝術旨趣因此清晰了起來,這一點在安達什·席夫(András Schiff)的《巴赫平均律曲集》封面創作過程中尤其適用。
藝術家委託了捷克人揚·耶德列茨卡(Jan Jedlicka),其作品此前已經用在了50多幅ECM封面中。《曲集》封面上顯露出多條音樂礦脈的交織,有這種觀感是很自然的,因為耶德列茨卡在作品 中使用了200多種顏料,都是他自己用托斯卡納的砂、石和礦物製作的。“用現成顏料,”他說,“跟中世紀一樣。”
還有菊地雅章三人團的《日出》(Sunrise)中,繪畫與音樂你來我往地親密交流。畫是由菊地先生的前妻北見明子(Akiko Kitami)在2000年創作的。兩人已經分手,但她的藝術受到了“他的生命和他的音樂的影響,”她在一封郵件中說。“包含在情緒和基調里。”