Seeing the sound

Aug 23, 2018

Wind the clock back to a time before music streaming, and a trip to the record store was part of the world's weekly routine. Shelves were lined with physical copies, and with them came elaborate artwork – but the rise in digital downloads has seen this imagery become near-obsolete. We'll be taking a look at the relationship between music and visuals, and where it could lead in the future.

Some of the greatest albums ever created come alongside truly iconic artwork. Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' was released at a tumultuous time for the rock legends; a time filled with drugs, arguments, breakups and affairs. But they didn't let that get in the way of the album's incredible imagery, it only enhanced it. The cover depicts the frontwoman, Stevie Nicks, with her legs intertwined with drummer, Mick Fleetwood's – perhaps a nod towards their infamous affair rumoured at the time. Despite the dramatic and theatrical pose, they still find room for comedy, with Fleetwood's emblematic toilet chain, closely resembling two spheres, hanging proudly between his legs. The Smiths, another band not short of controversy, used their 1985 album, 'Meat is Murder's artwork to push a more political agenda. The black and white cover depicts a Vietnam War soldier wearing a helmet with the album's title penned across it. The imagery draws a clear parallel between warfare and the consumption of meat, providing listeners with thought-provoking material to supplement their listening experience. These examples aptly illustrate the message, value and discussion album artwork can deliver – revealing more about the artists than their music alone.

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However, with the ascension of digital streaming, the need for this artwork has disintegrated. The masses inattentively switch from song to song with little use for carefully constructed, poignant imagery. Although, not everybody has given up on physical copies, as a new wave of young adults are choosing to shun digital downloads and return to the time of CDs and vinyl. In fact, 18-24 year olds are buying more vinyl than baby boomers, and the reasons why are difficult to pinpoint. Many believe it's simply a hipster trend, but Shake it Records' Co-owner, Jim Blase, thinks differently. He believes vinyl contains a feel you simply can't get anywhere else, and that children as young as ten years old are taking interest because of it. It means this is a trend that's here to stay – and with it, album artwork continues to live on as an integral part of the vinyl.

The people at W+K's Dept of New Realities have observed this movement, seen the enormous possibilities generated, and have created a brand new way to experience music with artwork at the very heart of it. Lava is an innovative app that uses audio recognition to trigger stunning artworks in augmented reality to accompany songs. They believe the magic of listening to your latest purchase while keenly casting your eye over every inch of the artwork has been lost, and that their app will bring back the more 'passive' listening experiences of days gone by. Co-founder of the company, Geoffrey Lillemon, refuses to stop here though, and has his sights firmly set on the game-changing possibilities of this wondrous technology. He envisions Lava potentially playing a significant role at concerts and events, with the crowd's phones acting as a light source that's fully integrated with the music. The key philosophy here is about heightening the reality you're experiencing, rather than distracting you from it. The same can be said about album artwork of times gone by – it existed to aid your enjoyment and create a more comprehensive listening experience, and the work taking place at W+K's Dept of New Realities is an exciting, inspiring glimpse into the future of visual perception combining with sound.