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JH

Adventurous Music / Photography Collaboration

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Cover of LP sleeve/book Second double-page spread. Third double-page spread. Fifth double-page spread. Seventh double-page spread. Eighth double-page spread. Nineth double-page spread. Tenth double-page spread. Eleventh double-page spread.

With Benge's layouts, we can ponder the relationship between the vertical rectangles on each of the two-page spreads (matching patterns, shape, colour or content), or between them and the backdrop. Then there are the connections between details of the imagery of two consecutive page spreads that become obvious when you turn a page. There is also the relationship between Benge's chosen imagery and the lines of poems chosen by de Castro-Robinson for titles - domestic garden imagery for example.

Rattle Records, December 2015

I stayed a minute
Music composed for a two-sided 12 inch vinyl record by Eve de Castro-Robinson
Photography: Harvey Benge

32 page hardcover booklet as record sleeve
Design: Unklefranc

This unusual collaboration features a creative partnership between contemporary classical composer Eve de Castro-Robinson and photographer/bookmaker Harvey Benge: de Castro-Robinson’s music formatted onto a vinyl LP, and the record sleeve’s sequence of 14 double-page spreads (that come after the square cover and single page intro image) providing backgrounds for Benge’s colourful images and overlaid vertically rectangular inserts.

The result is a sort of art object, even though to say that undermines de Castro-Robinson’s aural contribution. The disc has to be played and listened to, not looked at as a black circle placed alongside Berge’s complex contributions, when seen in an open hardcover book designed by UnkleFranc.

I happen to be a CD enthusiast who abandoned vinyl years ago, any regret about the greatly diminished artwork being assuaged by the ‘dust-free’ CD sound which I’m happy with. (And I’ve no interest in the more reduced frequency range of MP3s.) Because I have no turntable, I managed to persuade (brilliant film writer) Steve Garden of the extraordinary Rattle records to burn me a CD. However you could argue (leading from what I’ve said above) that this is cheating, and that handling the vinyl record, removing it from the jacket/ book, placing it on the turntable and positioning the needle on its outer rim is part of the ‘listening deal’ that Eve de Castro-Robinson requires. That that physical action is a muscular prerequisite for participating in de Castro-Robinson and Benge’s project.

So here are some observations about the interplay of visual and aural components in this package, such as for example, that the three sections of each of de Castro-Robinson’s two compositions vaguely correlate with the three divisions of most of Benge’s double page spreads.

With Benge’s layouts, we can ponder the relationship between the vertical rectangles on each of the two-page spreads (matching patterns, shape, colour or content), or between them and the backdrop. Then there are the connections between details of the imagery of two consecutive page spreads that become obvious when you turn a page. There is also the relationship between Benge’s chosen imagery and the lines of poems (often by Bill Manhire) chosen by de Castro-Robinson for titles - domestic garden imagery for example.

The cover (taken in a Parisian sex-shop), and opening image (of a crumpled cardboard box under plastic sheets) are particularly striking, and some of the spreads, especially nos. 2, 6 and 8) are very effective in their synthesising of elements from different sources.

Benge’s images here are not typical of his practice (as seen in his books) in that there are no portraits - but they are characteristically urban with their public street frontages, household objects and domestic environments; de Castro-Robinson’s contributions on the other hand are surprisingly intimate with the commissioned pianist occasionally singing or playing percussion as well. There is often something very private within the experience of listening to a solo perfromance that art rarely gets near. 

Both of de Castro-Robinson’s compositions are performed by the keyboard player and countertenor, Dean Sky-Lucas. They are each about twelve minutes long. While playing the keys or strumming the strings of a piano, Sky-Lucas also taps a bell and tamtam gong in Ring True, and whispers, sings, chants, hums and claps in The Garden was Full of Voices.

The first composition has a Debussy-like prettiness, especially in its middle section (wild dissolving bliss) where the tinkling notes cascade and ripple, while the second is more austere. It uses a more regularly repeated rhythm of single treble notes that builds up tension through its simplicity to climax with hissing whispers. Then, by using greater volume - and incorporating middle and lower range - it creates a compellingly layered work of textural complexity. You can listen to a sample here.

Through this inventive artistic collaboration it is obvious that the relationship between the two senses and ‘parallel’ artforms is complicated. However there is an interesting argument that no one sense (least of all visual), can ever be pure or isolated. Each ‘single’ sense is a hybrid of many, that visual and aural aspects are inevitably fused together. Here is Tom Mitchell on the subject, in a fascinating (surely provocative) essay: There are no visual media.

John Hurrell

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