Monday, 29 November 2010


There's a whole culture within the culture of independent music that doesn't get given nearly as much press as it should do. The marriage of art and music has always been there (ill-advised or not) and often manifests itself in paper, ink and wall paste radness. We're talking about gig posters, obviously.

Perhaps once the approach to gig flyering was little more than a crayola and fag packet type of affair, but people now take this shit really seriously even in the case of some of the smaller shows - Maybe they try harder because they know how difficult it is to pack out a place if your headline act's fashion line isn't quite ready for general circulation - Whatever the reason, this niche subculture, occassionally, bursts your eyes as well as your ear drums.

In recent times, East side of the pond, showcases such as the Wallfly Exhibition in East London have given artists who work on these type of projects a bit more exposure. When gifted the kind of space in which they can be allowed to speak for themselves as an individual piece of work, not just an after-thought, you can find some truly incredible stuff.

Setting our iris alight with every new project and creation in this area are Chicago based company Sonnenzimmer, who produce some of the most abstract works of this kind, to highest most exceptional quality. The company was set up by Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher, who met and became buddies whilst working in Jay Ryan's space in the city. The space was constantly full of interesting people, and so the couple started collaborating on work for their specific tastes and set up their own print shop in the summer of 2006.

Juke managed to get hold of Nick the other day to ask him a bunch of questions about their amazing projects. This is that.

Why did you decide to set up this particular project?

Sonnenzimmer came about through a series of lucky events. Nadine and I were looking to combine our efforts. She had since moved to Chicago and was working out of her own painting studio. I had moved into my own painting studio too. We were both still printing at The Bird Machine. Jay's career was really taking off and he was getting busier and busier. He was very generous with his resources but it became obvious that we were getting in the way. We had played with the idea of setting up our own print shop and finally jumped at the opportunity when we met a real nice fellow who was selling his industrial screen printing equipment for next to nothing. We bought the equipment and found a space. It took us about 6 months to get everything up and running. At first, we were using the space for more of a "fine art" space, taking on the occasional poster jobs to help cover rent. We were both working other jobs at the time. Things slowly picked up with more poster jobs and about two years ago we decided to really try to turn Sonnenzimmer into a real business. During all this time we were both working at various places. We were both laid off a few times and eventually we just decided to go for it.

What is the creative process behind producing the artwork for different artists?

Our process is always different. In general we start by listening to the band, to get an idea of the kind of atmosphere we want to create. It's also extremely important for us to be excited about what we are making. So, even if the music is not exactly our cup of tea, we try to bring in formal concepts or techniques that are new and exciting to us. Most of all we try to surprise ourselves. Once we've decided on the basic ambient, we then bounce ideas off of one another through sketching, mock ups on the computer, word games, etc. There's no real formula. But it is always important for us to agree on a direction ahead of time, or else it can be to much of an internal battle. Once we are on the same page we work pretty fast. Thats the great thing about a team, double idea power. We usually start by taking drawings or painted elements, photocopying them, and collaging them together to create our film positives.

Most people attach an image to everything, whether they are conscious of it or not. It helps us file things in our minds. For most of our lives, music has existed as an object. So that object, many times came the image we referred to in our brain library. Now that music is once again immaterial, people need an image more than ever to attach to it, in order to file it properly. That can be video, graphic art, anything really.

How do you feel about the artwork that is produced en masse for musicians nowadays?

In general, I feel that art, music, and culture in general is at a stand sill. There's more of it than ever, which is great. But its also very monochromatic, not literally, but there is certain look to everything. We are just as guilty as anyone else. But, I feel a real fear of the future, so everyone is looking backwards. You see it in art, music, everywhere. In general though, I think musicians care more than ever about the art that's on their albums and posters. We live in an image based culture now. In many ways, image is just as important as the content. Its a strange time. A cross roads, I guess.

Are there any particular musicians who you feels artwork is really on point?

I've always loved Four Tet's album covers, especially Rounds. It really hit the nail on the head for the aesthetic of record. I love the covers and labels that Stefan Marx has done for Smallville Records, and of course Kim Hiorthoy's work for Rune Grammophon. I love the simplicity of jazz classics like The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman or Giant Steps by John Coltrane. Utilitarian with a touch of style and class.

What creative collaborations have most excited you recently?

We've had a good run lately of really fun collaborations. We recently worked on a poster for an experimental animation festival called Eyeworks. The organizers, Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carre, are fantastic animators themselves, came in with tons of great ideas. Together we came up a crazy plan. An animated poster, using the screen printing process to make incremental changes in placement and color over the print run. So the stack of finished prints worked as a flip book. Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carre then photographed each of the posters and created the actual animated poster. Which they used as a web trailer for the event. That project really opened up our minds to new possibilities with screen printing.

We also just produced a collaborative art print with local vibraphonist, Jason Adasiewicz. For the project we covered his vibraphones with paper and inked up his mallets. He then proceeded to beat the shit out of them, making some amazing marks, definitely recalling abstract expressionism and all the action painters. We took that imagery as source material to create a print. The final product is part of a project called 10x10 (not the Insound thing, a different 10x10), which was put together by local print shop Spudnik Press and event organizers, Homeroom. For the project 10 printmakers choose a local musician. The musicians created a song and then the printmakers make a print based on that song. The finished product is packaged together as a set. 10 prints with a coupon code for the 10 songs. This project was great, because we got to work with one of our favorite musicians in a very very direct way.

Could you tell us a little more about the thinking behind your recent 10x10 project and how you felt it panned out?

The Insound 10 for 10 project was a huge endeavor for us, also a huge opportunity. The idea behind it was to create something bigger than the individual posters, to add a second layer of interest and concept. Our solution was to make all the posters fit together as large abstracted landscape. Insound's goal was to highlight 10 bands that were shaping the future of music. We wanted to make that shape!

Who would you like to work with in the future?

In many ways I think there is a lot more freedom in dance music. While the structures are extremely rigid the things put in the structures can vary widely. Its a strange duality. I'd love to make images for more dance oriented music. We would also like to work with larger institutions for event posters and prints. Working with museums, galleries, etc would be great. Especially if were able to collaborate with featured artists at such places. We are also looking to do more publishing. We've released one book, Formal Additive Programs, and have another, Field Integration, in the works. Rather than portfolios of our work, both books offer insight into different processes and working methods. We would eventually like to work with a larger publisher for producing similar publications.

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