Art of Record Production Conference
May 17-19, 2019
Berklee College of Music, 921 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215
Friday, May 17 • 15:30 - 16:00
The Production of Record Art: Theorizing the Album Cover

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This study provides the first comprehensive attempt at a conceptual and theoretical framework for the music album cover. Building on previous case studies on the topic I propose an interdisciplinary approach as follows:

From music iconography I take theories of representing and semiotics in and through the album cover; from the field of visual culture I take the focus on “ways of seeing” (Berger 1972) and suggest that cover art also represents a “way of listening,” also building on Mitchell’s (2005) dictum that “there are no visual media” extended via album covers to assert that “there are no (exclusively) sonic media”; and from musicology and popular music studies I take the analysis of recordings and models of space in recordings with visual connotations (e.g. Moylan 2002 and Zagorski-Thomas 2014) and question how album covers’ visual space informs and challenges interpretations of the recording as primary text (Moore 1993).

From this I identify a series of interlocking theoretical (and methodological) avenues in which we may study album cover art: a) historicizing the album cover, accounting for the historically contingent production, dissemination, and reception of the visual and sonic text; b) the materiality of the album cover, including the physical forms of the cover and the political economy of album covers (from providing protection to being collectors’ items); c) the album cover as paratext, considering it as the “threshold” (Genette 1997) between the sonic text and off-text; d) the cover art as audiovisual text, specifically how cover art and recorded sound are intertwined in an audiovisual hermeneutics; e) the album cover in the digital age, thinking about how the above points apply to and/or must be amended to explain the virtual visual life of music as both a break and continuation of the traditional album cover (from Spotify over Instagram and beyond).

avatar for Mikkel Vad

Mikkel Vad

University of Minnesota

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