Magazine article Gramophone

Seeing New Music: Contemporary Classical Music through the Eyes of a Graphic Designer

Magazine article Gramophone

Seeing New Music: Contemporary Classical Music through the Eyes of a Graphic Designer

Article excerpt

Seeing New Music

Contemporary Classical Music Through the Eyes of a Graphic Designer

By Denise Burt

Elevator, HB, 72pp, 30 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-8-79979-690-8

Denise Burt is a New Zealandborn, Copenhagenresident graphic designer who for the past 13 years has designed classical CD booklet covers, mostly featuring contemporary Danish or American music. Over 12 years, Burt has quietly revolutionised the way Dacapo Records looked at the front covers of their discs, first by replacing the once ubiquitous red frame with a white (or sometimes black) headline template for the text, thereby allowing the artwork to dominate the visual impact of each release. Eventually she persuaded the label to dispense with logos and much of the text from the front altogether--ironically achieving a more unique style than their classical competitors (although this is a not unfamiliar approach in the world of commercial pop and rock). The result is that Burt's designs now supply a visual guide or hook for the prospective buyer to assess the content on an instinctive, almost emotive level rather than just as a matter of repertoire choice.

By her own admission, Burt had no musical training, so in parallel to reprogramming Dacapo's visual imagery has come her own discovery of contemporary classical music, driven by the recordings she designed the covers for. The process was mutually beneficial, as she herself has said elsewhere: 'I often listen to new music for my own pleasure now. I've been converted!' This intriguing new book charts that conversion through 24 of her designs, mostly for Dacapo but also Cantaloupe Music (for composers in the Bang on a Can collective), by illustrating the result and discussing the processes behind each.

What is refreshing about this story is her openness and honesty. Burt includes her mistakes and failures as well as successes, even the white headline template she had argued for at Dacapo, which she came to feel was a compromise of her mission to 'conquer the cover'. While I had rather liked the now ancient red design, I had noticed over the years when reviewing and purchasing Dacapo discs how the redesign altered my perception of the label into something more modern and forward-looking, less cosily Danish.

The early phases of her conquest of the cover are illustrated in the introduction, which graphically charts the progress from the legacy red-frame design--produced as a footnote on the fourth page (the pages are not numbered)--through a set of nine of her earlier covers from 2003 (her first Dacapo design, for From the Merry Life of a Spy) to the first logo-less issue, of Norgard's A Light Hour, in 2010. …

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