FILM REVIEW | 23 ENVELOPE
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
the relationship between sleeve ART and the MUSIC it promotes has always been an INVIGORATING yet SUBTLE art, especially to music lovers like me. when seeking out an unfamiliar record by unknown ARTIST, seemingly you were always attempting to accurately surmise what the MUSIC would possibly SOUND like given the cover sleeve ARTWORK. most times this was a fool's errand but a fun one. the MAGIC of this interplay between SOUND and VISUALS is now largely lost given the MODERN advent of mobile streaming and various TECHNOLOGY-enabled distribution vehicles that make AUDIO content (as well as VIDEO) available instantaneously. there is no risk in purchasing a record, since commonly in recent years there is no record and consequently there is no purchase anymore (just watch it on YOUTUBE).
the documentary 23 ENVELOPE (BBC, 1985) is short documentary regarding the design firm 23 ENVELOPE, which was made up of graphic designer VAUGHAN OLIVER and photographer/videographer NIGEL GRIERSON. their partnership lasted from 1980 to 1988 and was celebrated for its CREATIVE work with BOUTIQUE BRITISH independent label 4AD and their stable of EXPERIMENTAL artists ranging from COCTEAU TWINS, PIXIES, LUSH, CLAN OF XYMOX and THIS MORTAL COIL to DEAD CAN DANCE and XMAL DEUTSCHLAND. what ties their PHOTOGRAPHIC and TYPOGRAPHIC work together is a commitment to all things and ABSTRACT. their work carries with it an ETHEREAL, OTHERWORLDLY quality that makes it feel very much up for interpretation, much like the MUSIC it serves to introduce. their work is also LYRICAL in the sense that it has an EMOTIONAL RESONANCE despite its OBTRUSIVE nature. too often with commercial COVER ART the images being displayed do not hold up AESTHETICALLY without explicit reference to the MUSIC. famous examples where this is not the case include ANDY WARHOL's iconic THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO (VERVE, 1967) cover, RICHARD KERN's early collaborations with SONIC YOUTH, as well as the images PETER SAVILLE provided for both JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER at FACTORY RECORDS. these NOTABLE examples standout as ARTISTICALLY compelling statements outside of their commercial associations with the TRANSGRESSIVE and INNOVATIVE MUSIC they were commissioned to promote.
the whole discussion regarding the role of ART and MUSIC is endlessly FASCINATING for me since at its core it serves a MARKET FUNCTION of differentiated what crassly very much is a PRODUCT for general CONSUMPTION. but the core INTEGRITY of INTENTION at display with this documentary in reference to the work of OLIVER and GRIERSON proves that more can be accomplished and render this PRODUCT as INDESPENSIBLE to the right constituency. that interplay between ARTIST and PATRON, MARKET and CONSUMER will never be figured out as they are uneasy bedfellows. 23 ENVELOPE voices this dynamic brilliantly and is a relevant documentary definitely well worth checking out.
RIP VAUGHAN OLIVER