Monthly Archives: February 2014

Designing Hundred Years Late

This project has allowed me to develop my skills in a number of areas. The project involved a lot of research, critical listening, sound engineering, musicianship, video production and writing. But today I want to talk about design. There are plenty of blogs that discuss style and design, but these are key elements of every blog and website. Every blogger is a web designer, like it or not. And we should take care with our efforts, knowing it may form the basis of an opinion about us (good or bad) before anyone even reads or engages with our ‘content’. Here I’m going to outline my approach to designing this project.

Font fetishism. It’s a thing. You may even be prone to it yourself. Given the vintage nature of the material being discussed on this blog, I browsed through hundreds of retro fonts before finding Pyriform Tones NF and Little Lord Fontleroy (of which Fontleroy Brown is the plain variation). These fonts were designed by Nick Curtis. Surely everyone can relate to my experience, seeing Hundred Years Late (or whatever’s in your bag) in all those different fonts, finally settling on the one that seemed to set the right tone, inexplicably looking proportionally perfect when all the others somehow didn’t. I put some thought and care into finding two fonts that didn’t just look good but complemented each other and looked good together. A slapdash ill-conceived logo can completely alienate the font fetishists, they’re a particularly discerning demographic (and I’m one of them).

These little inset boxes with supplemental information are a key design and layout feature of this blog. In HTML, they’re called DIVs. Since the Twitter Feed widget came in ‘light’ or ‘dark’, I decided to use the ‘dark’ colour as the background colour for my DIVs, it’s nice when things match. I also noticed the widget’s rounded corners, a neatly elegant and subtle little feature that I also decided to imitate. My enthusiasm for the ‘border-radius’ property of the ‘style’ attribute saw me going back and retro-coding it into DIVs and images in all my previous posts. It’s such an appropriate little idiosyncrasy to appear as a design feature in this blog, suggesting the softened edges of history following years of erosion.

Then there were the colours to consider. Again, a retro feel seemed so appropriate as to be inevitable, muted sepia tones were the natural choice. This WordPress theme, Coraline, only has a few colour schemes which made the choice extremely easy – this shade of brown, take it or leave it. Actually I quite like it. I decided to carry on the same colours in the graphics on the header and for the title of each blog post, camouflaging them in the theme’s colours. The colours used on the Twitter page and the Bandcamp page can afford to be a bit more exciting and extravagant, a bit more high-contrast retro. The muted colours on the blog are intentionally easy on the eye, such that if anyone were to sit down and read the whole thing in one sitting, their rods and cones wouldn’t be completely fried. Each post was given a title graphic, mostly to break up the blog entries in a more visual way when they all load on the main page, but it has the added bonus of reinforcing the visual character of the project, and revealing more letters in that charming font face – I don’t believe you’ve seen an ‘x’ yet, it’s quite lovely, I hope I will have cause to use it soon. In the meantime, you can admire how the ampersand looks like a treble clef. What could be more perfect for Hundred Years Late? Thanks, Nick.

When it came to designing individual pieces of album artwork for the songs I’ve recorded and uploaded on Bandcamp so far, I decided to break out of the ‘retro’ mould and explore another theme of this project – reinterpretation, reappropriation, remixing, mashing-up, public domain, open source, free-culture. I wanted a splash of colour and so I visited Wikimedia Commons to reappropriate and remix some of its crowdsourced resources, one of the world’s greatest gifts to itself.

Being happy with the fonts I’d chosen, I was confident that the thematic unity they lend would tie all the artwork together, no matter how disparate the images used. This set the scene for a kind of visual free association, using literal (and abstract) search terms and browsing to find public domain images that would satisfactorily represent each song. The Monotone, to complement the song, prompted quite a faded, desaturated, sepia edit of a picture of a church bell. I Want to Be Like Jesus features a Crucifixion statue photographed from below against a bright blue sky, bringing some colour to these pages and heralding this blog’s vibrant mission to rediscover, remix, re-edit, and reinterpret our history and shared culture across multiple media and, crucially, to encourage others to do so as well. I’ll leave you with a few other images. They contain spoilers – titles of songs I’ve yet to record! See if you can find them in the archives…

Click on any of the images in this post to view the original image and attribution on Wikimedia Commons. Thanks again to Nick Curtis for producing such wonderful fonts.

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Vintage Artwork – Part 1

Vintage Artwork Part 1

This will be the first in a series of posts where I’ll be displaying some of the wonderful front cover artwork from the published sheet music of a hundred years ago (most of these songs were published or recorded in 1914). It’s been a real pleasure going through these images. The typography and illustrations of this era are beautiful and fascinating. So far I’ve only selected artwork for which I can also include a period recording. I hope you enjoy it.

The Yellow Dog Rag
by W.C. Handy

The cover is vibrant red, there’s yellow in the title, and the song is written by W.C. Handy, a man often credited with popularising the blues. Now there’s a colourful story.

The Rose of the Mountain Trail
performed by The Peerless Quartet

This version is sung by Peerless Quartet. The lovely illustration sets the tone for the song.

You Broke My Heart to Pass the Time Away
performed by Manuel Romain

O! The cruel vagaries of love! Such a wonderfully melodramatic song. The wide-brimmed hat of the cold-hearted woman on the cover seems to say… Don’t get too close.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
performed by Albert H. Campbell and Irving Gillette

Though this version is sung by Albert H. Campbell and Henry Burr (credited here as Irving Gillette), the beautifully illustrated sheet music artwork features a photographic inset of popular singing duo The Manson Twins.

In the Palace of Dreams
performed by Helen Clark and Emory B. Randolph

The front cover artwork features singer and actress Reine Davies.

Canadian Music Archive Resource – The Virtual Gramophone

Press play.

Are we rolling?

Harry McDonough and Raymond Dixon perform in an a cappella recording of ‘It Was a Lover and His Lass’ from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. The credited composer is Thomas Morley (1557-1602).

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Elsie Baker singing ‘One Sweetly Solemn Thought’.

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Paul Dufault performing ‘When Twilight Comes’ by Anton Strelezki.

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Albert P. Quesnel sings this French-language Easter song, ‘Hosanna’. Music composed by Jules Granier. Poem by Julien Eugéne H. Didiée.

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This recording features The BlackFeet Tribe, the same Navajo Indians recorded by Geoffrey O’Hara as discussed in previous post ‘Navajo Indian Songs’. This is their ‘Gambler’s Song’, performed by Medicine Bull, Sleeps Long Time, and Big Top.

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The song at the top of the entry is ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ performed by Knickerbocker Quartet and New York Military Band. All the songs featured here were recorded or released in 1914.

Columbia Mixed Quartet will play us out with ‘O, Canada’.

I visited Canada a few years ago. It was late 2008 and it was beautiful. There were red maple leaves everywhere. And I saw a squirrel. Earlier this year I visited Canada again, this time it was in 1914. While researching Canadian tenor Henry Burr, I discovered a wonderful resource of Canadian recordings online. The Virtual Gramophone project was discontinued in 2006, with only sporadic updates since then. There’s a lot of good stuff there, and plenty of material from 1914. It’s a pity it’s not still being added to regularly, the recordings available on The Virtual Gramophone represent only a portion of the 78-rpm and cylinders collection held by Library and Archives Canada. There’s good music in collections all over the world, music that’s being preserved but not enjoyed. I hope some discussion around archives might revive projects like The Virtual Gramophone. Musicians can cover some of these Canadian gems from 1914 to show that the archives are still relevant, a hundred years later. I’ve enjoyed lending my ear to these voices from history, and I’ve picked out some highlights. If listening to these songs isn’t enough for you, there’s loads more that you can discover for yourself.

On The Virtual Gramophone there are biographies of prominent Canadian performers of the time, chronologies of sound recording technologies and the sound recording industry, and collections such as ‘Songs of The First World War‘. According to the ‘About’ page on the site… In choosing the titles for digitization, only those recordings having Canadian content, such as a performer, composer or lyricist were digitized. Recordings where the music and lyrics are still under copyright in Canada or for which the copyright status could not be determined are not available on The Virtual Gramophone. In other words, it’s all in the public domain just waiting to be enjoyed by modern audiences and rediscovered by modern musicians. That’s what music is for.

Due to the nature of Hundred Years Late (the focus on a specific year), I had to find a hack to search The Virtual Gramophone by year. If you click on Search/Advanced Search and enter a comma between inverted commas as a search field and Year = 1914, you can browse the content available from that year.

Now if only you could find a link to The Virtual Gramophone!