Design work is about worlds. When I do an LP campaign for a band, I see it as creating a world for the artist, for that particular album. This world always starts with references and ideas, and then this begins to define an aesthetic approach that has to be adhered to across covers, videos, posters, etc. It’s not a literal place, but the combination of elements (picture, typography, colour, layout) are evocative of something, like an impossible past, a vaguely remembered or dreamt title sequence or poster. When we did the first LP for Broadcast, who would later score Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012), I was playing with cut out block lettering – as if from Czech film posters and weird soundtrack LPs – but this lettering developed a jagged, slightly digital, rasterised edge. James Cargill of Broadcast was also using modern digital 8bit sounds through old spring reverbs and creating something redolent of old academic electronic records but with something not right, not purely reproduced. This pairing of not quite right, digital and analogue, created a synergy with sound and design, a space of imagined pasts and sounds and films.

I’ve always seen collage as an overall approach rather than an illustration style. Film editing is collage, musical composition is collage; both take elements from different times and spaces and fusing them together. For the Surrealists there was a need to use processes that gave a more unfiltered access to the unconscious mind; automatic writing for instance. What dreams and collage share is that we apply our own sense of narrative and meaning to them in retrospect. Also, I think the process of imagining a scenario for a film, the idea of trying a genre in an odd location, or putting characters where you wouldn’t expect them is a sort of collage, forcing these juxtapositions and weird tensions.

The founding of the Ghost Box record label is based on this sense of collage. When we started the label, we wanted to create a look that was evocative of BBC television titles, English modernism and old school textbooks, but with something not right. The design had a modern academic look but was suggesting vaguely occult and cosmically weird undercurrents. Gradually the concept of the label formed into the idea that all the record releases were capsules from a particular world, in this case the fictional town of Belbury. From there the records went from having quotes and footnotes from real and imaginary authors to commissioned sleeve notes, and on to film programmes and art exhibitions, each one building on the myth of this central place.

Peter was aware of me through Broadcast, but when he approached me to work on Berberian Sound Studio it was with the world of Ghost Box in mind (the world of old rebel to reel tapes, vintage electronics, 70s horror soundtracks…). Initially I was creating tape boxes for the film and also the Berberian logo, the doping sheets, Gilderoy’s notebooks. Peter understood from the Ghost Box work that way of dealing with micro and macro. The way the logo has to be about the whole thing, the whole world. From there we moved to the film posters for Santina’s films and then the idea of the title sequence. I think this was a very interesting part of the whole thing, to have a sequence for the film within the film that then became something that informed the look of the whole campaign, the real theatrical posters. When you create these imaginary worlds they have a way of bleeding into this one. (Something which we were always obsessed with at Ghost Box, going back to the way HP Lovecraft’s fictional tome, the Necronomicon, was referred to in so many tomes as legendary forbidden book that it eventually ‘had’ to exist.) With In Fabric, Peter felt they didn’t have enough to capture the external world of the film, so we used stop motion archive clips to create an atmosphere through shopping collages. The TV advert is supposed to slowly degrade and become more delirious, unsettling. We used an old video vision mixer to create feedback from filming off screen. We could them amp the chroma levels to create the look of old saturated VHS. It’s a different aesthetic but it goes with the collage to add to the unstable dream feel of the film.

Poster for In Fabric designed by Julian House

For both Peter and I, design has to fit together, and if it doesn’t fit together, that it doesn’t fit in just the right way. The design is never just a typeface; it’s always loaded with memories and associations. Every logo can be read for occult meaning, etc. So when I’m working on the marketing or elements that come after the film, the visual collage aspects of the posters or soundtrack LP covers are really tying into the whole world of the film. These items act to bring the various, different aspects of the world together, bringing the strange connections and threads that are explored. For the In Fabric poster there is an important aspect in that the image is torn, which is a violent act. And we are looking through this tear into something darker, so there are aspects of the unconscious that are being suggested. Going back to what I said about Berberian, the way the posters and visuals reflect the ‘real’ world of the film, I think it’s the same with In Fabric. In this case it was difficult to focus on a particular actor or scene from the film, so we knew we had to come up with something strange and nonspecific that got across what the film was (not an easy task as it’s hard to pin down exactly what the film is!) I knew early on that some sort of defaced version of the fashion catalogue was an avenue to explore… to reflect the strange ‘out of time ‘ glamour and the suggestion of violence. I tried various iterations of torn images and collage elements. Also type and design details that make mimic fashion catalogues, haberdashery, like the pinking shears jagged cut edge … this torn catalogue could be in the department store, the sense of realities bleeding into each other. I’m lucky in that respect in my relationship with Peter in that I get to be involved from early on, so by the time we get to theatrical campaign we’ve already created the parameters of the world to explore.

About The Author

Julian House is a renowned British graphic designer. Besides being a graphic designer he is also a musician, principally as The Focus Group, and co-owns a record label, Ghost Box. Moreover, he is the creative director and partner at the design studio Intro.

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