Analog tapes, vintage reel-to-reels, a synthesizer, Hammond organ, his own distorted operatic voice—all these instruments were used by Ian William Craig to create his highly-acclaimed new album Centres, released on label FatCat’s 130701 imprint. The recently-released album is full of wavering, texturally rich sounds and faltering melodic vocals. Prior to its release, Craig teased each of the 13 tracks on social media with a short vignette.
What these vignettes showed was the creation of various lithographs—the interplay of opaque black pigments on mylar—that graced the cover of the album, prints that were made by Craig. Because along with being a musician, Craig is an award-winning printmaker who runs the printmaking studio for the fine arts department at the University of British Columbia.
"There is a real poetic release to printmaking, especially aesthetically," Craig tells The Creators Project. "Chemical and kinetic cause and effect actually happening right in front of you. It's a simple pleasure watching the kaleidoscopic symmetry of a piece of paper being pulled from its plate, an image forming out of the fog in some developer, the pull of a flat rolling out from a brayer. These small vignettes document that process, from the development and preparation of the plate, to the printing of the lithographs, and finally to cleaning everything up. I wanted to celebrate these small things in the videos and reveal some of their poetry.”
The album cover. Image courtesy of FatCat.
In making the new album, the musician's ninth, Craig used his customized tape decks, his "cassette choir," to channel everything through, putting attenuators on the tape heads so they didn't work properly, and running a loop of tape through the decks. Craig also circuit bent his equipment, both methods resulting in sonic deterioration and distortion that affects both his vocals and the washed-out, mesmeric sounds.
It's also something that is echoed in printmaking, this very physical process that is time-consuming and methodical, a meditative sense of immersion in a task. Craig notes that print is very textural, not in terms of the end result necessarily but the making. Because of this, there are many variables that can affect the end result, you never know how exactly it's going to turn out—you're working with a plate, screen, stone, the paper, so on-the-fly decision-making and improvisation is key.
Still from the video. (via)
"Music making is the same," explains Craig. "For me, the use of analog tape and the reel-to-reels function in the same way as do the plates and presses of printmaking: I get to revel in the surface of the music and actually physically affect it, and use the decks to reveal the process of having made it in the recordings I make. I'm never quite sure what they're going to do."
As well as this ambiguity that both processes share, Craig also draws others parallels with his music and printmaking. Like the very way he moves through his print studio, the functioning of the equipment—the album is almost a soundtrack to it, but indirectly.
One of the lithograph prints. Image courtesy of FatCat.
"Not a lot of the printmakers I know still make prints as their primary focus, but they all share a certain printmaking mentality. Something about the way you have to move through a print studio changes you a great deal, and then everything afterwards is layers and methodology and deterioration," Craig says. "The print bug gets into you forever. I like to think the music I make is kind of like the sound of printmaking in this way. Not literally—I've never miked up any of the presses or anything like that—but kind of more like the hidden sound of the process, or a sound to complement that certain something that all prints share."
You can watch all the vignettes together above.
Ian William Craig. Image courtesy of FatCat.
We're also premiering the video for the opening song from _Centres "_Contain (Astoria Version)." To create it, Craig replaced a camera lens with a magnifying glass, shooting at various places around Vancouver that are significant to him. Included in the footage is Craig himself and the tape decks he used to create the sounds.
"The particular track for the video is quite thick and full, and it was important to me to have a landing pad for it that wasn't so literal, that was more about the memory of the things involved in the process to give the music a chance to breathe," notes Craig. "So it seemed appropriate to film it all in a way that was as layered and process-based as the music."
Watch it below.