Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Power, Corruption and Peter Saville

A recently acquired copy of New Order’s 1983’s Power Corruption and Lies on vinyl got me really excited about Peter Saville. Listening to some interviews made it apparent to me that not only were some of his design ideas relevant in the early to mid eighties, they might prove to shine a light on the needs of design today.

We've seen a flourish and explosion of “throw it all into the mix” pluralist design that’s been floating around for the last few years that I find extremely stimulating, but found myself surprisingly seduced when Saville made the comment that:

I find Postmodern pluralism confusing, some aspects of pluralist culture kind of troubles me. Philosophically I like it, but systematically I’m a bit narrow at times. So, I’m quite a purist about things and I quit like bringing 2 different things together, but I’m not so comfortable in bringing 4 or 6 – to a point where we’re not sure what anything is anymore”.

There are some examples of irreverent juxtapositions in my work, my favorite cover is Power Corruption and Lies, but … it’s only stereo, not multi-channel. I find multi-channel fascinating, but I can feel a bit insecure with it sometimes”.

The cover, which is best seen on the twelve by twelve inch vinyl, has an old Henri-Fantin Latour painting, not a inch of type (band name or name of the record!) and a mysterious color code bar on the upper right corner.

Flipping it reveals (…die cuts and all) a frigid reproduction of a floppy disk image with another cryptic color assembly that is the key to the whole typographic affair.

Start from top green (A) down the 26 segments and you have the alphabet (sometimes one letter is a double color … and apparently the inside colors don’t matter). This helps decode the inner sleeves colors and ultimately spells out the name of the band and it’s release.

The design seems like a great example of being able to bring the right elements together. There is a maturity and calm refinement in how the design is able to project confidence that becomes less about how design can *visually dazzle us*, but one of smart juxtaposition and effective thinking. The Postmodern tendencies are still living in the choices of reference (as did most of his early Factory output) but the select few prove to be tremendously effective. Saville describes it as "romantic idealism juxtaposed against the modern, the technical, and the cool since one part is just incredibly florid and nostalgic whereas the other is completely cool and hard-edged. Working in a kind of curatorial way, bringing together old and new."

It seems that, in the scope of his output, Saville is able to occupy a world where Modernist foundations are referenced and respected while being able to push a few extra buttons that re-contextualizes the work in the here and now.

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