April 2009

Celebrate Autumn 2009 at Pearl Café

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Autumn in Melbourne is one of city’s finest seasons. The rains return, there is still a little late light in the evening and the colours turn in a spectacular fashion.

It is with this spirit Andrew made this image for Pearl Café’s latest menu. Communication design at its most simple expression often gives the client and designer the most effective and inspired outcomes. Thanks again to Andrew and Geoff for the great brief.

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Welcome back house

This post came together over a chance reminder of the London House single ‘Roadblock’ by Stock Aitken Waterman – SAW. It was single that at the time, came and went again, as much new music does, yet one reckons it to be one SAW’s standout contributions to music if compared the rest of their prolific yet unremarkable output.

Stock Aitken Waterman, sometimes known as SAW, is one of prolific hit factories of the mid 1980s to early 1990s, from wiki – are considered to be one of the most successful songwriting and producing partnerships of all time, scoring more than 100 UK top 40 hits, selling 40 million records and earning an alleged £60 million (about $103.78 million) with their music style was labeled “Eurobeat” in Europe with acts that include Dead or Alive, Mel & Kim, Bananaramma, Rick Asterly and Kylie Minogue.

Way back at the beginnings of the last big financial crisis in September 1987 came a sound that was truly like no other. House was a sound from the warehouse club scene in Chicago in the early eighties. Driven by DJ’s this mostly electronic sound mashed hip hop raps, electronic glimpses, soul and funk samples and electronic the signature four to the floor beat.

Roadblock also happened to be at the centre of an ugly sampling legal case with London House project MARRS and their hit ‘Pump up the volume’. ‘Pump up the volume’ features over 200 samples, one being a seven second sound grab from ‘Roadblock’. The whole legal case for sound sampling in music was still being defined by artists and the legal system. At the time of release, MARRS failed to seek a sample clearance from SAW during production, and as a consequence the idea of intellectual property and authorship were hotly debated.

It was an eye and ear opening time to be immersed in music. The whole experience was being assaulted from all quarters. Rap, sampling, video art, large scale dance parties, live performance, lighting effects, along with DJs and multiple DJs transformed the concept of a live music performance.

Roadblock hit the sound waves from nowhere. Like all of the house sound, this single was not common place on the radio, more over in the night clubs and dance parties.

While some quarters were rightly lost in the sounds of Manchesters’s New Order, one’s attention was drawn to the tastes of Tim Richie, (once a DJ at Club Kakadu on Sydney’s Oxford Street in the late eighties, now presenter on the ABC’s Radio National). Hip Hop, House, and Techno was a regular fix on Richie’s decks and Roadblock could have been proceeded by ‘Paid in Full’ by Eric B and Rakim and followed up ‘Theme from S’express’ by S’express, or ‘Good Life’ by Inner City later in the set.

We dug up ‘Your Love’ by Jamie Principle is one of the earliest examples of the Chicago born House style of music. It is at this point, that we also have to pay homage to producer Giorgio Moroder, as well to groups like Kraftwerk, who developed an electronic sound that was alluring to wandering ears.

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In the land of big bananas, pineapples, prawns and sheep …

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Objects from the South (86h x 106.5w cms, Indian ink on rag paper) David Lancashire

Objects from the South (86h x 106.5w cms, Indian ink on rag paper) David Lancashire

While some people like David Lancashire can execute our icons artfully, at the other extreme others create solutions that position design in curious, cringing and trivial contexts.

What other country would transform one their cute native animals into a letterbox? Whether Australian designers like it or not, this Koala letterbox on Nicholson Street, Brunswick, is one approach to solving design problems that is at the heart of design from Australia.

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Australian design can be something irreverant…

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Call it cheeky, cheap, or vandalism, this rock that one found in a park outside Melbourne today, innocently houses an aspect of the Australian psyche.

What compelled a person to write on this lowly rock and give it a voice from all the other rocks our there? Why did the person bother? Where did the insight come from that knew that such a simple act could draw a reaction? Where does this sense of the absurd come from? Welcome to a country of smart alecs, smarty pants and smart arses.

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Some local found type, brings up notions of cultural identity

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What makes design in Australia unique is often found in traces that is littered and hidden in its communities. One can turn a corner and look down to spy a set of letter forms that completely contradicts one’s understanding of local design and expression.

This marble and brass plaque can be found in the pavement outside a modest building – the Old Scotch College site, 264 Spring Street, Melbourne.

One often looks upon expressions like these and ask a range of very type nerd like questions. Who was the person who made this plaque? Why are the letter forms gothic looking? When was it made? Why was this detail used? Who taught type to this person? In most instance one is only left with the work itself and no answers. And yet there are countless examples of work like this that exist. Amass these lessor known expressions, and one can in part acknowledge a strain of Australia’s design culture.

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Monumental for Parliament House Australia by Garry Emery 1981

Much of our design history is obscured, as fine moments of Australia design expression lay hidden in the detail of our social fabric. That is until a local design student, or practitioner, spots the piece, takes a photo, or makes a rubbing. Then recasts these obscure characters into a contemporary typeface. This new typeface with past references, is then used for a brand identity for a local bank, bar, bathroom product, or bicycle retailer … and so the culture of expression continues. Expressions like this plaque, brands of the past (Symbols of Australia by Mimmo Cozzolino and Fysh Rutherford), a typeface designed for a public building (like Australia’s parliament house designed by Garry Emery) are minute sample of such skill and endeavour that is scattered across the country.

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Just recently we had Gemma O’Brien from web log – for the love of type, visit the studio from Sydney with a crew — making a documentary about type design and designers who use type from Australia.

A question she asked related to the Australian design style debate and what makes the Australian design unique. It is an regularly sited issue, this question has been asked by the best of them.

One finds this question a little trying. Why do Australia’s find it difficult to see that we have a style of work? Why wouldn’t we? Is this cultural cringe in action?

When teaching publication design at Swinburne I had a hunch about the Australian design thing, and funnily enough the idea came from my international students – the German students particularly. As compared to Australian education, German students are trained in design so thoroughly, design history included.

Often I would find myself critiquing their work and mostly blown away by their output, yet there seemed to be a something missing in many cases and I put it down to playfulness, or the willingness to play with conventions.

Europeans have such a rich history of design and it this history that has the potential to become between many of my European students and their ability to play – as if they are weighed down by sense of design history.

One looks at many designs produced in Australia and wonder what my old German students would think. Would it be produced, would be a rough concept?

This situation highlighted a few things. In the Australian design context it is clear that modern Australia lacks, or has a thin layer of cultural history developed over the last 200 years (since white settlement) as compared to what is in place in Europe (with cultures that can be tracked across millenia). Along side of this modern proposition, Australia’s indigenous culture is one of the oldest on Earth, of which the majority of the Australian population knows little of.

In a society with such thin points of cultural reference its is now wonder that the basic question are regularly explored, it is now wonder that there is a range of designers and works that defies, divides, borrows, cringes, parodies, reveres. Australia is place where it’s designers can do whatever they want and from afar, in established societies with a rich history of culture, it is no wonder that Australian work is considered thin, naive, clunky, pretentious as compared to other established cultures.

The stand alone opportunity of producing design in Australia is that if one prepared to explore, there seems no limits where one can take an idea – as their is a modest base of history of design research, criticism, documentation and theory.

As Australian designers enjoy the benefits of improved design education one will witness a refinement in design sensibilities. These new insights may see that much of the work that made Australian work unique in the past – be it naive, clunky or out right wrong, all but disappear.

As design education develops, the potential to explore design expression, is being exploited by emerging designers, the key is to encourage and embrace Australia’s curious and explorative qualities and make it a key part of Australia’s cultural makeup.

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