Creating Album Art for “A City is a Sound”

When I created the album art for A City is a Sound, I wanted to do the same thing visually that I was trying to do musically in the tracks: evoke the spirit of the great American cities of the 1970s, but with an updated aesthetic. That meant using images from the era, but giving them a slightly more modern look.

125Street

Original image by Erik Calonius on the left, my version on the right with adjustments to color and corrections of perspective.

There was another reason I wasn’t going to use pristine images from the 1970s.

My source for images was the Documerica project, a program sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency. About seventy photographers, some of whom went on to great fame, were instructed to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” from about 1972 to 1977. They interpreted that mandate very broadly, taking pictures of a wide range of things, from small towns, to natural beauty, to my particular favorite: big cities.

Detail from the image above.

Detail from the image above.

Many of the Documerica images are more than mere documents–they’re great art. But the color in a lot of the photographs isn’t up to par, possibly because the images have degraded over time. The ones I picked were gorgeous, but I wasn’t going to use them as they were.

Original image by Danny Lyon, left, and my altered version, right.

Original image by Danny Lyon, left, and my altered version, right. I’ve altered the color, made the horizon horizontal, and dispensed with that goddamn pole.

So I tried to restore their original vitality–or at least, what I imagined their original vitality might have been like.

A detail from the image above.

A detail from the image above.

In some cases, after trying to make the image more vivid, I went further, adding new elements to help integrate it into my own project. I did this, for instance, with the image of a young girl standing in front of an abandoned building, below.

Landscape

Another original image by Danny Lyon on the left, and my altered version on the right.

Landscape

Finally, my version with artifcat added (the yellow band) and the words ” A City is a Sound” superimposed.

Here’s an image by Wil Blanche where, again, I went beyond mere restoration.

Image by Wil Blanche of construction on the Battery Park development across From the World Trade Buildings on the Hudson River, 1973.

Image by Wil Blanche of construction on the Battery Park development across From the World Trade Buildings on the Hudson River, 1973.

The same image by Blanche with text added.

The same image by Blanche with text added.

Note: All of the Documerica images I used are in the public domain.

A City is a Sound, and my other albums, are available on my Bandcamp page.

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Alone in a Big Place

In my last post, I talked about an album I just released called A City is a Sound. It’s one of a trilogy called Another Place, each album with a theme related to location (A City is a Sound, Alone in a Big Place, and Out of Place).

Here’s the pitch for Alone in a Big Place :

There’s a feeling you get when you’re alone in a big place–under the stars in the wilderness, or on the ocean by yourself with no land in sight. It’s unsettling and awe inspiring at the same time. This album deals with that feeling, from a cosmonaut suddenly cut off from the Earth, to a security guard who experiences a blinding, otherwordly vision in an empty factory at midnight, to a man who stays behind after the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant to care for the city’s stray cats.

Includes a 50-page illustrated digital booklet, with short fiction to accompany each track. The booklet comes in two versions, one hi-res for use on computers, and the other optimized for portable devices.

Here’s a sample track.

The digital booklet for Alone in a Big Place is extensive. Each track gets a title page featuring an evocative photograph, followed by a piece of short fiction, ten in all.

Here are the sections for two tracks, “The Ghosts of Soyuz” Parts I and II (it has four parts in all).

3 F APAT 02 AIABP booklet PDF 01 01 Ancient and Modern sized

3 F8 APAT AIABP book story only PDF Aa

3 F8 APAT AIABP book story only PDF Ab

3 F APAT 02 AIABP booklet PDF 01 04 Mountain Snow sized

3 F8 APAT AIABP book story only PDF Da

3 F8 APAT AIABP book story only PDF Db

You can find the album here.

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A City is a Sound

I’ve honored halloween in a special way every year for the past five years with installments of my  decade-long art project, Ten Halloweens (which will run for another five years before it goes dark for good). Each year I released a freebie, usually an ebook or a musical track.

But this year I have something more ambitious to announce. The last two installments of Ten Halloweens featured tracks from upcoming albums. Well, they are upcoming no more.

I’m releasing four albums simultaneously today, and I’ll blog about each one in turn. All of them are now available on Bandcamp, and they’ll be rolled out gradually on other platforms.

Today’s topic is A City is a Sound, which is one of three albums in the Another Place series. Here’s the pitch:

A modern sound captures the retro spirit of the great American cities of the 1970s. From the bad old days of Times Square, through the rust belt, to the polyglot neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Sixteen tracks evoking the dirty, the arty, the shambolic, and the glorious.

Includes a 15-page illustrated digital booklet with enhanced period photographs. The booklet comes in two version, hi-res for use on computers, and a version optimized for portable devices.

From the liner notes:

A city is a sound, a particular oscillation,
A tone and a timbre
Shaped by the unique way that
The buildings in this town
Channel the air currents–
The gait with which these individual residents walk
Vibrating the earth just so.
A city is a waveform sculpted by the
Singular shape of its skyline,
Which tailors its harmonics,
Introduces interference, and
Anchors high, cutting tones
With deep, bass booms.

Here’s the title track.

And here are a few of the enhanced period images from the digital booklet that downloads with the album.

01

02

03

Next time: the album Alone in a Big Place.


 

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Zombies and Nazis and D-Day, Oh My!

The TL/DR Synopsis Synopsis: A new horror short fiction collection, Stille! Untoten!, includes my story “Les Poupeés Gris.”

Links to: The book and the previous volume in the series.


The novel, the album, and the videos.  One bundle, free forever

The novel, the album, and the videos. One bundle, free forever


Some time ago I saw a call for submissions for a short story collection to be entitled Raus! Untoten!

The project had a sweet kind of pulp magazine appeal: Nazis and zombies together in one story.  As I noted in a previous post (“What Could Be Worse Than The Undead?“), this combination isn’t entirely novel:

That particular crossover isn’t new of course. From older movies like 1977’s Shock Waves to newer ones like 2009’s Dead Snow to games like Call of Duty: World at War – Zombies, zombies and Nazis have crossed paths before, with decidedly mixed results.

Shock Waves (left), Call of Duty World at War Zombies (center), and Dead Snow (right).

Shock Waves (left), Call of Duty World at War Zombies (center), and Dead Snow (right).

That said, it seemed to me that the publishers were looking for stuff that was a cut above. Your story could have all the trashy appeal of an old issue of Weird Tales, but in terms of quality you wanted to aim somewhere around the Paris Review.

I’m a fan of pulp magazines (as well as stuff that isn’t really pulp but that has a similar lineage and ambiance, like EC horror comics), so the proposal had a natural appeal for me.

Raus! Untoten! The first volume of the series.

Raus! Untoten! The first volume of the series.

I wrote a story called “Les Poupeés Gris,” about the interruption of the D-Day invasion by French zombies bent on killing soldiers on both sides, resulting in a serious alteration of the history from the end of the Second World War right up to the present day.

I finished writing the story on June 6, 2013, which was the 69th anniversary of the landings at Normandy. The story itself ends on June 6, 2014, a date which just passed a few months ago, the 70th anniversary of the invasion–but of course it concludes on that day in an alternate history.

In that 2014, the Allies never re-took continental Europe, France remains an administrative zone of the Third Reich, and a modernized version of the USSR  is led by a man with a bright smile, a Twitter feed, and a Dutch wife, who is still plotting the belated defeat of the Axis powers.

Normandy meets NOTLD

The Walking Deadly meet the Walking Dead: Canadian D-Day troops encounter zombies in Normandy. (Photos: image on the left by Ken Bell [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons | image on the right by George A. Romero (Screenshot from timeinc.net) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons).

In the world of the story, independent zombie traditions from Africa and Europe met in colonial Haiti when it was under French rule, forming a new, potent mix.  But the original European zombie persists. In France it’s called a poupeé gris–a grey puppet–referencing its ghoulish skin tone and the fact that, like a puppet, it’s an artificial person created and controlled by a human being.  It is these poupeés gris who stand between the 21st century Soviet Union and the defeat of its long-time German rival.

The publishers decided to make Raus! Untoten! a multi-volume series, and “Les Poupeés Gris” was accepted for the second volume.  On Halloween 2013 volume one was released. Just a couple of days ago volume two, called Stille! Untoten!, finally became available, and “Les Poupeés Gris” is the story that opens the book.

Stille! Untoten! With Les Poupees Gris. as the lead story.

Stille! Untoten! With Les Poupees Gris. as the lead story.

To get your copy, in paperback or e-book format, click your preferred link below.  Buy one now, before I eat your brain!

Stille! Untoten! is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.co.uk.

Raus! Untoten! is also available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.co.uk.

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The Most Generous Book in the World

The TL/DR Synopsis Synopsis: Illustration and reviews for The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History, which includes my text on Alan Turing and Christopher Morcom.
Links to: The book, the illustrator’s site, reviews and mentions.

The novel, the album, and the videos.  One bundle, free forever

The novel, the album, and the videos. One bundle, free forever


I was recently invited to write a short piece on Alan Turing and his childhood friend and secret crush, Christopher Morcom, for a book called The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History, about the relatively unknown people who fostered, supported, loved, and nurtured historical figures (see my post “Alan Turing Hits the Red Carpet, Chris Morcom Hits the Books“).

I’ve finally had a chance to see the art that accompanies my text (or perhaps I should say “the art to which my text is an accompaniment,” since the title of the book stresses the artists rather than the writers).  It’s a beautiful image by award-winning illustrator Keith Negley.  You can find a nice piece on Negley in my favorite art rag, Juxtapoz, right here.

Alan Turing and Christopher Morcom, by Keith Negley.

Alan Turing and Christopher Morcom, by Keith Negley.

The book has also had some reviews and mentions, including an extensive one (from which I stole the title for this post) at Brain Pickings, a site I check religiously and recommend highly.

I think it’s fair to say that their review is glowing, and there’s even a brief, complimentary mention of my section:

Writer Nas Hedron tells the story of a British boy named Christopher Morcom — Turing’s teenage crush — who pulled young Alan out of his notoriously awkward shell… When Morcom died of bovine tuberculosis, his death devastated Turing beyond measure… As he struggled to understand how a mind as brilliant as Chris’s could just cease to exist with the death of the brain, he inevitably began probing the relationship between the two and the foundation of consciousness. Hedron elegantly captures the lifelong impact of the tragedy:

“This line of thinking, about intangible thoughts housed in tangible brains, would run through each of Turing’s accomplishments.”

The Brain Pickings review

The Brain Pickings review

The book has also been received well in The Guardian and on Design Milk.

And finally, the team that assembled the book has also put together a great animated video trailer, embedded below.

Pick up your copy today!

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The Ten Halloweens Project Turns Two Years Old

The TL/DR Synopsis Synopsis: The Ten Halloweens Project, a decade-long art project, is back with a second round of free stuff (plus another chance to get last year’s stuff).  Disappears at midnight, November 1, for another year.
Links to: Ten Halloweens home page with links to free downloads.

The novel, the album, and the videos.  One bundle, free forever

The novel, the album, and the videos. One bundle, free forever


Last year saw the inaugural iteration of the Ten Halloweens project, a decade-long art project running from 2013 to 2022.

Each year I post a new, free download, but different iterations of the project come in different forms.  Last year it was poetry, this year it’s a short story, next year it may be original music, a series of visual images, a video, or just about anything else that can be delivered over the internet.

Each iteration is only available from mid-October to midnight on November 1.  After that it disappears until the following year, when it’s joined by a new iteration.

And each iteration also includes an annual image, to help set the mood.  The image may be related to the main work or it may stand alone.

Click the Ten Halloweens screenshot to visit the page and get the downloads.

Click the screenshot to go to the Ten Halloweens page.

Click the screenshot to go to the Ten Halloweens page.

This year’s work is a short story in ebook form (ePUB or Kindle).  The Terminal Case describes a haunting–not in an old, gothic mansion, but in a bright, sleek, modern airport.  It may be a supernatural tale, or it may simply be a story told by an unreliable narrator whose grip on reality is slipping.

The Terminal Case, the 2014 iteration of Ten Halloweens.  Click to go there.

The Terminal Case, the 2014 iteration of Ten Halloweens. Click to go there.

And, as will happen each year, when the new iteration arrives the old one(s) reappear during the same window of time.  So if you missed out on The Haunt in the Meadow last year, you can catch up now.

The Haunt in the Meadow, the 2013 iteration of Ten Halloweens. Click to go there.

The Haunt in the Meadow, the 2013 iteration of Ten Halloweens. Click to go there.

And mark your calendar for next year.  Who knows what you’ll find at Ten Halloweens in 2015?


The image below is the annual image from last year, “The Desert Dreamed the Sun Chased the Sea Away,”  which comes from my series The Desert Contains Everything.

“The Desert Dreamed the Sun Chased the Sea Away,” by Nas Hedron, from the series The Desert Contains Everything (click to enlarge).

“The Desert Dreamed the Sun Chased the Sea Away,” by Nas Hedron, from the series The Desert Contains Everything (click to enlarge).

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Alan Turing Hits the Red Carpet, Chris Morcom Hits the Books

 

The TL/DR Synopsis Synopsis: The Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game wings big at the Toronto International Film Festival and a new book features “the secret sidekicks of history,” including an entry I was invited to write on Chris Morcom, Turing’s great friend and secret crush.
Links to: The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History on Amazon.com.
Embedded video: Trailer for The Imitation Game.

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The novel, the album, and the videos.  One bundle, free forever

The novel, the album, and the videos. One bundle, free forever

____________________

It’s rare that I look out on yet another perfect, sunny day in Brazil and wish that I was in my other hometown, Toronto.

I sometimes get nostalgic for something specific: a friend, or a favorite restaurant. And occasionally I yearn for an entire neighbourhood (it’s almost always Chinatown).  But very rarely do I miss the city as a whole enough to wish I was there.

But every September it happens at least once, because September is when the sparkly pixie dust of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) drifts in on a cool autumn breeze and coats every intersection, every streetlight, and every skungy eatery in a magical candy coating.

For years, a close connection to certain TIFF staff allowed me to avoid the ticket lotteries and other rigamarole and see every damned film I wanted, which was glorious.  I watched Toshiaki Toyoda’s awesome Blue Spring unfold long before it became a cult classic. I watched Claire Denis’ disturbing Trouble Every Day, followed by an even more disturbing Q&A in which Vincent Gallo propositioned the female audience members en masse.  I watched the beautiful, brutal City of God before I had any personal connection to Brazil, reveled in the Korean monster movie The Host, and lost myself in Seung-wook Moon’s low -budget dystopian fantasy Nabi (The Butterfly), which I’ve never been able to find again.

A few TIFF memories (L to R): Blue Spring, Trouble Every Day, City of God, The Host, and The Butterfly.

A few TIFF memories (L to R): Blue Spring, Trouble Every Day, City of God, The Host, and The Butterfly (click to enlarge).

I’d have loved to be at this year’s festival,but this time it’s not just for the usual reasons. This year Alan Turing–the ground-breaking British mathematician, computer pioneer, and war hero, who was prosecuted for and convicted of homosexuality and died, a probable suicide, at the age of forty-one–won top honors.  The Turing biopic, The Imitation Game (trailer below), starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, took home the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award, setting some serious Oscar buzz in motion.

I’ve been flying Turing’s flag for more than a decade now, beginning at a time in the late 1990s when he was still obscure, long before the UK government apologized for its treatment of him, before he was officially pardoned for his conviction, before his hundredth anniversary became the occasion for international celebrations in 2012, and before The Pet Shop Boys memorialized him.

I gave an artificial intelligence his face in my novel Luck and Death at the Edge of the World, blogged about him on The Turing Centenary, and his various fictional incarnations (mine is hardly the only one) will be the subject of my upcoming non-fiction book, Conjuring Turing: The Fictional Afterlife of Alan Turing.


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The TIFF win underscores the fact that although the Turing centenary is now long past, Alan Turing’s star is still rising.  And as it climbs, others are occasionally dragged into the limelight along with him.

Benedict Cumberbatch takes a selfie with fans at TIF 2014.

Benedict Cumberbatch takes a selfie with fans at TIF 2014 (photo here).

Which brings me to some other news.

Some time ago I was asked by the editors of an upcoming book to write a brief article about Christopher Morcom, Alan Turing’s close friend, mathematical muse, and secret teenage crush.

The book is called The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History, and the title more or less speaks for itself.  A selection of unsung heroes who inspired, supported, or carried water for more famous counterparts are finally getting their due.

From Nabokov’s wife to Warhol’s mother, and from Al Capone’s mentor to Lenin’s brother, this book takes stock of the indispensable but often overlooked contributions of relatives, friends, secretaries, lovers, and business partners to the careers of the great and glorious.

After a long period of incubation, which was inevitable in a project with this many authors, its publication is now almost upon us.  On October 14, 2014 it will become available, with a launch (head’s up New Yorkers!) on October 24 at The Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn.

It’s a great looking volume, as you can see from the photos below.

The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History

The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History

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www5 clear

 

The book follows the success of The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science and features a foreword by Kurt Andersen, host of the awesome Studio 360, which I never miss (in podcast form).

Many thanks to the Who, What, and When team at Also Online–Julia Rothman, Jenny Volvovski, and Matt Lamothe–for inviting me to be part of the project.  To everyone else: the holiday season isn’t that far away, and this book would make an awesome gift for anyone who enjoys knowing the story behind the story.

And now, to close, a last bit of TIFF.  Here’s an extensive TIFF interview with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley about The Imitation Game (in which Knightly’s first words to the interviewer are a good-humored fuck you).

 

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