*In 1991 the V&A staged an exhibition titled ‘The Art of Selling Songs: Graphics for the music business 1690 – 1990. Now over 25 years later, the packaging for Music has changed beyond recognition, as the 12 inch vinyl sleeve has been replaced by a handful of pixels on a screen.
This exhibition explores how graphic design wraps around music and considers the past, present and future of the art form which undoubtedly links to the artist and performers. A century of trends, visual culture, graphic design and consumerism are framed within the world of popular music making.
There is a section in the exhibition dedicated to Irish music and culture showcasing artwork & photography from the rebellion of the punk era with bands like ‘Rudi’ and ‘the Undertones’ to modern day international acts such as ‘Ash’, ‘the Cranberries’, ‘the Pogues’, ‘Snow Patrol’ & ‘U2’.
Music formats have been evolving since the late 19th century. The late 19th century saw the invention of phonograph music cylinder – the first portable music format. By the late 1920s the first gramophone disc had become popular. The discs were made from material including rubber, shellac & minerals.
After the second world war Vinyl became the most commonly used material on records, which were produced in 12, 10 and 7 inch sizes. The packaging which came with the vinyl evolved into master print card sleeves with artistic visual branding giving a whole new look to the Vinyl. After Vinyl, in the 1960s, Cassette tape came onto the market.
During the 1980s the compact discs overtook vinyl record sales, and in 1991, cassettes. In the much-smaller CD case, music case took the form of accompanying booklets and fold-outs.
In 2012 more digital music was sold than physical music within the U.K.
Downloads being the most popular format of music while album apps and videos are released online, the way music is purchased reflects a fragmented market with songs being streamed or bought individually now.
Although in 2016, more money was actually spent on vinyl records than digital music and even cassette tape has recently seen a higher volume of sales return.
The packaging, artistic visuals, design and branding with sound quality has once again made the Vinyl an attractive purchase for music lovers. They have acquired a similar status of luxury objects for the home similar to a coffee table.*
The touring exhibition takes you through a fascinating musical timeline of unique artwork & concepts, rare record sleeves, graphic design, promotional posters and trends relating to all kinds of music genres & artists including ‘Bauhaus, Blur, Buzzcocks, Classical, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Jazz Festivals, Kraftwerk, Louis Armstrong, Madonna, Psychedelic concert posters, Pulp, Thom Yorke, Sex Pistols, Squeeze & Spiritualized.
This gig (Shown above) featured Eric Burdon and the Animals, an English group known for their signature songs The House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.
The faces of the people Bonnie MacClean painted wore trance-like stares and tranquile gazes, evoking the detached spirituality of the sixties. The texts are floating like waves of sound creating a visual representation of the sonic worlds.
As you can see the selection of images, artworks and objects on display shows the range and skill of the designers and artists who translated the music into striking visual imagery.
This colourful touring music exhibition runs from the 14th June – 15th September 2019 in the Ulster Museum in Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
* Text on display from the Exhibition