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NPR Exhibit Chronicles Denise Burt's Album Cover Art Contributions

By Steve Nagel s.nagel@classicalite.com on Aug 12, 2015 05:05 PM EDT
Denise Burt's "Oort Cloud" Denise Burt's cover of Jexper Holmen's "Oort Cloud" (Photo : Denise Burt)
Mixed Company Cover of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s 'Mixed Company'. London Sinfonietta; Theatre of Voices; Paul Hillier, conductor. Released on Dacapo Records, 2014. (Photo : Images: Photograph Denise Burt, reworked digitally)

A strange challenge behind album cover artists and graphic designers like Denise Burt is to capture (or at least pique curiosity in) one artistic medium through the use of another---one which the former was designed to be mostly independent from.  While those with synesthesia might argue that the two are hardly mutually exclusive items, visual art can often belie the very nature of music itself.  In fact, the two are often paired in such contrast that, to a browsing patron, stores might as well be selling vast rows of mystery boxes. As the NPR exhibit muses, classical album art has long suffered from this disconnect, mostly stemming from artwork that has been attributed to and never coordinated with its product. Denise Burt's album artwork has seemed to realign this creative flowchart using a more focused, logical process.

From the vinyl era onward, traditional methods for capturing classical music in cover art ranged from the appropriation of contemporary art samples (only vaguely associated with the composer's style) to the gimmicky self-defeating ploys seen here, appearing more to tease the classically skeptical than to effectively advertise themselves.  Denise Burt sought to break with these traditions, promising her clients the visual capstones that would befit any great recording artist. As Denise muses, she knew little about classical convention going in, so she resolved to obtain as much information from the composer as possible. 

The NPR "app exhibit" features a slideshow of her most prominent projects, accompanied by her astute and well-informed reasoning.  Among the samples is her abstract interpretation of Jexper Holmen's The Oort Cloud as a random display of letters spilling off the boundaries of the jewel case.  Accompanying the artwork is a sample of the music itself, reflecting its own vastness and apparent randomness.  Another sample shows her respect for a composer's deliberate request to have the image divorced from the music: spelling the origin for the puzzlingly modest cover of Pelle Gudmunsen-Holmgreen's Mixed Company.

Denise Burt's contributions spell renewed confidence in the future of contemporary classical marketing.  The genre's coexistence with the digital age demands the thoughtful subtlety and collaboration graphic designers bring to the table.

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TagsDenise Burt, Album Art, Cover Art, Classical album covers