by Andy in New Trends on Thursday 5 August 2010

Our friends at Ghostly International are releasing Matthew Dear’s Black City album as a limited edition ‘totem’. A what? A totem – a limited edition metal bar used to access a private music chamber. Cool!

We liked the idea, and checked in with Ghostly creative mind Will Calcutt to find out what the totems are, what they do, and what’s next. The totem is a black, industrial-style metal bar that unlocks stuff on the web, right? ‘The totem is a sculpture cast in bonded aluminum and it has a code that can be used to download/stream the new Matthew Dear album, Black City.’

How did you come up with this idea for Black City?

‘Album artwork is in a tricky spot these days. For a lot of people, album art is just a small thumbnail image or it’s missing altogether from their MP3 collection. And that’s frustrating from a designer’s point of view. We have gone from the glorious 12″ LP cover to a tiny thumbnail in a couple of decades. Not exactly the progress we intended. Gone is all that visual space in which to create a sense of the album for the listener.

We felt we had to try something different. We wanted to break from the idea that the album had to be some sort of media – be it CD, LP, USB key, etc. We wanted to abstract the album into an object, something physical that you can touch. In our rush for convenience with MP3s we’ve left behind an important part of experiencing music – the physical relationship to the album. The totem is a real object for virtual music.

And we wanted to do it beautifully, so working with Boym Partners was a perfect fit. It was a great collaboration, they really understood that the totem had to look and feel like the album sounded. They captured the atmosphere of the album perfectly in a simple but mysterious sculpture. The design evokes the sense of a building without being a building, and it has elements that evoke a key without being a key. It’s really a beautiful object. And to handle a totem, to feel the weight of the material, feel the scratches in the metal – it just feels right.’

How can we get one?

‘The totems are on sale in The Ghostly Store from August 3rd.’

It’s a very cool idea. We love your Ghostly Discovery iPhone app too. How’s Ghostly Discovery working out for your artists?

‘Ghostly Discovery is a project that is directed at the listener – the core idea is that electronic music is often strange, obscure and impenetrable – it’s very difficult for a first-time listener to make their way through the brambles to find something they like. And all the sub-genre labels don’t help either. Someone who has never heard a dub-step track can’t know to ask for a dub-step track.

So the app plays music based on a person’s mood – they get a playlist of 20 songs that all fit in the mood and tone they selected. We just wanted to create a tool that could ease people into listening to new music, and people have responded by generating huge amounts of playlists. For the artists that means more listeners, and more listeners means more fans.’

You guys are changing the game. What’s next?

‘We have some more projects coming up soon that are definitely different than things a traditional record label would do, you’ll have to keep an eye out on ghostly.com for the latest developments.’

Matthew Dear Black City

Matthew Dear Black City