Story: 23/28

Joseph M. Colombo / Danny Clay

Ouroboros / the first and the last

Pinna Records, 2016


There were many great things about this project, not least the that fact that this was a vinyl release. Roger Rohrbach of Pinna Records asked me to design a double-sided 10” EP, to release works from two young, San Franciscan composers – a piece each, on each side.

The few times I’ve been asked to design vinyl, it meant adapting the artwork I originally made for the CD to the larger format – but this time I could design the original artwork at a much bigger size. This may seem like a small freedom, but any chance to break out of the highly-restrictive CD-format is a gift.

So this was a two-cover job: two very different composers with two very different works, tied together physically and with, as Roger put it, ‘a sort of serendipitous theme: beginnings, ends, endlessness, renewal.’

Joseph M. Colombo’s piece Ouroboros is a piano work. There are two pianos and four players, the quartet plays overlapping, descending notes that flow downwards and downwards, starting over and over again. In fact the title Ouroboros refers to the ancient symbol of the serpent swallowing it’s own tail in an infinite cycle.

The symbol of the serpent is a very strong one, that’s probably why it’s such a favoured tattoo motif. I found it too gothic-looking for Colombo’s precise and minimal piece and came instead upon another symbol of cyclic endlessness: the ‘Penrose stairs’ (as made famous by Escher). The stairs form a closed, circular construction, rather like a snake biting its own tail.

On the other side, and in direct contrast, Danny Clay’s cover became a blast of colour. His piece the first and the last is quite an emotional work, played with guitars and strings – for me it was like sitting in a train, out the window, alone in melancholic thoughts as the landscape flashes by. ‘It was written at a time when I wasn’t sure if I would be staying in San Francisco for much longer—there was a strange electricity in the air. What I wanted most was to write a piece where every note was bursting with joy, gratitude, and love.’

Danny’s cover became essentially about illustrating the picture in my mind, what I’m seeing out of the window. The sun bursting blindingly through the trees, lighting up the dirty glass as the world blurs by.