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Helene Gjerris sings Per Nørgård

Songs from Evening Land

Dacapo Records, 2012

Bleeding Black

For this project, I worked with mezzo-soprano Helene Gjerris. Helene has had a long-standing relationship with composer Per Nørgård and this release reflects her intense personal relationship with his vocal works.

The working title of the release, in the beginning, was Day and Night. I received the song texts and was struck by how dark and intense many of them were. I chose a raven silhouette on a half-lit sky as the motif for my first design as I had found it referenced in the libretto and I figured a raven is dark, mysterious and beautiful. Helene quickly rejected the design, pointing out to me that ravens are not known for their beautiful singing voices. Oops.

We met for a coffee and Helene told me about the songs on the release and the intense physical experience of singing Nørgård’s music – how it challenges her to the core and makes her aware of her body in a whole new way. As we talked, it became clear to me that we had to use Helene herself somehow – and then I got this image in my head of her sitting with her back to me with black paint dripping off her fingers down her back. This image had been prompted, I guess, by those dark, intense song texts: Ted HughesDay and Night‘as he drowned in his own blood…’; Alan Ginsberg’s Plutonian Ode‘Poured on floor, I call your name with hollow vowels’; French surrealist Rimbaud’s L’étoile a pleuré‘The infinite rolled white your neck to your waist… And Man bled black at your sovereign side’.

The idea of using Helene herself to create this image was a bit of a departure for me. In my mission to move away from the clichés of classical music design, images of composers and artists had long been banned from my covers. This was something different though, using the artist themselves as an integral part of the graphic idea.

I had no idea if we could make it work, but luckily Helene was enthusiastic and willing to experiment. She agreed to hop into my makeshift photo-studio and give it a try. Lucky too, that she was such a professional with incredible patience.

I found some black paint that had the right kind of shininess and thickness to it. I tested it on myself beforehand. It wasn’t easy to clean off, so I knew we would only have one shot at the paint pictures. We explored Helene’s body language and different compositions before launching into the real thing.

This cover was a rare opportunity to physically collaborate with the artist to make a visual expression for the music – and it was great fun.

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