Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM
Edited by Lars Müller
Softcover; 448 pages
Lars Müller Publishers
There have been many independent record labels through the years that have made profound changes to the music industry, and have had remarkable pools of artists that have made timeless and inspiring music. But few of them have made such an impact or enjoyed such a status as the German ECM label. Since 1970, ECM has introduced many great artists, be it from jazz, classical, contemporary or world music (or somewhere in between) and it has always been on the cutting edge of music. It was the first record label to devote itself seriously and successfully to new music that stemmed out of the field of jazz. It is still prominent in presenting music that straddles the line between composition and improvisation.
The label has set high standards from the very beginningperfect sound, great choice of artists and groundbreaking music that is heralded for its emotional impact and musical content. There are people in this world that buy and feverishly listen only to ECM records. If ever there was a label that is closest to enjoying a cult status with zealous devotees, then ECM is it. Simply put, ECM has changed the world of sound. However, it has not only been the music that has engaged the listener, it has also been the sound, the space between the notes and, definitely, the cover art.
In 1996, a collection of the label's cover art was published under the title Sleeves of Desire, published by Lars Muller Publishers, gathering cover art of releases published up to that point. Windfall Light commences from that point, gathering covers spanning from 1996 to the late 2000s, and featuring several insightful essays that give a glimpse into the world of ECM aesthetics, written by people related to the label in one way or another.
The anatomy of this label is very simple to describe, depicting what ECM is all about. In its essence, it is a vision of its founder and the engine that drives it, Manfred Eicher. Through the years, Eicher has worked with many designers and photographers such as Barbara Wojirsch (the main designer for the label's first 25 years and creator of ECM's visual vocabulary), Dieter Rehm, Sascha Kleis and Mayo Bucher, who all helped Eicher pursue his own poetic vision. An ECM record has always been something that communicates on several levels, engaging the listener in many different ways. Many of the label's releases find inspiration from artistic, film and literary sources. There has always been a spiritual tinge that somehow permeated from most of its recordings. Just as the quality of the music is of the highest standard, so is the cover design of the CDs.
In 2010, language by itself is unable to describe the world people live in. Pictures, whether photographs or moving pictures, are the new language and are more powerful than words. Cover art is at the forefront between the artist and the listener. With ECM, the link between the artwork and the music is so strong that it makes the observer think that the music inside the sleeves is like a soundtrack for the photographs on the sleeves. They are like another world inside this one, a separate entity, an internal landscape as much as an outer one. These photographs speak volumes and the poetic imagery completely engrosses people and arouses their deepest feelings. Eicher saw that a record is not something only to be heard but also something to look at. The images are sophisticated and alluring, with the artwork continuing to be influential among designers and music lovers today.
There is more to this book than being just another piece of memorabilia. Windfall Light is a testament to a label that produced Eicher's "next best sound to silence," and which has retained its distinctive visual identity with memorable cover designs to identify or color the music being listened to.