D.I.Y: How to Make a Record Sleeve

The Woodsmoke LP from Glottalstop is the first vinyl release from Tartaruga, and presented itself as a great opportunity to produce and print a vinyl sleeve from scratch. We could have got someone else to print the sleeves, or just sourced ready made LP sleeves to print on, but we wanted to do the whole thing ourselves for a couple of reasons. Printing record sleeves provides a great canvas to show off the artwork, and creating the sleeves ourselves allowed us to really produce something that would stand out from most other records, and immediately identify this as a Tartaruga release.

Here's a short primer then on creating LP sleeves - get in touch if you have any questions, or if you'd like to find out about any screenprinting work we can do.

1. Sourcing the Paper

The great Fenner Paper provided us with some samples to have a look at - we wanted some paper/card that was thick enough to form a sturdy and protective LP sleeve, but it also had to be the right kind of paper for screenprinting, something that absorbs ink well, and that has its own texture and character. We settled on Flora Tabacco 350gsm - recycled, uncoated paper with a slightly speckled finish. We had this cut to 720 x 400 mm, allowing plenty of extra space around the edges for artwork bleed. 

2. Screen Printing

The artwork for this was done by Oliver Barrett, and depicts a mysterious-looking building, which he assures us really does exist somewhere in France. This was done as a beautiful monochrome ink drawing, at about half the size of the final record. After getting the image printed onto acetate, the screen was prepared (coated and then exposed), and we were then ready to print all the sleeves. 

The illustration was printed in black, positioned exactly in the middle of the paper, which is important for the subsequent steps. After all the sleeves had been printed and dried, we did the second colour, which was the text printed in the doorway of the building, in sap green, and we used this same green later on for the inner sleeves.

3. Folding and Sewing

All previous Tartaruga releases had been CDs, which had been screenprinted and sewn together. We wanted to keep this aesthetic with the LP sleeves, and also by sewing the sleeves together, rather than just having the folded print, it somehow transforms it into a real record sleeve. Firstly then, the dried prints were folded exactly in half, and then the two sides sewn together. This isn't (quite) as laborious as you might think, and in fact was far easier than sewing CD sleeves had been. For starters, here you only have two straight lines to sew, and the paper is also thinner and holds together better. Hint: use strong thread and a pretty thick needle, and use a guide to make sure the stitching is in just the right place. The alternative to sewing is either to just leave the card unjoined, or to create folded tabs and glue them together.

4. Trimming

All that's left now is trimming the edges. Of course, you could just start out with paper the right size for the LP sleeve, but this way we could print artwork right over the border of the sleeve, which provides a lot more freedom for the designer. Invest in a decent guillotine if you can, as cutting 200+ sleeves on three edges is a fair bit of work. Again, use a simple guide to line the sleeves up so you can just trim the edges quickly and accurately.

Once the sleeves are trimmed, they were numbered out of 200, and inserted into a protective PVC sleeve. This is a pretty tight fit - so make sure that a) you get the right size PVC sleeves, as some are just too small, and b) be very accurate with the sewing and trimming...

5. Print the Inner Sleeve

We could have left it there, but for the final touch, we decided to print a single-colour screenprint on the inner sleeve, containing the record. This allowed us to get a print on to the label of the record, and the effect of printing on the inner + record at the same time is fantastic. We shamelessly stole this idea from Vivod, for whom we've printed all of their releases to date using this same style.   

And that's it - two hundred hand-crafted, printed and sewn record sleeves. We're hugely pleased with how these came out, and the artwork and sleeve hopefully does justice to the stunning music of the record itself.

Limited vinyl available directly from us and also Norman Records, Stashed Goods, Electric Knife, Cafe Oto, Out-of-print (Belgium), and Experimedia (US).

Carolyn Drake - Two Rivers

In the darkness, the golden glow of streetlights bounces off the newly laid asphalt. The goose-stepping soldiers march with rifles shooting straight as arrows up into the sky. The final soldier shares the following page with a student of Astronomy, whose textbook sits, gripped between her woollen sweater and floral-print trousers of turquoise, lilac and crimson. Resting on a traditional carpet are her feet, kept warm by elaborately patterned knitted socks. The wool of her sweater flows into the following image, showing the blood streaked, matted coat of a dead sheep.

The subject of Carolyn Drake’s book, Two Rivers – The Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers – have long held sway over Central Asia. Their sources touch the Chinese borders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, flowing west towards - but no longer reaching - what is left of the Aral Sea(s). Early Muslims believed the rivers to be two of the four that would lead them into paradise.

As Elif Batuman points out in the book’s introduction, “The two rivers run through Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, the Indian epic Raghuvamsa, The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions, the Hadith of Abu Hurairah, the journals of Marco Polo, and the Stalinist songs of bard Dzhambul. In a certain respect, all the stories still exist at once.”

The trials and tribulations of this great region are scored into the growing and shrinking waterways of the two Daryas, that ebb and flow across arbitrary national borders. Histories seem to be piled high, layer upon layer.  Traditions and folk stories blur into religion, legend and myth; told by Zoroastrians, shamans and Sufis. Carolyn Drake’s images share this dense, multi-layered historiography. They are opaque and mysterious, and this beautiful self-published book – funded through Kickstarter – rightly made it onto scores of ‘end of year’ lists for best photobook 2013.

“I started photographing in Central Asia in 2007” recalls Carolyn over email. “I had an idea it would be interesting to follow the full path of the rivers before my first trip there, but didn’t realise until a few years later that that was actually what I was doing on all the journeys I took there.”

But as with so many projects of this nature, that begin as an idea about one thing but end up being about something else, or something more, they tend to grow organically. “It wasn’t until I was able to write out the ideas I had about this place in a grant proposal in 2009/10 that it started coming together. After that it was easier to identify what I needed to still shoot. Most of the work was shot independently (self funded and with grant money) but there were a couple of short assignments from the New York Times that ended up in the book and a piece of a National Geographic story.”

Seven chapters carry the reader slowly east, beginning in the haunting and somewhat bizarre natural history museum in Aralsk on the Aral Sea. Taxidermy specimens of ducks, geese, badgers and saigas (a rare species of antelope) set the tone for what becomes an immersive and intoxicating photographic journey through the layered past of a complicated land. Every sequence, every image, is considered.

Carolyn told me, “While trying to make the image sequence myself, I realised it needed to feel like it was flowing, river-like, but I was undecided about how tethered to real geography it should be, besides moving between the sea and the source. I wanted it to speak metaphorically, not just a literal map of the region, but to ask broader and more ambiguous questions about cycles of life and history, beginnings and ends, where life comes from…”

The work of designer Sybren Kuiper (SYB) was vital in bringing these ideas and desires into focus in the physical book. Using the folded Japanese-binding method, images flow over pages. They talk directly to one another as they cross the page, whilst moods and thoughts are planted through partial display before they are fully revealed. This has the affect of propelling the viewer along as if traveling down a river. Often, only with the physical turning of the page, is the image fully revealed.

“Folding over the pages and [the] short cover were Syb's idea. I had made a dummy in which the images in the book filled the entire spread, all the same size, trying to make it flow continuously, but at some point it became clear that the sizes and position of the images needed to change. It was too monotonous for every spread to be laid out the same way, and I really didn’t feel like that was territory I was capable of delving into.

“He changed it up way more than I expected, but it all made sense. Every chapter is a little different, so it’s always changing, like rivers do. We had a lot of back and forth after the first draft he sent me because there were some images I really wanted to include that weren't in and some that I really wanted to take out. There were places where the grid structure needed to be adjusted, or where I didn’t think it flowed quite right. That was really hard because when you change one thing there's a ripple effect on the rest of the chapter and the rest of the book. A couple of the chapters didn’t change at all from his first draft, and there a couple that we worked on for a long time, right up until the end.”

Elif Batuman’s captions, which are included in a separate three-hole-sewn booklet, add a further layer to Two Rivers. “The photographs are Drake’s story, and the text is my story about her story.”  Writes Batuman. The words have their own flowing poetry. Marrying text and image in a photo book is a tricky thing. You don’t want to be distracted by text, yet at the same time things need to be (quite literally) contextualised. Two Rivers physically separates image and text allowing the reader to either merge the two together of to enjoy each in isolation.

Carolyn emphasises the importance of this partnership. “I think both with the design and the text it was an exercise in collaboration, in selecting the right partners and then stepping back to see how they might expand the underlying ideas of the project.. This was not a self-made artist book, it was really a three way collaboration.”

The End of the Year

The end of the year is approaching, and in a tradition as time-honoured as lumps of charcoal and brightly lit trees, we thought we'd put together some kind of list of cultural highlights from the preceeding twelve months. Without further ado...

Top Five Books of the Year 
selected by Josh Lustig

Lieko Shiga, Rasen Kaigan
I've written about this book already on this blog. It is an epic, psychedelic journey, populated by the elderly, deep holes and pot plants. Shiga's cross-processed colour makes the whole experience that little bit more surreal.

Carolyn Drake, Two Rivers
Carolyn Drake's stunning self-published book is an odyssey through Central Asia. Her images bubble and flow over the french-bound pages like the two rivers of the title - the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The colour palette is muted yet rich, made all the more tactile by the uncoated paper. 

Gita Wolf and Sunita, Gobble You Up
Beautifully hand screen-printed onto thick craft paper, Gobble You Up is an ancient Rajasthani fairy tale retold by Wolf and illustrated in the Gond style by Sunita. A cunning jackal gets hungry and begins to fill his belly with a menagerie of unlucky critters. Exactly the kind of joyous publication I've come to expect from Tara Books

John Cage and William Gedney, Iris Garden
Weaving together stories by John Cage with images by William Gedney, Iris Garden unfolds and overlaps like a Cage composition. Images of Cage himself sit beside scenes of domesticity and glimpses of South Asia, whilst Cage's whimsical stories are intertwined. 

Muge, Ash
40 unbound black and white images based upon the Taoist teaching of Lao Tze’s “Theory of Nature.” Questions are raised not just about man's relationship with nature, but to our relationship to all things. Muge (aka Huang Rong) seems to want us to see beyond the object or scene he is depicting and the loose prints encourage reshuffling and a shifting of understanding.

Top 10 Albums of the Year
selected by Oliver Barrett

More of a cross-section of stuff I've listened to most this year rather than any kind of definitive list (then again it's all pretty much arbitrary anyway). I've probably listened to way more stuff that didn't come out in 2013 this year, which isn't to say the last 12 months have been short of great stuff in any way. Each year is better than the last. In no particular order...

Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo
Jon Collin - High Peak Selections
The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Okkyung Lee - Ghil
Fire! Orchestra - Exit!
Roscoe Mitchell / Tony Marsh / John Edwards - Improvisations
Skin Graft - Enemy
Jenny Hval - Innocence Is Kinky
Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
Marnie Stern - The Chronicles of Marnia

And an honourable mention to 'Strangeways' by Pseudo Nippon which came out in January and which I've probably listened to more than anything else this year - a perfectly arranged pop song. I made a playlist of the tracks I could find on soundcloud:

Top Five Live Performances of the Year
Selected by Max Bondi

Pete Swanson / Mark Fell at Birthdays - Jan 2013
Mark Fell may not be the most captivating of live performers, flat-capped and standing behind a sole laptop in the basement of a bar in Dalston, but when the sounds emitted from the PA are this arresting - visceral, cerebral, complex patterns of sculpted electronic music - it hardly matters. Followed shortly after by Pete Swanson, fist pumping in the middle of the crowd to his own unique brand of gnarly and beat-driven noise, it was a pretty great way to kick off the year.

Akio Suzuki & Aki Onda at Cafe Oto - June 2013
Two masterly Japanese sound artists playing together for well over two hours, this seemed to exist outside the usual constraints and expectations of a live performance. Akio Suzuki played everything; strange homemade bells, pipes, percussion. Aki Onda wandered, setting off tapes, changing the sound and shape of the room. By the time it was over, no-one was quite sure what had happened.

Russell Haswell + Others at LCMF, Peckham - August 2013
While there were undoubtedly other highlights of the excellent London Contemporary Music Festival, this was unfathomably the only one I went to. As brilliant as Steve Noble's drum improvisations and other assorted performers were, it was Russell Haswell, playing brutally loud uncategorisable noise in a car park in Peckham that stole the show.

The Necks at Cafe Oto - November 2013
A band I'd been waiting to see for a long time, the Necks did not disappoint. Two sets of beautiful, mesmeric improvisation from the piano/drums/bass trio from Australia, hopefully the recording of this trio of gigs makes the light of day. 

Emptyset at Ambika P3 - December 2012
Ok, ok, yes, this was in 2012. But as I'm writing this in December it seems unfair to exclude it, and anyway, we make the rules round here. This installation in the enormous, cavernous space at the University of Westminster was something pretty special. Using the same techniques and sounds as heard on Medium and the recent Recur on Raster-Noton, Emptyset had set up a huge stack of speakers and microphones within the room, both recording and responding to the resonance of the space. In near-darkness, except for a slowly phasing bulb, thunderous wall-vibrating rumblings were felt more than heard, as static and noise built up and washed away in patterns and figures that may or may not have repeated. I don't know, but it was loud, and it was great.   

Eivind Natvig at Trondheim Kunstmuseum

For the week of the Trondheim Dokumentarfestival, Eivind Natvig was exhibiting from his series Du er her no (You Are Here Now) at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum, one of Norway's most prestigious galleries.

15 stunning prints were hung in the gallery's auditorium, while a larger edit of the work was shown on two screens in the reception area.

The Trondheim Kunstmuseum's Autumn programme states:

"Natvig's images linger somewhere in-between the genres of documentary and fine art. The series Du er her no depicts Norway in this realm, but through the eyes of both the person who left and the person who returned. He shows Norway as both an exotic and strange place, but at the same time somewhere mundane or trivial. The images have something both for the enthuiastic tourist and the native suffering from wanderlust. The images are full of juxtapoitions - they refuse to make a stand or take sides. But then again, it might not be a question of taking sides."

Natvig's Du er her no will be the second publication from Tartaruga Press, due for release early 2014.

Wadada Leo Smith at Cafe OTO

Tonight is the second night of a 3-night residency at Cafe OTO from Wadada Leo Smith, presenting his epic work Ten Freedom Summers. The three collections (one performed each night) comprise a total of over 7 hours of music, inspired by, and documenting, the story of the Civil Rights movement in the USA. The 4CD recording on Cuneiform Records was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Music Prize.

I had the honour of printing the limited posters for this show (1-colour screenprint on 350gsm archival stock, 100 copies only) which are available for sale (and signed by Wadada!) at Cafe OTO, and was there for the first collection performed last night by Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet, featuring the Ligeti Quartet, plus visuals from Jesse Gilbert. A stunning and powerful set, it included the recent addition to the collection 'That Sunday Morning', a Coltrane-referencing commemoration of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and closed appropriately with 'JFK', given the 50th anniversary of his assassination today.  

The second and third collection from Ten Freedom Summers will be performed at Cafe OTO tonight (Friday) and tomorrow. Highly, highly recommended. Some more pictures of the print below:

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