Responses by Responses by Abbott Miller, partner, Pentagram
Background: Future Utopia is a new collaborative music platform from producer-musician Fraser T. Smith. The project involved creating a visual approach that would be initiated by Future Utopia’s first album 12 Questions, released on Platoon, but would also create a recognizable look and sensibility for subsequent Future Utopia albums. The album was conceived as musical responses to twelve questions facing the world, and it involves over 20 different singers, musicians, poets and actors, including Bastille, Dave, Es Devlin, Idris Elba, Mikky Ekko, Alysia Harris, Lafawndah, Arlo Parks and Stormzy, among others.
Reasoning: Our discussions revolved around creating a landscape in which episodes from these twelve songs would co-exist, a kind of sonic equivalent to the character of the album, with traces of the themes addressed in the songs.
Challenges: The project was really joyful and positive. Since the album had super interesting music, and we needed to create a visual world that relies so much on Ori Toor’s beautiful illustrations, we were off and running pretty quickly. Fraser had never seen Ori’s work. Yet, when we showed him how it could all work, he said it was as if that was what had always been in his mind.
Visual influences: We were looking at the artwork on progressive rock and concept albums like Mati Klarwein’s art for Miles Davis’s album Bitches Brew, Martin Sharp’s artwork for Cream’s albums and Roger Dean’s artwork for Yes’s albums. And then, of course, we looked at images of utopias from art history.
Anything new: Sometimes photography is just too literal! We did lots of photography-based directions, but we learned that the synthesizing power of illustration was a better analog to the fusion happening in the music.
Alternative approach: Absolutely nothing. It was one of the rare bright spots during the pandemic, a total pleasure among everyone involved. A truly charmed project!