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Book Reviews

Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM

By Published: March 21, 2010

For some, artwork is meant as nothing more than an attention-grabber, meant to compel prospective buyers into taking the leap. ECM's design transcends such crass considerations, despite a consistent success at doing just that; instead, it's an adjunct to the music. Sometimes it evokes a mood, through visuals, that is reflected in the music. Sometimes it makes a tacit statement about the music, as in the label's consistent use of plain backgrounds and type fonts (often sans-serif) for Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's work. Like the five seconds of silence that begins all ECM releases released since approximately 1995, the music begins in quietude and builds from there.

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There is also revelation. The cover of The Third Man—trumpeter Enrico Rava
Enrico Rava
Enrico Rava
's 2007 duet album with pianist Stefano Bollani—has nothing but a third set of feet at the bottom left of the cover that finds the two musicians in conversation; for those who haven't seen the CD's inside liner photos, Windfall Light reveals the untouched photo, with Eicher as the titular third man. It's no surprise, given Eicher's profound involvement in production, that he's often considered an integral member of whatever ensemble he's producing. Far from a silent partner, it's also no surprise to occasionally find Eicher a part of the artwork, and not just in interior photos either; on pianist Paul Bley
Paul Bley
Paul Bley
's 2007 Solo in Mondsee, he can be found walking along a boat landing, barely recognizable with his knapsack, in near-silhouette.

The book also includes an up-to-date, complete discography at the end, with small (1.5"x1.5") thumbnails of every album the label has released...and a few still to come. It doesn't quite make up for not owning Sleeves of Desire, but it comes close. And as a book that celebrates the remarkable artists, photographers and designers who have helped realized Eicher's creative vision for four decades, Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM—a book as lovely to hold as it is to examine—is as much a feast for the eyes as the label's constantly growing discography is for the ears. That the two are conjoined in ways that defy easy explanation, and yet are somehow instinctively obvious, makes closer examination of the label's visual art as captivating—and, ultimately, necessary—as the more commonplace analysis of its music.

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