So a funny thing happened today…
I was researching the visuals used by Neurosis – a post-metal band who, to me, sound like a post-apocalyptic soundscape, regularly building gradually from gentle serenity to intense, aural assaults. They paint the soundtrack to an ambiguous world between dystopia and utopia. It’s not too often that I will have a Neurosis session but when I do, it’s enveloping and normally lasts hours. Their music is both terrifying and beautiful – damn this band make me enjoy feeling uneasy.
The stagecraft and ‘performance’ for a band as evocative as this, needs to be carefully considered; a few images cobbled together and projected behind them as they play would be a disservice to the range and artistry of their music.
Enter: Josh Graham.
Graham, up until recently, was a member of Neurosis (at least to the point of being listed on their wikipedia and included in a lot of band photos). His role in the band was that of visual artist, with all imagery from album covers to performance accompanying projections created by him. That’s mental! I’ve never heard of anything like it – maybe a particular member who took on most of the visual roles but never a band member who didn’t technically provide any music (let’s not get into turntables…)
I think this is very telling of Neurosis as a whole – their ethos and dedication towards presenting an overall performance piece. In many ways, they are the musical side of much of what I’ve discussed in this blog. The sheer fact that they don’t approach a designer having finished their product but had a designer throughout the birth, development and completion of an album is really innovative to me. It ensures that the music and the visuals sync perfectly. The themes are fully fleshed and explored; expertly crafted to create a coherent, multi-sensory narrative to a point that I don’t think could be achieved by working as separate entities.
Where it gets funny though is that I only found all this out today, despite having been a fan for years. I had never watched any of their live footage nor been lucky enough to see them in person. So my uni studies have led me back to the music side, reinvigorated and increasing my appreciation of Neurosis – each aspect is informing the other, it’s rather lovely.
The frustrating thing though, is that Neurosis have never been a band to chase critical acclaim. Having existed since 1985, they have impacted the music world and are regarded highly in certain circles but all members lead their own lives – the guitarist is an elementary school teacher. This I also respect although it does mean that not much information about their creative processes and Graham’s work is available online. I have found his personal email address though so have requested that I interview him and am feeling hopeful that I’ll get a reply. He does seem to be quite busy these days though, having amicably split with Neurosis last year and since produced work for Jay-Z, Soundgarden and Mastodon.
Warning: Viewing may result in the foetal postion
For Neurosis’s live shows at least, Graham generally creates mono-chromatic projections to accompany the music. These are carefully edited to sync with the music completely. The cuts though are often erratic and irregular and are not completely restricted to the beat of the song but do definitely feel deeply entwined with the music. The film also replicates the dynamics of the song through subject matter, speed of cut and overall intensity. That said, after climatising to the way in which the audio and visuals work together, this can often seem to be reversed with the video itself often seeming to herald a shift in the music – I don’t think I’ve seen that before, it’s stunning. He also often uses motifs – pieces of imagery that will recur throughout a performance. For example, many of the films he made for songs from Given to the Rising (pictured top) contain antlers and horns, often in geometric patterns. Another element I have picked up on is the presence, or perhaps more notably the absence of human figures. Dynamic shifts in the music are often be accompanied by some sort of shift in the film. In the video above, Graham intensifies the gradual build to a climactic riff by flashing images of an outstretched hand and contorted limbs which then give way to full human silhouettes once the riff hits. I’d be curious to find out how Graham sources the content for these videos. Some of it looks as though it may be self shot but much of it seems to be stock footage. On top of this he often animates intriguing and often indistinct forms that will steadily grow more fathomable as new perspectives are provided. This gives the films great intrigue as well as forcing the audience to consider what they are seeing. Not only that but it reflects the dystopian ambiguity of Neurosis’s music.