‘Isn’t Anything” by My Bloody Valentine, Wallpaper by Alex Synge

Sights & Sounds: My Bloody Valentine - 'Isn't Anything' by Alex Synge

Alex Synge

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Here’s what Alex Synge had to say about his wallpaper:

I love the album, and know it well from repeated listens over the years, and maybe this was a factor in making it hard for me to come up with something that I thought could do it some justice with. Initially I was thinking about the name “isn’t anything” – about nothingness, black-holes and vacuums in space – as well how lush and dreamy MBV sound musically. Perhaps a little bit obvious, but I went with it for a while to see what I came up with. I was playing around with photos of space featuring black-holes, photocopying them repeatedly and scanning them. Some of it looked OK, but not especially interesting or unique. I was also a bit worried that a desktop featuring black-holes and distant galaxies, etc. might look a bit close to default desktop on an off-the-shelf computer.

So I went back to the drawing-board, and was reading up on the album; how and when it was recorded, when it was released, etc. Something that has always jumped out to me about MBV’s music is the duality in it; how two sometimes seemingly opposing elements join together. Kevin Shields describes their music as being “pure noise and pure melody”. Even song-titles on the album like “Soft as Snow (but Warm Inside)”, “I Can See It (but I Can’t Feel It)” and “(When You Wake) You’re Still in a Dream” stress this mix of marrying opposites. I love how they talk about their sound; despite how insanely loud the guitars are, how they try to make them sounds like ghosts of themselves by using reverse reverb:

“The thing is, the sound literally isn’t all there,” Shields explained. “It’s actually the opposite of rock’n’roll. It’s taking all the guts out of it, there’s just the remnants, the outline.” Isn’t Anything’s engineer Dave Anderson later claimed that Shields had got him to erase all the actual playing from the record and keep only the reverse reverb after-image of the chord-strum. The technicalities of how MBV got their unique sound are secrets that a legion of bands scrabbled to work out in the years following Isn’t Anything. What matters–then and now–is the effect on the listener, and why it struck such a resonant chord with audiences at that point in pop history. As Butcher explained to me, “It’s like that bit in the middle of “You Made Me Realise”, where it just levitates. You know it’s there, and you know it’s coming, but when it happens, half the time you forget it’s on. Your mind completely wanders, you forget it, then you remember it.” – Spin Magazine

So with the imagery, I wanted to allude to some kind of a duality as well, and to combine two very different worlds. “Isn’t Anything” was released on the 1st November 1988 – this day also marks Mexican “Day of the Dead” (Día de los Muertos) – a two-day festival when friends and family gather to remember loved-ones who have passed away. Even though my knowledge of the festival is very scant, I thought it could be nice to reference it in some way in the work, especially as we’re now aiming to release our wallpapers around that time (close to when “Loveless” was released as well). During the festival, the dead are honoured with sugar skulls and marigolds, among other things. I love skull imagery, but given that you see it everywhere these days, and that there are countless people with much more skill than me who draw and render amazing images of skulls, I thought I’d turn to margigolds:

“Its flower, the cempasúchil is also called the flor de muertos (“flower of the dead”) in Mexico and is used in the Día de los Muertos celebration every November 2nd. The word cempasúchil (also spelled cempazúchil) comes from the Nahuatl term for the flower zempoalxochitl, literally translated as “twenty flower”. In Thai language it is called DaoRuang, literally translated as “star glittering”. Water infused with the fragrant essential oil of the flower was used to wash corpses inHonduras, and the flower is still commonly planted in cemeteries.”

I love that the Thai translation of their name for the flower is “star glittering”. A lovely way to talk about MBV’s music too I suppose. I was thinking back to the initial imagery of space, and tying that back into it. I picked up a beautiful (and amazingly cheap) old French lithograph of a marigold off eBay, along with an old National Geographic space-themed issue from 1983, and set about making a collage. This is the result…

My incredibly-long winded explanation aside; it’s a collage of flowers and stars that I hope in some way captures the spirit and feel of an album I love.