Daniel Cookney interviews Timothy Saccenti

27.03.12 Words by: Charlie Jones

New York-based photographer and video maker Timothy Saccenti might have gained recognition for shooting Pharrel Williams, LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective, Arctic Monkeys and Usher, yet he insists that “there are very few albums that should have a portrait of the band on the cover”.

Partly explaining his direction behind the cover for Motor’s new Man Made Machine [an album on the Chris Liebing-owned CLRX sub-label that features guest appearances from Gary Numan, Martin L. Gore and Billie Ray Martin], it demonstrates just how he sees alternate ways of correlating image and sound. For music packaging, this can manifest as the twisted car wreck he documented for Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles long-player or his encapsulation of musical equipment for Mirrored by Battles. Basically it’s an approach that Saccenti dubs “the band in amore abstract manner”.

“I don’t pay as much attention to the look or message of the artists themselves,” he states. “That can be distracting. I try to treat it in a somewhat synthetic manner: turning the audio in to pure visuals; getting a sense of shape, colour and texture before filling in the blanks. “I do specialize in portraits of musicians in other aspects of mywork, but these are meant to show more of the personality. That’s the feel of the artist themselves; not a pure representation of the music.”

The Motor sleeve, on the other hand, is one of those unabashed attempts to provide a suitable metaphor. A notable move away from the often goth-edged techno minimalism of Bryan Black and Mr No’s first three albums, the artwork seems to play down the fact that it’s a more vocal-driven offering by presenting an image that is mysterious and ominous, if not completely unsettling.

“With Motor the music is cold, hard and digital,” Saccenti offers. “So those were the first basic elements to include. But the lyrical motifs include psychosexual and nocturnal elements so we have some sexual energy in the mix as well.

“To me music of this nature is electronic ritual technology: designed to alter the mindset of the listener. That element of it being transportive in a ceremonial manner was important. We filmed the video for the ‘Man Made Machine’ single at the same time as the album art and the audio catharsis is a bit more evident there. The cube elements were reflective of the digital aspects of the music but I felt it needed the female character – actually a dominatrix harking back to the aesthetic of classic industrial labels as Wax Trax- as a contrast to those cold elements.”

Other influences came courtesy of the occultism explored in films such as The Color of Pomegranates plus the art works of Bill Viola and Won Ju Lim’s plexiglass and foamcore sculptures. However a major factor within the creative process was the trust and understanding that develops after years of collaboration. Saccenti has pretty much worked with Motor since their inception and, due to that longstanding partnership, doesn’t work to briefs. Instead he’ll meet to listen to new material and discuss how the music might match his current visual obsessions. This usually offers an opportunity to explore Saccenti’s own techno and technology-based passions with the most recent project drafting in the additional expertise of interactive artist and programmer Ivan Safrin.

“On this occasion the process was more important than knowing what the outcome would be,” he suggests. “We designed the projections in code, added the elements of smoke and light and watched what happened. For some artists the feel would have been too dark and baroque, but it suited Motor perfectly.”

Daniel Cookney runs Plasticcircles.com a great blog.

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