Pat Metheny released Song X as an LP in 1985, a collaboration with free
jazz/harmolodics innovator Ornette Coleman. From the first track, a thirteen-minute
sonic assault called “Endangered Species,” fans either immediately loved or hated
it. One thing was certain, it signaled a shift in Metheny’s otherwise melodic
musical repertoire while evidencing his need to continually test the bounds and
mix the genres of music. In short, it was a watershed album. In 2005, Metheny
decided to remaster and remix the record, taking it from LP to CD. Because vinyl
imposed restrictions, he had had to cut a lot from the first release; this he
restored for the new
Song X, resulting in a blend of old and new.
This rerelease of such a critical event demanded an equally robust
package design, so when Nonesuch Records commissioned New York designer
Stephen Doyle and Doyle Partners to design the CD of
Song X for this twentieth
anniversary, “We couldn’t keep ourselves away from the XX thing. Who could?”
he explains. “We wanted it to be elegant yet grubby—always a fun
combination—and figure out a way to wrap the original package to distinguish
it. Kinda like a giftwrap, but transparent. Masking tape, trompe l’oeil style,
delivered the grubby, while the type weaving through it as transparent
delivered the finesse. I did the tape idea, and August Heffner, my most
amazing designer, added the violins.”
Here the virtuosity is not found in Metheny’s music only. A lot is needed
to make the small (compared to the luxuriously expansive image area of an LP)
CD jewel case into something that transcends the commonplace, and Doyle, who
also makes sculptural pieces from common materials, created a package with
subtle sculptural conceits. The strips of masking tape that form XX looks as
though they were stuck on the jewel case by hand while, in fact, the tape is
carefully printed over the plastic, resulting in texture that feels like the real
thing. Okay, that’s not all that difficult if you know what you’re doing. But
designing the type underneath the tape to look as though it is covered by tape
was no small feat. If not precisely composed, effectively distorted, and carefully
printed, the illusion would fail. Suffice to say, it is totally convincing.
Doyle’s design for
Song X plays off various contemporary printing and
packaging techniques. Using tape of all kinds—duct, masking, electrical—as a
design element is fairly common in the age of DIY (do it yourself). In the
1970s, punk-style tape was one of the inelegant everyday materials used to
make ad hoc–looking design, which rebelled against prevailing professionalism.
But it quickly caught on as a means of adding grittiness, and soon designers
were using tape to make typefaces and construct images. As a postmodern
graphic design trope, tape was used self-referentially to show the inner
workings of the design process.
The introduction of the jewel case in the early 1990s (originally, CDs
were packaged in long cardboard boxes) gave designers a new opportunity to
work with transparency and translucency in a small image space. It also
demanded that printers find an endless array of new techniques so designers
could play with color, texture, and light. Compared to some extravaganzas seen
Song X is minimal, but sometimes spare is eloquent.
And this eloquence is accomplished through one more trait that often
appears in contemporary design: revealed layers achieved through the use of
opaque papers. Increasingly, vellums and similar stocks are used as book
jackets and CD covers, whenever it is necessary to gradually expose multiple
components of a single message. With
Song X, the fusion of paper, plastic, and
printing achieves a demonstrative subtlety.
Song X
Designer: Stephen Doyle and August Heffner
2005 Song X—Pat Metheny, CD cover
ad: Doyle Partners ad: Stephen Doyle d: August Heffner c: Nonesuch Records
CD design for the rerelease of Pat Metheny’s Song X.
Taping down art
Images and opacity
Type and opacity

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