Samuel Travis talks... Animation, art installations, Yellow Days
The enigmatic visual-artist from London, Samuel Travis, is a specialist in textural animation and photogrammetry, who's pinned his craft to a host of musical projects, from music videos to EP and album sleeves, and even an entire art installation. His creations are both fascinating and outlandish, but have provided perfect visual accompaniments to the work of his musical clients.
"I'm not sure how often it's possible to separate your experience of music and art if it's presented to you as one thing - whether it works together, or you enjoy the music in spite of the visuals or vice versa, I think that impression stays with you."
Travis initially began producing typographic posters, but quickly adopted a much more visual style to his work, exploring colour, shape and pattern further in both 2d and 3d mediums. His first breakout came in 2014 with Leeds-based indie-quartet, Adult Jazz, where he provided the art direction and cover design for their debut LP, Gist Is. This initial collaboration was successful, and he was asked again two years later to provide the art direction for their next record, Earrings Off!; a mini-album that had a much more experimental, electronic sound to it that gave Travis the creative license to impel his eccentric artistic style onto.
The videos that accompanied the sounds on each record acted as a driving force for both the band, and for Travis as a visual artist. For "Spook", a single from debut LP, Gist Is, Travis opted for a simple animation that wouldn't tear you away from the instrumentation, but instead compliment it. This sound of this record was not groundbreaking, but it was delicately different, and so it needed a simple visual. "Eggshell" on the other hand, from Earrings Off!, had characteristics that almost invited a visual performance, and Travis' style suited this brilliantly.
"The whole room became really eerie - sort of expansive and claustrophobic at once - that was something I felt strongly in the music"
For his next project, however, he wanted something that transcended album artwork and music videos. Tongue, an ambient musical project consisting of Huw Thomas, Dan Jacobs, Timothy Slater and Alex De Little, released their latest EP, How Nice It Is, in September last year. Their style, which blends trombones with crooning vocals and electronics, laid the foundations for an interesting collaboration: "Tongue was a collaboration between friends, most of whom I’d worked with on artwork for their other projects. Huw, who is the singer on that EP, sent me the music they were working on and I really loved it. I think actually I asked them if they’d let me do the artwork, rather than them approaching me to do something. So in a way the sleeve is fan art... It’s a very special project to me because I knew straight away what I wanted to do and when I did it it resonated with everyone involved".
Travis' first drafts ended up as the final concept for the sleeve, but upon hearing that the duo were organising a listening party for the release of the EP, he sought to provide even further support: "[I] asked if they’d let me expand the sleeve art into a wider world and install it for the event. It was in a room in a wing of Somerset House that’s a little rough around the edges, which was perfect. We projected these semi biological type pieces on the wall, they looked like they were submerged. The whole room became really eerie - sort of expansive and claustrophobic at once - that was something I felt strongly in the music".
He added: "In my experience it's rare to feel like something has been quite directly and purposefully communicated to an audience - and generally ambiguity in that exchange is a positive thing anyway - but with this project I really felt like people understood it all in quite a visceral way, which was nice to experience".
Travis' approach to various projects was unique, and he started to attract more and more musicians in the process. But it was his work with Adult Jazz that pricked the ears of indie artist George Van Den Broek, aka, Yellow Days: "They wanted some sort of animated or digital 'version' of George for the song 'Hurt in Love', which was the first thing I worked with them on".
At the time Travis had been experimenting a lot with lo-fi photogrammetry, taking loads of photos of something on his phone and compiling them to make a digital model: "I just visited George at his studio with my phone and made loads of scans of him and the space. The DIY process created glitches and inaccuracies in the scans which we ran with to create the dark and slightly hallucinatory aesthetic".
Travis also worked with Yellow Days to provide further art direction for his latest single, "The Way Things Change". This project, he admits, was kept really playful: "I think I've mostly done quite serious and dark things, but my impression of this song was that it had a kind of laconic wit and I wanted to reflect that. So we kept the shoot really fun, there was lots of laughter and experimenting from everyone".
Following the shoot, Travis went away and created the textural animations you see on the final cut, adding particles and "furballs", which he commented on as "personal experiments and challenges", all put together to reflect the title in the most basic way possible: "To me the animated elements are just things changing - studies of the way 'things' change". In total, the video consisted of over 6000 frames, 400 of which were then turned into unique A2 posters, printed only once.
There seems to exist a perfect marriage between Yellow Days' dream-pop sound and Travis' visual sentiment, that the two could almost not subsist without each other. When prompted about the marriage between Travis' visuals and the music, he commented: "I think once the work is done it's a single thing in its own right - rather than two things hand in hand. It could be for better or worse - either way I'm not sure how often it's possible to separate your experience of music and art if it's presented to you as one thing - whether it works together, or you enjoy the music in spite of the visuals or vice versa, I think that impression stays with you. That's the thing I find most nerve wracking about making work that accompanies music".
Creating that seamless fusion of art and music is not as easy as it may look, but the style Travis has adopted seems tailor-made for each and every project he puts his stamp on. He admits, however, that this marriage of the two mediums is completely coincidental: "Sound and vision can tug each other in particular directions. It might seem like a piece of artwork or a video is the exact right thing to accompany a piece of music, but in reality there are so many possible outcomes and many of them would probably work. You land on something that pulls the overall whole into a place that you're happy with".
The same principle was applied with friend and collaborator, Kyle Molleson, aka, Makeness, who released his debut album Loud Patterns last month. The design of the sleeve encapsulated the nature of the music incredibly well, but he admits it was difficult to get to where they wanted to be with it, because he understood it as a piece of work, but also as something more personal: "I think when that happens the bar is set pretty high and you’ve got something quite rich and complex you want to express and you have to balance that with the overall coherence of it. Reflecting the experimental nature of the music was the easy part really - there’s a whole load of other stuff we wanted it to talk about, even if it’s only talking to us".
In an interview with Molleson, the musician mentioned that they wanted to augment real world images and turn them into computer generated patterns. For instance, the "Day Old Death" single artwork is a 3D scan of a photo of the "under face of a cliff" on the Isle of Skye that Molleson took just after the summer of the recording sessions. Travis then took these images and turned them into a 3D scan, which he then manipulated to what you see today. The actual main artwork itself is made out of fungus, which, with the exception of the "Day Old Death" single, were expanded into variations for the remaining singles and promotional posters, before being animated for live shows.
With regards to future projects, Travis has revealed that his connections have become long-term collaborations: "I think I'm working on something or other with most of them most of the time. In terms of Yellow Days, we're talking about bringing some of the work on the last video into a live context, so we'll see how that goes".