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Photo of flying pigeons, distorted by photocopier

Grey Matter

What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

Highly cerebral and painfully raw, Sean Blake HTF’s album “Grey Matter” is a battle between his fiery, bold ambitions and his gnawing, devastating self-doubt. The glittering highs, the gruelling lows, and the apathy in between.

Portrait of Sean Blake HTF, with photocopy texture

Sean Blake HTF, photocopied

The visual aesthetic for the album is centered on distortion, warping, and all things grey. This mirrors the musical production as well at the lyrical themes.

To add depth, we needed a protagonist. A character that could represent Sean, and enhance the album’s visual storytelling. Enter the pigeon. Recognizable by its rich grey plumage and characteristic stride, most folks walk right past these creatures without a second glance.

Sketch of a coin featuring Sean Blake HTF and a pigeon

Sketch of a Sean Blake HTF coin

While doves are perceived as blessed or pure, pigeons are generally viewed as dirty pests, despite being essentially the same animal. Pigeons are intelligent, determined creatures with bad PR.

Poor self-image sucks. It tends to bring on a whole lot of negativity. It causes us to lose touch with ourselves. We start to live in fear.

Photo of a close up pigeon eye, with photocopy texture

We tend to think of fear as a bad thing. We try to hide from it. But that approach is flawed. We must live with it, seek to understand it. Because fear is trying to give us an important piece of the puzzle. It can either keep us down, or be the tool that guides us in the right direction.

Fear of flying will reduce if you think of turbulence as normal.

Photo of a cluster of pigeons taking off, with photocopy texture

My most memorable exposure to distortion didn’t come from music. It came from school. Social science teachers were the frequent offenders. Somehow their favourite article would always be from a scientific journal from 1972, which was photocopied. And then they photocopied that photocopy. And then they photocopied that photocopy. And so on and so forth, for years and years, until I enrolled in their class and they handed me my copy. The end result was a masterpiece. It looked more like art than an educational article. The text had become wavy. The photos, indecipherable - often reduced to dark, noisy rectangles.

So I used my teachers’ favourite tool, the photocopier, to create a warped and distorted world for “Grey Matter”.

Photo of pigeons on a sidewalk, warped by photocopier

Pigeons on a sidewalk, warped by a photocopier

I also drew blind contour portraits of Sean. This consists of drawing the outline of a subject in a continuous line, without lifting the pen, and without looking at the paper. The goal is not to produce a “good” drawing, but to draw details more realistically, rather than relying on memorized drawing symbols.

The resulting visuals are moody, with dissociative undertones.

Blind contour portraits of Sean Blake HTF

Blind contour portraits of Sean Blake HTF

After my initial explorations in creating imagery with a photocopier, I pushed this direction a step further. I distorted images until their details were blurred beyond recognition - by photocopying them up to 50-60 times. (This led to me getting some weird looks at the copy centre.)

Photocopier-distorted animation of drawings of Sean Blake HTF and a pigeon

I scanned each of these photocopies and created gif animations with them. They reflect the album’s stylistic distortion, as well as the internal chaos and turmoil expressed within the lyrics.

Photocopier-distorted animation of the cover for the Sean Blake HTF song “February” Original photo © Antoine Ryan

A journey into the deep recesses of the mind is always going to be a little dark and scary. “Grey Matter” is no different.