The Alternative Pick

Back when… in the early days of the internet… before the devaluing of photography and illustration, there was a wonderful printed publication called The Alternative Pick. Its main function was as a creative sourcebook for the music and entertainment industries.

An appearance in its pages was an endorsement of one’s work and encouragement to continue in the larger picture.

There were two tiers of publication: the standard book and the special edition; which was the standard book, but packaged in a box that used any and all production tricks in the design repertoire. And quickly, it became a contest for the designer of each special edition to try and outdo the previous ones.


In 1997, I approached the two publishers with the theme of hypnagogia, which is the shimmering of consciousness between awake and asleep. In this state, people have reported anything from hallucinations to free-associative connections, lucid dreaming, visions, prophecies, inspiration or premonitions. I personally enjoy listening to music in this state because it seems to bring out a primal power of the piece playing.

So because of this correspondence, I produced an audio piece/musical composition for the special edition. Noted composer Mikel Rouse was the producer and sound engineer, and Paul Shipper’s bass voice was the source material. The piece was called “Host” and was presented as a sound installation in multiple.

Notes for the piece named Erik Satie’s Musique d’ameublement & “Vexations”, Luigi Russolo’s Intonarumori, La Monte Young’s Dream House and Steve Reich’s tape loops as spiritual antecedents.

Mr. Shipper sang 43 notes; which were then sampled, combined into a seven-chord sequence, and then time expanded so each chord was two minutes long. The result was then looped and given a 20-minute fade at both beginning and end.

This long fade was designed to take advantage of the “repeat” button on most commercial CD players.

No suggestions on using the piece were offered, except to relay anecdotal reports that Morton Feldman fell asleep during performances of his work.

Visual themes included ecstasy (ex-stasis – outside the body), the periphery, hypnogogic hallucinations (faces in the dark), and Hermes (god of commerce, science, and eloquence; messenger between the worlds; co-creator of the alphabet; patron of all the arts).

The design was kept rather simple: large areas of flat, rich color; minimal typography; and simple, geometric icons. Divider pages featured mists of color with petty-surrealist collages of everyday objects hidden in just one of the color process plates.

Besides the audio CD, the special edition included elements which were designed to enhance or color the hypnogogic state. A set of Zener cards helped users develop their ESP acuity. A sleep mask minimized distraction. And a pillowcase with an ear image referred to the Tibetan tradition of guiding a person through the Chikhai bardo (the transition between life and death) by whispering into their ear.

“Look towards the light, Leland, look towards the light.” – Agent Cooper, in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”

Zenner cards: 25 in a pack, five of each design

Printing credits

Design: Mark Kingsley, for Greenberg Kingsley
Client: Storm Music Entertainment, Inc.
Publishers: Maria Ragusa, Juliette Wolf
Account Representative: Liane Nikitovich
Listings & Distribution Coordinators: Corie Herman, Su Moon
Additional Administration Support: Yonga Gerlach
Art Traffic Coordinator: Giulia Pirelli
Production Staff: Carol Schultheiss, Sherman Sussman, Jason Taback
Mac Systems Coordinator: Jason Burfield
Typesetting: Type and Tone
Legal Advisor: Burt A. Lewis
Printer: Palace Press

Audio credits

Mark Kingsley with Mikel Rouse & Paul Shipper

Producer & sound engineer: Mikel Rouse
Mikel Rouse is a New York-based composer, director, performer and recording artist. His musical and theatrical repertoire has its roots in the high art-meets-popular culture, mix-and-match aesthetic of the early ‘80s downtown Manhattan music and art scene from which he emerged.

As the Toronto Globe and Mail puts it, Mikel’s music has brought “comparisons to Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich and occasionally Talking Heads, though Rouse’s love of complex rhythmic patterns far exceeds them all. But music is just a part of what he does: His pieces also build a hypnotic effect through their non-narrative approach and the use of surreal film images.” The Los Angeles Times notes, “Indeed, what makes Rouse’s music so fascinating is that it completely merges speech and song into a rich overlay of textures. The songs have a lush pop music texture (some have noticed a seeming Rouse influence on Beck). The melodies are immediate but complexly structured like poetry; his beautiful lyrics are highly musical in tone and rhythm.” And after the premiere of Rouse’s multimedia opera, The End of Cinematics, The New York Times reported, “Sometimes built on heavy, repetitive beats, and sometimes couched in Beatle-esque psychedelia, the songs are vivid, pleasingly visceral and often engagingly harmonized, with amusingly off-kilter lyrics.”

Voice: Paul Shipper
Paul Shipper is a singer, instrumentalist, actor, and director. A founding member of Ex Umbris, over the years he has performed in all 50 states and 17 countries with early music groups such as Pomerium, The Baltimore Consort, Hesperus, Concert Royale, Early Music New York, The Folger Consort, Piffaro, Artek and many others. He now performs regularly with El Mundo and Apollo’s Fire, and has also recently toured with Tragicomedia and The Harp Consort.

An experienced dance and theater accompanist, he has toured extensively with The Mark Morris Dance Group,The New York Baroque Dance Company, created videos for Tampa Dance Project, and played live for dozens of Shakespeare and other Elizabethan and Jacobean plays and masques. In the opera world he has sung feature roles from Monteverdi to Berlioz, and devised gestures and stage direction for The New York Continuo Collective, as well as colleges and regional opera companies.

He can also be heard on the soundtracks of various bad horror films, and along with fellow Ex Umbrians, in Showtime and PBS mini-series and educational programs.

Mastered by Dirk Sobotka at Soundbyte Productions, Inc.

General advice and encouragement: Karen Greenberg, Nora Farrell, William Duckworth, Steve Byram, Roy Wiemann, Allen Hori, Maria Ragusa, Juliette Wolf

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