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My Brightest Diamond

Seeing the Sound

Jun 02, 2008 My Brightest Diamond Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share


Given that the prospect of describing music is an inherently abstract process—entrusting words or images to capture the infinite permutations of rhythms, tones, and textures—it only makes sense that some artists who work in the sound medium would perceive these qualities differently than the rest of us. In technical terms, such folks are said to have “narrow band synesthesia,” a phenomenon where certain sounds or instruments consistently evoke a particular visual essence, and ideas for songs might only be intelligible as collages of color. In this case, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is a shadowy landscape of grays and dark blues, graceful and brooding, an album created by someone who saw it all in her head.

“I think in pictures maybe more than in words,” says Shara Worden, the woman behind My Brightest Diamond. “My brain is very picture-oriented. That’s how I’m wired. When I’m arranging or thinking about how I want to produce a tune, I’ll get more of a visual idea. Like, ‘There needs to be a sound way up here and way in the back of the room. What’s that sound going to be? Maybe ambient guitar or maybe violin with a lot of reverb on it.’ The image and the sound happen together. When [mixer] Husky Höskulds sent back ‘Black & Costaud,’ I said, ‘Oh, this sounds just like City of Lost Children by Jean-Pierre Jeunet!’” she says, getting excited as she explains her love for the renowned director of films such as Amelie and A Very Long Engagement. “And he wrote me back and said, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you love Jean-Pierre Jeunet! I watch Delicatessen all the time.’ So he ended up mixing several of the other songs while watching Delicatessen. That was one of the really cool synchronistic moments where you’re like, ‘This album is going to be in hands that understand where I’m coming from.’”

Though she knew where she was coming from, for some time Worden didn’t know where she wanted to go with her second full-length My Brightest Diamond album. Her first vision for the album came more than three years ago, before her breakthrough Bring Me the Workhorse, when she went into the studio with a set of songs that her mind heard being colored by a string quartet. But when she got into the studio, the colors weren’t right. She wanted more texture and timbre, more of a dynamic visual range than she could get with strings. She experimented with a beat-boxer, she brought in her band—nothing worked. Eventually, she placed in suspended animation the eight songs she had thought were totally written and arranged and went out on the road with the set of songs that had been easier to illustrate. By the time she got around to finishing the album, the visuals had changed again, and an album sonically tethered in ambient space drifted off into the cosmos.

“I was looking at the inspirational paintings of Anselm Kiefer, the German painter, and I had seen an exhibit in Fort Worth, Texas, that he had done, titled ‘Heaven and Earth,’” she says, mentioning the complex work meant to represent the space between earth and sky. “He has a six-foot metal book and the pages are steel, and he has charted out the constellations with all the stars with numbers on them. And there’s this photographer, Robert ParkeHarrison, who does a lot of meditations on our relationship with the Earth, and he has this one picture called ‘Cloud Cleaner,’ and he’s carrying a ladder and he’s looking up to this gray, charcoal cloud, so we started thinking about both of these artists.”

After noticing that the word ‘star’ appeared in five songs, Worden realized that her album had been echoing those visuals all along, that she was writing about humankind’s place in the universe and the desire to transcend earthly existence. Three additional songs tied the album to that thematic thread, the album finally coming into focus as an emotionally expansive, theatrically intense, and texturally spacious release that words simply can’t do justice.

“Starting from a string quartet thing to being where it is now, it has been a lot of ‘Does this work? No, that doesn’t work. Do I want black here? No, I want some gray and some blue,’” she says like a painter standing, head cocked, as she looks at her latest stroke. “It has been a really long, evolving thing, but I think that the result is what I wanted.”



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January 30th 2010
8:31am

A good animation software is MONKEYJAM.I make all my films with it.

Jake
February 11th 2010
5:36pm

She’s so damn pretty.

Someone else
February 11th 2010
5:39pm

I got really excited when I saw this, hoping for a new album. But a good read nonetheless.

Gemma Tubbrit
July 13th 2011
9:10am

To enjoy such creativity regardless of method is to be admired and cherished. Music moves the sense, whereas visual arts, in my view creates the color and emotion physically. Great article.