terre thaemlitz writings

- Terre Thaemlitz

Originally posted on comatonse.com 1995. Notes on the cover design of the album of the same name (US: Instinct Ambient, 1995) AMB:007-2. As with Tranquilizer, Instinct Records was against the idea of including extensive liner notes because they feared it would alienate the audience, so Terre made the used condom centerfold. Photo of tree by Meike Williams. Click here to view original release artwork.


Track Listing

  1. Subjective Loss, Day 83 9:23
  2. Elevatorium 10:43
  3. Yer Ass is Grass 8:19
  4. Trucker 9:54
  5. Aging Core, Aging Periphery 10:04
  6. Cycles 11:41

    Soil as ejaculate, referencing the mastrubatory nature of music production and "artistic" or "creative" processes. Similarly, the condom image references the phallocentrism implicit to conventional definitions of such processes.
    Soil as a cynical reference to spiritualist "Mother Earth" ambient music titles.
    Soil as an English translation of my first name from the French terre; avoiding the more romantic and universalist semiotics behind its common translation as "Earth."

In designing the cover for Soil I was required to work with the Instinct Ambient series' graphical format established by Taylor Deupree, which consists of an iconographic CD booklet cover, textural booklet back, and textural booklet inset.

I wanted the process of viewing the booklet to engage the viewer/listener in an awareness of processes of social contextualization. The front cover contains transcendental signifiers (nature, soil) which are typically interpreted as universal and devoid of politic/cultural specificity. I chose Meike Williams' photographs of trees due to their absence of a figure/ground relationship, which reflects the decentralization of melody and instrumentation in Ambient and other forms of electronic music.

When the viewer/listener opens the CD case, the triangle on the cover becomes the inverted pink triangle symbolic of Queer empowerment and the "Silence=Death" HIV/AIDS activist and education movements. This time Williams' photography is meant to symbolize a decentralization of identity constructs (particularly the dichotomy of "heterosexual" and "homosexual").

Regardless of whether the viewer/listener has decoded any of the preceding cleverness, when she opens the CD booklet to see a discarded used condom her response is inevitably made in relation to social mores. Whether her reaction is one of intrigue, beauty, disgust, or simply "Right on," it is a political reaction made in relation to a conservative American [typically] social climate which in 1995 still frames such a banal image as this with the potential for radicality. It is this awareness of contextualization on the part of the viewer/listener that I consider most important when interpreting Ambient and electronic music.