Making of SOUNDSHOCK, Part 2

For this update, we’re focusing on the visual side of the SOUNDSHOCK series; more specifically, Tsuyoshi Shimokura’s handpainted album covers. Please enjoy this little retrospect told by zinger — which details the creative process of all three albums — along with prototype artwork and a final message from the artist himself:

Me (zinger) and Shimokura initially got in touch thanks to hex125, whereupon I invited him to write a song for FM FUNK MADDNESS!!. However, when browsing his music I also discovered another folder that was filled with really cool art.

It turned out that Shimokura was a professional artist with a background in manga. And, considering I already knew he was very passionate about computers, games, FM, and so on, I also asked him if he would be interested to draw a cover for us. I will discuss the process behind all three covers, but let’s begin with the latest installment, and Shimokura’s concluding message to the SOUNDSHOCK fans:

SOUNDSHOCK has come to an end.

That, however
is not a sad thing.

Supposing SOUNDSHOCK really has struck
a chord in its listeners’ hearts
then our work could be thought of as a seed
for future stars that have yet to be born.

These new stars, we regard
as our spiritual offshoots —
just as we are the progeny
of our forerunners.

For us, believers in FM sound
we are all one and the same.

That, indeed
is not a sad thing…

Now, firstly, if the wording sounds a bit stilted here, it is my translation of Shimokura’s message that is to blame.

Secondly, if it the message also seems a bit cryptic, that’s because it’s closely related to the idea behind the cover art for the third volume. So let’s rewind and take a look at how that came about.

N I R V A ͇ ̼N A ! !

I knew years beforehand what title of SOUNDSHOCK 3 would be; someone had posted a youtube comment just when TERRROR!! was released, stating that he was already looking forward to "SOUNDSHOCK 3: FM FUNK NIRVAAANA!!" or something along those lines (can't remember the exact wording, and I can't find the actual post anymore).

SOUNDSHOCK 3: FM FUNK NIRVANA!! album art sketch by Tsuyoshi Shimokura

Whoever wrote that must have grasped exactly what I had envisioned for this series: something that just goes further and further over the top — that's why I chose to add extra letters in the titles of the previous titles! For NIRVANA however, adding more letters to the word wasn't quite as fitting in my opinion, it looked too weird, and even when spelled regularly, the word ”nirvana” already brings up an image of something that's perfect and ultimate; just as I explained in a series of tweets recently (in response to Grumskiz):

Official explanation: there were no errors in spelling, MADDNESS and TERRROR are common words infused with extra power!! a word like NIRVANA though is pretty much already maxxxed out, so you have to be really careful not to overload it!"

So, we went with NIRVANA, even though that also meant sacrificing coherence to some extent. Anyway, about the cover art, I didn’t have a clear picture of how I wanted NIRVANA to be portrayed, but started to randomly searching for Buddhist terms on Google image search and showed him some paintings that I liked… Now, my understanding of Buddhism and the concept of ”nirvana” is hazy at best, so I felt pretty clueless when Shimokura explained his ideas to me.

Therefore, I pretty much stayed out of Shimokura’s way on this one and simply let him follow his intuition. The one thing I know about reference images though is that he looked at the cover of Darius Gaiden’s soundtrack CD. Now, his idea, as I understand it, is that the pattern of spheres in the upper part of the picture (each containing different ”elements”) form a vision of the universe together, almost like a map or a ”mandala”.

If you read Wikipedia’s definition of mandala, it states that:

”In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.”

At the bottom of the picture is a large group of people approaching a huge FM chip mounted on a circuit board, as if they are worshipping it. So, if you consider them as disciples of a faith, the FM chip as an object of worship, and the image above them as their spiritual guiding tool, the meaning of the cover and how it relates to Shimokura’s message (and of course the title of the album) should become quite clear.

SOUNDSHOCK 3: FM FUNK NIRVANA!! album art by Tsuyoshi Shimokura

M A D ̕ ̵D N E S ͝ ͠ ̴S ! !

For the other two albums the process was a bit different, and we discussed different motifs more closely together. For MADDNESS!! we specifically looked at the Metal Black and Darius II flyer artwork, whereupon Shimokura started drawing concept art, rough sketches, and writing small stories about what was portrayed in the picture.

SOUNDSHOCK: FM FUNK MADDNESS!! album art in progress by Tsuyoshi Shimokura

Shimokura’s idea for this cover was basically that the heroes (or musicians) pictured use their united forces and of course the power of FM sound to defeat the monsters and save the world! A simple idea, but very well realized if you look at the details such as how the FM chips are aligned (in the form of algorithm charts), and I love how the feet of the chips move a bit like caterpillars! :)

SOUNDSHOCK: FM FUNK MADDNESS!! album art by Tsuyoshi Shimokura

T E R R R ̧ ͢ ̵ ҉ ̵ ̵ R ! !

For TERRROR!! I sent Shimokura a bunch of 80's horror posters and flyers for reference, both from movies (Terror on Elm Street series, The Evil Dead, some obscure Thai stuff, etc) and games (the Splatterhouse series), and after that we discussed various ideas and concepts for several weeks.
SOUNDSHOCK 2: FM FUNK TERRROR!! album art sketches by Tsuyoshi Shimokura
We really had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for this one, and Shimokura was simply bursting with creativity and kept adding little details everywhere. I love for instance the ghoul up-front, with his little maggot-embellished gravestone-styled YM666-iPod thingy, as if he's planning on 'turning' the listeners, too (and hey, he did, right? :)) And, also, how the stars form FM algorithm charts together — that's just brilliant!
SOUNDSHOCK 2: FM FUNK TERRROR!! album art in progress by Tsuyoshi Shimokura
All these details, by the way, connect in a beautiful way to the story that Shimokura wrote (translation/interpretation by me):
On April 5, as the Algorithm constellations assume their patterns, zombies set out to haunt every village. Enthralled by the magical power of FM sound, and obsessed with the idea of seducing and conscribing all of mankind, they inflict FM terror on its inhabitants. Victims will be paralyzed with fear and have their brains shocked to death. However, a new passion will be concurrently awakened within their souls.
SOUNDSHOCK 2: FM FUNK TERRROR!! album art by Tsuyoshi Shimokura
To conclude, I’d like to yet again extend my sincere gratitude for lending us your talent, Shimokura. And also, for giving me the most wonderful tour of Osaka’s best small-scale game centers! :) Hope to see you again soon!

That's all for now. Stay tuned for Part 3!