Over-booked: Adam Michaels
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The Gradient

Over-booked: Adam Michaels

Adam Michaels, co-founder of Projects Projects, who also edits and designs the Inventory Books paperback series (published by Princeton Architectural Press), has extended his passion for print and sound in another role: a rock(or should we say book-rock?) musician in the band The Masses. The Masses released their “spoken arts record that you can dance to”—The Electric Information Age LP last year, as to explore the legacy of Marshall McLuhan. The LP is also an acoustic interface to The Electric Information Age Book, which is the third and most recent title from Inventory Books paperback series.

In connection to the LA Art Book Fair (Feb.1–3, Opening on Jan.31), some of the questions here revolves around the theme of books. Michaels is going to take part in a panel discussion about design authors and designer’s books during the fair, while Project Projects will share table with Paper Monument.

PP shelf the masses_adam
Left: bookshelf at Project Projects, with The Electric Information Age LP on the lower right hand side.
Right: Adam Michaels on drums. Photo: Giorgio Gori.

What makes a book valuable?

The value of a book is based on the combination of a number of attributes, including quality of its ideas, means of its presentation, character of its physical attributes, degree of scarcity, and so on. For me, something like McLuhan / Fiore / Agel’s The Medium is the Massage is the most valuable kind of book — all aspects are strongly conceived and implemented, but the book was printed in large enough numbers that anyone can easily locate an affordable copy.

Massage cover

Do you have any favorite publications from recent years?

I’ll recommend two titles from recent years that have I’ve particularly enjoyed:

1.Beyond the Dream Syndicate cover 2.Infinitely Demanding cover

1) Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage, by Branden W. Joseph, Zone Books, 2008 2)Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, by Simon Critchley, Verso, 2007

What is the last book you read?

I recently completed Ed Sanders’s Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side. (I’d elaborate, but the subtitle aptly covers both the subject matter and its tone…!)

Fug You cover

Apart from commissioned projects, you also self-initiate and edit books. Can you talk a little about the process of doing a particular self-initiated project? And what role does those projects play in your design practice?

When conceiving of Project Projects over 9 years ago, Prem and I always intended to incorporate client work with non-client work, basically with the hope of producing a more integrated life / less alienated form of labor. As both our client and non-client work tends to be strongly collaborative, I find that there’s less of a divide between client- and studio-initiated work than it may appear from a distance; all gets produced through similar processes, during the same working hours.

In the case of the Inventory Books series, it was a multi-year process to conceptualize the first two books (Street Value, and Above the Pavement—The Farm!, produced simultaneously); produce and circulate a lengthy prospectus; secure publishing (Princeton Architectural Press is the series publisher); write grant applications; secure funding (the Graham Foundation has funded each of the series books thus far); then oversee and take part in generating writing, imagery, and the crossover thereof; then layouts, corrections, production; then promotion and distribution; then starting the whole process all over again for each new book. All is a pleasure to do, but the process is lengthy and consuming; as such I’m currently taking a bit of a break between the third book, The Electric Information Age Book, and the fourth book.

IB all IB01 coverIB02 cover IB03 cover

Describe an impossible/dream book that you’d like to make — if you could do all the impossible and crazy stuff.

While appreciative of the various sorts of production techniques that can be utilized to create a physically unique book, the impossible / crazy thing that I’d currently like to figure out is something like a sustainable contemporary model for publishing. In saying this, I have my book series, Inventory Books, in mind — the most enticing impossible/dream situation that I can imagine is one in which I can fully focus on content and design for the next books, rather than fundraising…!

Tell us about the Electric Information Age ALbum LP you have recorded together with Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Daniel Perlin.

The LP came out of the awareness that Jeffrey Schnapp and I had of The Medium is the Massage LP, which was released shortly after the paperback book. Dubbed “The First Spoken Arts Record You can Dance To,” it was actually a nearly unlistenable mix of McLuhan lecturing with musique concrete techniques, comedy sketch bits, and the overall effect of flipping through a set of TV stations in the mid 1960s. Anyway, we wanted to take up the challenge and produce the real First Spoken Arts Record You can Dance to — so Jeffrey and I worked with our friend Daniel Perlin, a Brooklyn-based DJ and music producer, to work up a set of music that incorporates spoken elements from our book with references to the McLuhan LP. Daniel suggested we take the band name The Masses for the project, which seemed fitting on numerous levels.

You can listen to the whole album here on Bandcamp:


And how was the tour?

With the addition of Shannon Harvey on keyboards, we adapted the recorded material for live performance (not at all our original intention when working in a very nonlinear manner on the recordings) following an invitation to perform in Milan at the MiTo festival last September. This was followed by another performance at a particularly choice venue: the New York Art Book Fair at PS1, within a dome set in the courtyard there. Happily, I can report that a number of audience members were in fact seen dancing during the set.

Above: The Masses performing at Teatro Franco Parenti, Milan. Photo: Giorgio Gori
Below: A short clip from the Milan live performance.

Can you tell a bit about your music legacy?

For years I played in a number of DIY punk bands,such as Cowboy Suit from Chicago in the mid-90s,

and The Ending Again from Minneapolis in the mid- to late-90s.

Those bands each put out 7″s vinyl EPs. All the bands that I was in were part of very particular independent scenes in Chicago and Minneapolis; we had no hope or desire for widespread notice, so it was a pleasure to both utilize and mess with conventions of then-current underground genres.

How does the fact of being a graphic designer affect the making of this LP?

It was an interesting experiment to produce music with something akin to design methods, rather than the organic composition methods of noisy rock bands. The task of situating Jeffrey’s prerecorded vocals with various fragments of music recorded by Daniel and myself was like the aural equivalent of laying out book text, interwoven with form. One other geeky side-note: the LP features a number of tracks where the sound of flipping through book pages is used as the basis for creating beats.

Is there any current or upcoming publication projects that you’d like to feature here?

Given our subject matter here, I would remiss not to direct the reader’s attention to the new Inventory Books tote bag, designed in collaboration with Slow and Steady Wins the Race. This tote bag is about formats — it features pockets designed to hold a 12″LP, an ipad, an e-reader like a kindle, and a mass market paperback — all forming an Albers-like composition of squares. This is produced in a fairly limited edition, and will be for sale at the Project Projects table at the L.A. Art Book Fair. You can also purchase it online via http://www.slowandsteadywinstherace.com.

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