When Faust released its debut album in 1971, it pushed the limits of the avant-garde in pop. For the record industry, the limits of what could be done with the packaging were also expanded, with the record pressed on clear vinyl for the first time and presented in transparent casing.
It wasn’t, as Jean-Hervé Peron is at pains to point out, revolutionary in the political sense—at least not by Soviet Russian standards: “In 1950s Soviet Russia under Stalin, it was forbidden to make records of western music. I only found out recently that they [musicians] used to print records on X-ray film in secret. It was called Bones Records. Now that is revolutionary—wow! That was avant-garde. They were risking their lives, we were just risking being ridiculous or being a failure—you don’t die for this.”
Nevertheless, the X-rayed raised fist—the scan of a hand of Faust’s colleague Andy Hertel—is an enduring image of sedition and surreality printed onto a clear plastic sleeve. Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Hertel ran the Hamburg bar attached to the arts club in which Faust formed, and he was instrumental in their progress in the early days alongside their manager Uwe Nettlebeck and their engineer Kurt Graupner.
That fist also graces the cover of their recent box set Faust 1971-74, now set against a black backdrop. “We had a couple of ideas for the cover but then decided to go with the iconic X-ray fist of Hertel,” says Gunther Buskies of record label Bureau B, who encouraged the group to release a comprehensive collection of their most fabled period. “Andy Hertel had a couple of mint original sleeves of the first album in his archive which we could use to scan the fist from.”
The box set includes the “lost” Munich album which was released in its complete form for the first time last year as Punkt. For many, the first four or five-year incarnation of Faust is the true Faust, despite the fact there have been reformations and, at one time, two versions of the band recording and touring at the same time, headed up in each case by the estranged musicians Jean-Hervé Peron and Hans-Joachim Irmler.
From the beginning, Faust approached its music with a Dadaist energy and irreverence, and that bleeds into the artwork, too. We spoke to Peron, Irmler, Arnulf Meifert (who parted with the band after Faust in 1971), Bureau B’s Buskies and Faust saxophonist Gunther Wüsthoff, who was also responsible for some of the group’s cover art. Their manager, Uwe Nettlebeck, was involved too, though how much depends on which member of Faust you speak to (unfortunately he died in 2007 so he’s unable to verify claims either way). Given the warring factions and the fact that much of this work was conducted more than 50 years ago, details are vague at times and may vary according to the beholder.
Revolution no.1, also sometimes known simply as clear…
Jean-Hervé Peron: “The clear vinyl was absolutely revolutionary. Nobody would dare to think or ever imagine printing an LP on clear vinyl at that time. It was a huge fight to find a plant that would permit us to do this. Later, people were impressed with the music, but at the time, the main impact was due to this clear cover. I would say, the first cover was the work of Andy Hertel, Irmler, Uwe… it was a collective. Myself and [drummer] Zappi were not very involved in artworks back then. I can only go from memory.”
Arnulf Meifert: “I thought the design of the first LP was superb, but I was disturbed by the text, which Uwe smuggled in there self-importantly without asking us. No idea what that was about! Maybe a pitiful attempt to build a tiny bridge to pop culture and to document his own part in the album.”
Hans-Joachim Irmler: “I wanted it to be shiny, but Deusche Grammophone said we couldn’t put it out without a label on it. That’s why it became a transparent cover. And then I asked to write some text on it. It was originally written in the IBM font, and I thought it should be in red because it’s not that important. Now I think it’s one of the best Faust concepts we ever made.”
Gunther Wüsthoff: “The first LP cover design was done with Uwe Nettelbeck’s IBM ballpoint machine.”
So Far (1972)
The black square as cover had precedents in art by the likes of Kazimir Malevich and Mark Rothko, though its nearest relative in pop was a white square, as used on The Beatles’ “White Album.” Mint copies of So Far containing the original postcard inserts for each song go for around £150 (approximately $200) each, illustrated by Edda Köchl, the artist and actor who, as the wife of Wim Wenders at the time, starred in films like Summer in the City and The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.
Jean-Hervé Peron: “I’m sure it was a lot of Uwe’s work, and he worked with this artist in Munich, Edda Köchl, and she did all these illustrations. I love ‘Mamie is Blue’ because the lady reminds me so much of my mother’s mother sitting on the sofa with headphones on, knitting, and listening to crazy music.”
Hans-Joachim Irmler: “No, it wasn’t designed by Nettlebeck. He was always against what we thought was a good idea. We thought, okay, we can do something different from the first one. So three [The Faust Tapes] is close to one [Faust] and four [Faust IV] is close to number two [So Far]. That was the idea we had in our heads.”
Gunther Wüsthoff: “After transparent came the opposite: black. Isn’t that obvious? That was a joint decision. Uwe arranged for the picture inserts.”
The Faust Tapes (1973)
When The Faust Tapes was released on Virgin, it wasn’t supposed to be an official studio album, as it was made up of snippets from the archive recorded at their Wümme schoolhouse back in Germany (Faust subsequently called their next record Faust IV, somewhat contrarily). New Virgin boss Richard Branson decided to sell the record at a loss-leading 48p to drum up interest in the band, a gimmick that worked well, with an estimated 60,000 records sold—not bad for a jumble of wild musique concrète and the odd beatific moment from guitarist Rudolf Sosna. The front cover is made up of text from reviews the band had received, as well as a disclaimer about the content therein, written by Nettlebeck. The flipside, which in many ways has become the de facto cover, shows the painting Crest by Op-Art pioneer Bridget Riley, who was already renowned by 1973.
Jean-Hervé Peron: “I must stress the fact that I was never really involved in the artwork back then, so I cannot tell you who was involved there. It sounds to me as if Gunther Wüsthoff and also Uwe Nettlebeck—a constellation of those people—would have chosen Bridget Riley. She was a popular artist at the time. Great artist.”
Hans-Joachim Irmler: “That was Uwe’s idea to use Bridget Riley. It seemed good enough.”
Faust IV (1973)
Widely regarded as Faust’s chef d’oeuvre, the cover art for Faust IV is abstruse and original.
Jean-Hervé Peron: “I know a little bit more about Faust IV. It was Gunther Wüsthoff’s idea. Here you can clearly see the mind of Wüsthoff—so typically north German—no frills, just a score with nothing on it. I think it’s great. We decided to add a fermata at the end of the empty score, which means you maintain the note you are actually playing. We added this symbol to maybe indicate that Faust IV would go on forever. It represents the story of Faust; it seems to be endless, man, like the gong. It’s good, and I like it.”
Gunther Wüsthoff: “Yes, it is a sheet of music without notes. Blank paper and white walls stimulate the imagination. The paper is called Star No. 24.”
The details of the cover of the lost Munich album are far more abundant as it was only completed last year. That’s not to say the process isn’t without its mysteries: this is Faust after all. The Gunthers (Buskies and Wüsthoff) talk us through the process.
Gunther Buskies: “The band regards this last record as a regular album which simply had not been released back then, so it was clear that we were looking for a design which could work as a standalone release. One of the Faust musicians worked on the design with me, Gunther Wüsthoff. Like Rudolf Sosna and Hans Joachim Irmler, he studied at the college of art in Hamburg in the early ’70s. Max Bense and Umberto Eco impressed him most at that time with their development of semiotics.”
Gunther Wüsthoff: “There is a straight line from Faust to Punkt. That is the monotype typeface of a typewriter, like the first album—for the Punkt album it was my wife’s Gardy Wurm Olympia Traveller C. I wrote the words “faust” and “punkt” on a DIN A4 sheet of cheap reprographic paper and photographed each with my digital Canon IXUS at the west window of our office, in a mixture of daylight and artificial light from a fluorescent lamp. And why is the background at the bottom so dark? The warm yellow at the top is the result of the light mix, and the darkness at the bottom is the shadow of the camera. With a font size of 4mm, you have to get close enough so that this can’t be avoided at all. These were the individual parts I had supplied, and what Gunther Buskies, together with Kerstin Holzwarth, made out of them is great, isn’’t it?”
Gunther Buskies: “To me there is a lot of detail to be found in this design. It’s simply not as bold or striking, maybe? The typewriter letters are fringed and not completely in line. Wüsthoff’s photograph makes the paper structure visible, the contrasts vary… so it is a bit like Faust’s music to me: many details to be discovered if one takes the time to listen closely.”