Mmm… Skyscraper I Love You

This is a book and a song. Mmm… Skyscraper I Love You is a song by the band Underworld, and the lyrics by Karl Hyde were about New York city. Anyone that is aware of Hyde’s work would know it is heavily reliant on words; from lyrics he writes that are a a mixture of songwriting, overheard conversations and observations on the street, recorded in his ears much like a street photographer uses a lens. The song was recorded and released in 1993. The Jam Scraper mix was originally due to be on the album but replaced later in the process.

“I write lots of stuff when I’m travelling. I write all my ideas in notebooks… I remember flying over New York and looking down and thinking, ‘It’s a beautiful thing’. So that’s exactly what I scribbled down. And when the captain said, ‘We’re 30,000 feet above the earth’, I wrote that down as well. Those words then became the opening two lines of ‘Skyscraper’. Most of the rest of ‘Skyscraper’ came from stuff which I’d collected wandering round the New York streets over the course of a week. I got some of it out of The Village Voice and Screw magazine, and other parts I wrote in an alleyway in Greenwich Village at four in the morning. When I got back, I cut the various lines up and then made a montage. It’s kind of a Cubist way of writing. What I’m trying to do is paint around subjects instead of focusing straight in on them.”

These lyrics were then taken up Hyde in collaboration with John Warwicker of design company Tomato. They both then used painting and typography in order to make a book of words. Tomato is almost an extension of the band Underworld, Hyde being part of the informal company, they made music videos, design artwork and promotional material as part of the creative process of the music, much like the relationship between Stanley Donwood and Radiohead.

Today it is hard to see this sort of design as mindblowing. But when the book was published by Booth Clibborn Editions in 1994, the computer manipulation of typography was radical. Before this a graphic designer would either have to draw type by hand or use rub-on Letraset transphers, and they were hardly ever produced in these sizes. So the page below is a testament to new technology of that time.

“mmm… skyscraper I love you is the map of a journey through the streets of New York. Crosswalk and chaos: overheard, followed and abandoned, words/fragment from concrete. It is not only a reality but a memory of experience. Everything is in the present moment. It forms a cyclic series of impressions and expressions which occurred over the course of several months but which could just as easily occurred within a few seconds. ‘Read’ it as you ‘read’ a film. Does a thing exist if the individual does not experiment it directly? The city is always there, pulsing, alive, growing: rejoin the flow. Listen to your thoughts. Listen to your thoughts. Do you now what you want? how far do you want to go? No words necessary.”

Book Blurb

Under the rather dull tutelage of typography teacher Will Hill who didn’t care for his students at all and was busy writing his textbooks on type, books like this were very exciting ways to look at typography. I remember printing text off and moving it across the scanner as it was being scanned so the text distorted, and then printing those off and using ink splats and footprints to add other textures. I wonder were all those experiments went? In a box somewhere. But it was handy to have some education.