But what would Frank Lloyd Wright say?
June 10, 2009 9:50 PM   Subscribe

"[Jax de Leon's] last project as a student was a graphic representation of every note, word, instrument and voice from Come on, Feel the Illinoise! by Sufjan Stevens." Read an interview with him here.
posted by spiderskull (19 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Overthinking a state of beans?
posted by ageispolis at 9:54 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a plate of beans about which I, for one, support overthinking.

Very cool!
posted by barnacles at 10:04 PM on June 10, 2009

It's so much fun seeing someone else geek out about something you love. This is great.

I've alerted the people at Asthmatic Kitty (Sufjan's label) of this madness via twitter. Be sure they will love it too.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:10 PM on June 10, 2009

Not to be the grump, but what does this add to the album, and why is it visually interesting on its own?

I thought the map was the only graphic representation that managed to convey any additional meaning—everything else seemed like half-assed design in trendy colors.
posted by klangklangston at 10:36 PM on June 10, 2009

I guess this is interesting, but ultimately I find his graphics less pretty and less interesting than the album. Which is nothing to be ashamed of, because I could listen to Casimir Pulaski Day or The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us! for pretty much ever and ever.

I'm not sure I can make sense of the purpose of these things, though. It seems like something he did just to do it, and perhaps because he knew there was a big intersection of people who are kind of nerdy and like graphs and people who like Sufjan Stevens (which is not a bad thing, as I am one of those people and he clearly also is.)
posted by Nomiconic at 11:30 PM on June 10, 2009

It seems like something he did just to do it

I think you just defined art.
posted by spiderskull at 11:46 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Haha, fair point, spiderskull.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if it's art I don't understand his artistic intent. I don't see what he's saying about the album, or his relationship to it, or anything. His statement says I ought to be "experiencing [the] album," but I can't make real any connection between it and this. I'm experiencing some rather nice graphs this guy made, which is a worthy thing on it's own but something I have trouble appreciating as art.
posted by Nomiconic at 11:55 PM on June 10, 2009

I think this project is cool and all, but I think with one more poster in the display, I would have loved it.

And it goes a little something like this
mumble mumble something about dancing and architecture
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:27 AM on June 11, 2009

This project reminds me of Graphs, Maps, Trees by Franco Moretti (previously) — sometimes it's useful or interesting to look at a piece of art from a "distance", with the help of data instead of just experience. Sometimes you get abstract silliness; sometimes you get some insight, like the map in this case.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:49 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sufjan Stevens sure says "I" a lot doesn't he?
posted by minifigs at 1:07 AM on June 11, 2009

Heh. It amuses me how little of the graph is coloured 'religion.' To be fair, explicit references to religion are few and far-between, but at least half the album is about Jesus. UFO sighting? Jesus, especially at the Transfiguration ("Highland" becomes a pun for "Mount") and at the Resurrection. Seer's Tower? Jesus. Man of the Metropolis? Jesus. Then you have random references embedded in various songs. Interestingly, he maps the New Testament onto Illinois' geography, making the South (known as "Little Egypt") into, well, Egypt ("Out of Egypt"), and Chicago becomes Jerusalem, the center of redemption, and the rest of Illinoius becomes a parallel for the similarly-shaped (i.e. running north-south and not much else in common) Israel/Palestine.

I even did a project on this for my New Testament Studies class, complete with youtube video (self-link) that analyzed two of his songs, line by line--with the thesis that Sufjan's straightforward harmonization of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration (first song) served as proof that these events could be embedded into the rest of his music and I wasn't just reading into it. It was tonnes of fun.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:08 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I won a cash prize for that presentation, only a fraction of which exists in the youtube video.

I ironically used my knowledge of Jesus to buy my first siddur.

Also, to keep this on-topic, I love Sufjan and I love the visualizations.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:10 AM on June 11, 2009

I really like the map piece - it's beautiful, and it also fits well with the album concept, and it does (as klangklangston said) add meaning.

It's graphically lovely as a project, and given that it was a school project, there might have been an element of picking a graphic experiment to suit thesis requirements rather than necessarily working all the time from the belief that this was going to be an empirical and necessary piece of work.. As an infographics/charting/sorting/mapping nerd, I find the whole project pretty pleasing to look at, quite playful and obsessive, and I hope it's the genesis of more ideas and work.

Dancing about architecture is straight-up hilarious and a great way to pass the time.
posted by carbide at 3:34 AM on June 11, 2009

flibbertigibbert's link should point here
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:42 AM on June 11, 2009

Ooh, do I get to be the pedant this time who points out that the album is actually called simply "Illinois"?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2009

From de Leon's explanation of the "The" circle: This examines the frequency of words that come after the most commonly used word in the album, the. The words that follow the surround it in alphabetical order. The thickness and darkness of each connecting line corresponds to the number of times that word follows the. For example, the most common word following the is great, which occurs 13 times.

I appreciate the concept of this project as a visual meditation on one of my favorite albums, but...say what now? What is the frequency of "the" supposed to illuminate?
posted by zoomorphic at 10:18 AM on June 11, 2009

zoomorphic, the appropriate Mefi in-joke is


The reason it was done: It seemed like it might be a good idea at the time.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:27 AM on June 11, 2009

I'll try to justify it! The "the" circle seems like a kind of concordance. The high-res image is still too fuzzy for me to read the words, but if I could read them more easily, I might be interested to know that Stevens uses a lot of phrases like "the heart", "the morning", "the earth", etc. It probably doesn't surprise anyone that those are earthy/gentle/etc. words, but it's nice to see that impression confirmed to some degree.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2009

These look very similar to Stefanie Posavec's book maps that were making the rounds last year. They were mentioned on kottke.org. It seems as though they never made it to MeFi. I'm glad different people are trying this sort of thing, but I prefer Posavec's aesthetic choices to de Leon's.
posted by spaceboy86 at 1:15 PM on June 11, 2009

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