With fractal visualisers and 90s web aesthetics, Fisk designs an ecosystem for Toro y Moi’s new album
With ideas and references spanning decades, genres and cultures, Fisk has created a diverse yet unified world for Toro y Moi’s most recent album, Mahal.
- Olivia Hingley
- 26 September 2022
Designing a visual world for a renowned musician is no easy task. Designing a visual world for a musician who has a degree in graphic design? The most competent designers would be left quaking in their boots. This is where Portland-based Fisk comes into the picture. Recently completing an all-encompassing visual world for singer and all-round creative Toro y Moi’s (Chaz Bear) most recent album Mahal, the studio has once again proven itself to be at the top of the design game. The result is a unique, utterly transfixing and at points humorous world to house Toro’s brilliant music.
Director at Fisk Bijan Berahimi outlines one of the most important factors in approaching the project with such confidence; the creative direction from Chaz himself and long-term close collaborator Harry Israelson. It was during a “casual conversation” – how most of Fisk’s collaborations with Toro y Moi begin, explains Bijan – that Chaz and Harry shared their vision of a rich world centred around a Jeepney (a mini bus-like form of transportation popular in the Philippines). Fisk’s job, therefore, was to create what Bijan calls a “design ecosystem” that supported the direction of Chaz and Harry.
Dealing with such a rich album, and a number of references that “spanned decades, genres, industries and cultures”, Bijan explains that the team decided to go for a “cohesive but sporadic” campaign. Luckily, working so collaboratively with a team that has such a broad range of interests outside of just the design remit – including “multiculturalism, media’s demise from physical to digital, old car catalogues, and geometry in nature” – delving into the references proved no problem. “We looked far and wide at old car magazines, newspapers from the Philippines, car and industrial logos, basic bumper stickers, a bygone era of web design and various magazine business reply cards,” Bijan expands.
One of the most dynamic aspects of the visual world is the motion visualisers which accompany each of the 13 tracks on the album. The idea for the visualisers arose after Chaz shared a few fractal images which caught the team’s eye. Displaying mesmerising, abstract moving images that include repetitive shapes and motion, the fractal style has a lasting history and has seen various iterations, says Cole Mitchell Johnson, Fisk’s technologist. “Fractal visualises are a timeless theme seen in subcultures from computer graphics to psychedelic culture, to those naturally occurring." But, Cole explains, they didn’t evolve easily: “fractals are a difficult thing to control, though, as they aren’t just visual geometric patterns – they’re constructs that emerge and evolve through time. Heady stuff.” Spending a week or two exploring different references and methods – from old 90s computer programs to making fractals in Blender to modifying code found in Github – Cole tried a whopping 10-15 processes before landing on the most efficient one.
The album also has a dedicated website, which also takes its inspiration from past visual references, specifically big corporation websites of the 90s and early 2000s like Amazon, eBay and Craigslist and Facebook. Featuring an array of type that looks fresh from Microsoft Word, as well as block colours and flat graphics, the design looks like the sort that would take about five minutes to load, only then to crash when you try to navigate it (luckily it doesn’t). Trying to recall where the idea originally came from, Cole says how he isn’t too sure. “Chaz had an art show Corporate Solutions at Fisk’s Gallery in 2020 which was kind of related. But I think overall it was just kind of funny.”
Reflecting on the project, Bijan identifies how much of a collective effort it was, taking “a lot of energy, trust and collaboration”. Working so closely alongside Chaz, and being given the trust to design for his music is something Fisk greatly enjoys for how it allows them to do things a little differently: “Chaz sits at the source of the creativity and content, this is rare compared to a traditional client project where the degrees of separation go on and on,” Bijan says. It was also a project with a lot of enjoyable moments. Bijan concludes our chat by riffing off a long list, including “Laying in the back of the Jeepney while on the phone with Harry who was relaying info from photographer Chris Maggio to me and then screaming to Chaz on what the next pose would be from across the water" and "Holding the vinyl in hand and seeing that all of the foil hits + UV varnish lined up correctly, that margins were even, and the vision we had came to life.”
Full list of collaborators and creatives involved in the making of Mahal: Creative Direction: Chaz Bear & Harry Israelson, Photography: Chris Maggio, Design Direction: Fisk, Styling: LAUR, HMU: Dominique Rose, Additional Graphic Design: Brodie Kaman, Assists: Brendan Nakahara & Alex Manriquez, Photo Producer: Beau Walchek, Product, Photos: Mario Gallucci, Label: Dead Oceans, Management: Brilliant Corners, Jeepney Restoration: Marc Martinez, Special Thanks: Pamela Marcus.
GalleryCopyright © Toro y Moi, 2022
Copyright © Toro y Moi, 2022
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.