House of Illustrious

Martyn Ware and Vince Clark's anthology of their ambient collaboration is a hefty 10 CD set.


Martyn's close friend, Malcolm Garrett was asked to help create a suitable "desirable object" befitting the significance of the audio feast on the discs. So, way back in May 2011, Malcolm and I started to kick around some ideas on what it might look like.



Our principle challenge was how to package 10 CD's compactly and without creating loads of different unnecessary bits. After a few false starts, we settled on an idea we'd used many years back for a CD for Alexander McQueen, which used to thick acrylic discs to sandwich a CD on an acrylic spindle that screwed the discs together.


10 CD's would require a longer spindle, but initial tests showed it to be very weak and both prototypes we had made in the far east (which I don't like doing) broke in transit. The solution was to make the spindles from metal, which also made the discs simpler, so it could all be made in the UK. For authenticity's sake, the chance to make the spindles in Sheffield was too good to miss as was engraving the spindles with 'Made in Sheffield'.



With that in place, we then thought about how to house it. Again, after a few cardboard missteps, settled on sitting the whole CD / acrylic set into a solid block of foam, given a water jet finish to mimick granite and with the Illustrious bitmap logo engraved into the front face. 


The real challenge was that the acrylic had to fit exactly into the aperture in the foam, requiring an interference fit that made it easy to remove but snug enough to hold it if lifted from a table top (the last thing we wanted was for the heavy acrylic / CD set to fall out of the foam onto the floor).



Martyn and Malcolm were also insistent the surface of the acrylic be exactly flush with the foam, which was difficult because there are variances of up to 1mm in the thicknesses of the acrylic discs. This meant making a number of foam and acrylic prototypes in varying thicknesses to find the best match for the foam and to then match the pairs of acrylics to a uniform overall thickness of 16mm combined.


Mute Records, who were releasing it, were generous with the schedule and, unusually, we had enough time to resolve all these problems prior to production, the only hiccough being the celo-wrapping that kept the booklet attached to the main pack and kept it from getting damaged. 


Unusual sized CD formats in limited editions (1000) are usually shrink-wrapped because it's easy, cheap and quick and requires no adjustment from one format to another. However, it marked the crystal finish on the foam and blunted the corners, making it look less like stone, more like black soap. Thus, we had to opt for celo-wrapping, which is normally used for mass manufactured products like tea bags, perfumes and cigarettes and because it requires lengthy set-ups to get right.


One of the few packaging houses to even consider short run celo-wrapping proved not to be a wise choice, so a couple of days from the release date, I found myself driving the whole job up the M6 to a fantastic company called B&L Contract Packing who, with otherwordly patience, made it work perfectly.


The finished set is available here, if you're interested.