Story Behind The Album Cover: FM’s Black Noise

FM was a progressive / space-rock trio from Toronto, who’s classic debut album – Black Noise, featured their best known song “Phasors On Stun”. The album was reissued on CD in Canada in 1994, with the band taking a short reunion tour for it. ( I have a signed poster of it from this tour as well.) For this installment telling the story behind the album covers former Passport Records Art Director Murray Brenman, and artist Paul Till tell the story behind creating FM’s Black Noise album cover, which turned in to including a bit more – as both also worked on the Canadian band’s next couple of album covers. Paul Till would later work on the band’s last few releases as well.

It’s interesting to note that Black Noise originally came out through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1978, with a totally different cover. That edition was limited to 500 copies, sold via mail-order with cover art being a photo of a manhole cover, designed by Bob Krol and James Cook, Krol worked on a number of covers for the CBC in the ’70s. The band’s 2nd LP was technically Direct To Disc [aka Head Room], but signing to bigger labels meant Black Noise would be reissued with the cover featured above, followed by Surveillance and City Of Fear. Nash The Slash left FM before Direct To Disc (replaced by Ben Mink), and Paul Till would also work on Nash’s solo LP covers.

Artists’ Backgrounds

Paul Till – “I knew Cam Hawkins a little from high school. I did some photos for a band of his (Clear) a few years after that. When he started working with Nash as a duo he called me about doing some photos. I did the effects on the first FM poster although I didn’t make the original photo. I made some photos for the FM appearance on TVO’s Night Music. Some of them made for FM and some of photo work I was doing on my own. I did a lot of darkroom photo techniques making in Science fiction/surrealist imagery..”

Murray Brenman – “I worked at JEM Records, who owned Passport, run-in their art department full-time from May 1977 until sometime in 1989. I was the Art Director at Passport from 1978.”

Creating Black Noise cover art…

Paul Till – “I did make the logo. It’s letraset that I then fooled with in the darkroom and probably with color xerox as well.
The FM cover is from an Eaton’s window display that I manipulated in the darkroom. I used to do quite a few manipulated photos of store windows. I probably just showed them photos and they picked one. It wasn’t really made with FM in mind though I probably had heard their music when I made it. (At this distance of time the sequence of unrelated events is very hazy.)”

Murray Brenman – “As far as Black Noise – We heard most of the music ahead of time. I’ll have to check to see if I have a sample copy at home, from what I remember, they supplied us with the pieces and then I put things together and assembled the final artwork. The front cover of Black Noise was put together from pieces they supplied. I actually created the back cover art.”

Other FM covers…

Paul Till – “The Direct To Disc cover was also a manipulated store window photo…  The Surveillance cover was a shot I happened to take during the photo session for the image that ended up on the back cover. (That was made my another photographer.) the image I made in as overexposed and off color, so they stripped in the colors as you see them. I was never one of those guys who’d say “You’re not using that shot! It’s no good.” Probably should have been.”

Murray Brenman – “On Surveillance, I created the title treatment on the front cover and if I remember correctly I took their photo and stripped it into the TV screen.”

Murray Brenman – “I do remember the third LP (City Of Fear), it was done with the photographer Eric Staller, we developed it together. It was shot around Wall St. in NYC, very late at night. We used life-size standups for the group. He developed this technique using a long exposure at a very low setting and ran around the scene with sparklers. We had used a similar technique for the Synergy ‘Games’ album cover…. I also modified the logo for that LP.”

Paul Till – “The City of Fear cover I did go out and make a lot of different images. None were picked for the cover, but one was used in the gatefold. I didn’t have anything to do with the actual cover photo. I thought it was pretty good, though I think that photographer did other photos using that technique that were better. Album covers are sort of a group effort. Ideas and intentions sometimes make for weaker imagery. 
A couple of years ago I made another FM cover where Cam remembered an image from back in the day, that I was able to find and do a little tweaking on.”

RIP Nash The Slash /

Black Noise – The band FM fanbase | Facebook

KJJ, 06 / ’21

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