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Artwork-Album design


HR (Hans Ruedi) Giger was born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland as the son of the local pharmacist. He was trained early in drawing, painting and architecture. Giger talked about having all kinds of nightmares when he was a child that gave him the inspiration for his paintings. While living in Zurich in 1973 and listening to the music of ELP, David Bowie and Miles Davis he painted a triptych entitled 'Landscape XIX' (Work 216).

ELP’s Swiss agent contacted Giger and told him that the band wanted him to do their next album cover that at the time was entitled 'whip some skull on you'. Giger was surprised on the accolades and flattery that Keith Emerson showered him with, he had never before met a famous rock star. Keith had been forewarned that Giger was strange to say the least, however he was very impressed with his personality and work. They immediately connected, Giger showed him the painting he was working on and Keith felt that it was perfect for the new album.

Giger painted a new piece approximately actual size for the album, in about two days which is amazing considering the detail. At this point it's need to say something about Giger's technique for any serious art junkies. Giger is the finest draftsman in the 21st century, here’s why: he paints freeform. In other words what he does is tacks up the canvas or paper to the wall, fills up his airbrush with black acrylic, sometimes white (at the time he exclusively painted in monochrome), and starts on one end of the canvas and doesn’t stop until he gets to the other end of the canvas.

No pre sketches, no guidelines, no layouts, nothing. He has said sometimes he goes on marathons without eating or drinking for days, almost as though he is possessed letting the art flow through him. This is mind boggling when You see the sheer scope, size (ELP was a rarity) and detail of his paintings.

HR Giger: "This time period was my most productive and creative phase as a painter."

Emerson Lake and Palmer’s logo is actually the most reputed anagram in rock music. This work is an excellent example of how to make a long name fit into a simple and effective logo. Giger found a clever way to make the anagram work by balancing the circles in the letters 'E' and 'P' to encircle the whole thing. He also balanced the rest with a long vertical center spinal formed by 'L' and 'P'. This is a wonderful lesson of balance and economy in logo design. The ELP logo has been used practically ever since. T-Shirts, prints, posters, backdrops, tons of reissues and one of the most frequent images was painted on the side of vans and motorcycles.

Giger’s images have stood the test of times and became one of the greatest album covers of all time. HR Giger went on to become a world famous artist and designer, his paintings and prints worth hundreds of thousand of Dollars. He won an Oscar for his spectacular work for the movie 'Alien' and continues to do film work 'Species', 'Poltergeist' and others.

The album cover is considered one of the most memorable (and often disturbing) of its time. It features distinctive Giger monochromatic biomechanical artwork, integrating an industrial mechanism with a human skull and the new ELP logo (created by Giger). The lower part of the skull's face is covered by a circular 'screen', which shows the mouth and lower face in its flesh-covered state. In the original LP release, the front cover was split in half down the center, except for the circular screen section (which was attached to the right half). Opening the halves revealed a painting of the complete face: a human female (modelled after Giger's wife), with 'alien' hair and multiple scars, including the infinity symbol and a scar from a frontal lobotomy. The two images of the woman are very similar, but the outer image (in the circle) contains what appears to be the top of a phallus below her chin, arising from the 'ELP' column below (the second painting originally had the complete phallus, but this was removed at the insistence of the record company). The back cover was solid black with the album title in plain white lettering.

According to a book written by Giger, the band never paid his bill for the artwork, even though the imagery has become part of the band’s overall brand.

Brain Salad Surgery were chosen as one of the top 100 best covers of the century by Rolling Stone Magazine.

HR Giger has passed away on May 12th, 2014 at the age of 74. Swiss TV station SRF report that he died as a result of "injuries sustained in a fall".

click on the image below, and you will be linked to the official HR Giger website


Li and I were living together in the 3 year old apartment/studio in Zuerich-Oerlikon. I had just finished with the Passage paintings and was working with my new spray-gun on the Temple paintings. Through the intoxication of the music, mainly ELP, Miles Davis and Bowie, the triptych landscapes was created, with the babies, skulls and phallus, the last of which was consequently involved in a year and a half long porno-suit controversy, because it was sold to an american rock group (Dead Kennedy's) as a poster insert for their album. This time period was my most productive and creative phase as a painter. It was then that i received the news, from my friend H.H. Kunz, and from Gustav Zumsteg, who was then the swiss manager of ELP, that ELP was interested in having a record cover done by me and that the group would be playing in two days at the Hallen Stadion. On this occasion an expert opinion about the design could be given. This was already my second contract for an album cover, and I began with enthusiasm on the work.

The title of the album was supposed to be 'whip some skull on you'. Translated it means fellatio and the obvious thing was to combine lips, penis and skulls. The graphic artist for ELP had the idea that the cover should be able to be opened up like a gate; not a good idea, as would later become apparent when they were stacked. This same graphic artist wanted to decorate himself in false feathers, in that he replaced my name with his as design-creator on the album. I was, at the time, very offended. I forgave him, however, since shortly thereafter he lost his life in an accident.

Back to the contract. Because I was, at this time, working on the aforementioned triptych, those elements flowed into the picture. The wished-for duplicate picture was created overnight.
After the concert, Keith Emerson came with Zumsteg and Kunz. I was terribly excited, as I had never stood directly across from a rock-star, and the house, as it happened, was also full of people. Lake, Palmer and a photojournalist arrived later. I was ceremoniously showered with compliments on my work. Nevertheless, Keith suddenly informed me that the title of the album was now going to be Brain Salad Surgery. I was dismayed until he explained to me that this expression, likewise, connoted fellatio. After the group posed for the photographer, with the air of connoisseurs and meaningful gestures, the hubbub died down.
A part of the printing was, as wished, metallic, in contrast to the one received here in Switzerland. This one was possibly printed in a shop that specialized in pornography. There they have a tendency, for the embellishment of the thing, to apply too much red. The print came out 'cow-shit-pile-brown'.
HR Giger, 1991


Keith Emerson:
"As far as I can recall, my initial meeting with HR Giger was brought about by our Zurich promoter Zumsteg, from the agency 'Good News', at that time. ELP were in the middle of an European tour - it could have been Spring 1973. My promoters friend insisted in driving me to Giger's house. As I remember it was a fairly modest bungalow from the outside until you went in. Straight away Giger struck me as 'heavy' to say the least. The interior decor was overpowering, gothic to the extreme. From floor to ceiling his unique airbrush technique had transformed a simple room into a cathedral, and it was all around you. If this was not enough Giger had gone 3-dimensional. The toilet was scary, because all these hands coming out and you have to sit on this hands while you doin' a shit. It was dark and very foreboding, and for me it represented ELP's music.
We had the working title 'whip some skull on you' at this time. I'm looking at Giger's paintings and I saw this skull, and thought that's it! The next day I said to Greg and Carl: 'You have got to see this artist. He's really incredible. It really goes with what we are doing at the moment'. I remember them being reluctant, but we were at a loss for an album cover.

Greg really liked an airbrushing of a woman's face. Ringlets of wire hair framed closed eyes and a penis extending itself toward familiar lips. 'Oh, you like?' said Giger noticing Greg's interest, 'that's my wife!' We left Peter Zumsteg to do a deal with Giger for us to use both the skull and the face on our next album. But we had all these complaints coming back and the record company won't going to release it, because it was obscene, it was pornographic. I had to call Giger up and I said that he has to take off the penis, beause otherwise we we have to use something else. Finally it was gently turned into a 'shaft of light'."

Carl Palmer:
"He showed us a couple of ideas and we thought: Oh yeah, this is our man. It is a pity that he doesn't play an instrument, he could be in the band."

Greg Lake:
"Before the album sleeve was conceived the whole thing was just a string of various musical and lyrical concepts weaved together into one continuous arrangement. The same is really true of Brain Salad Surgery, an album in which the music and lyrics bear no real relationship to the title or the album cover art."


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