Aaron Prevots: First of all, how did you get started in web design?
Eric Scott : Looking back, I may have actually become a web designer to spite a former employer of mine. It was 1995 and I was approached by the company CEO, who was hoping to “tempt” me into doing the company’s webpage as a side project, like a hobby, ie, “for free.” Although I did appreciate him asking me, I wasn’t into that, really because it reinforced his lack of concern for my personal time. So, purely out of resentment, I flatly told him “no.”
Then I went off for a bit, and thought, “wait a minute...” because I realized that I should actually consider learning about all this new web stuff in order to design my own site, and come back with that in response, and that idea really stuck.
I had already been thinking about Day
For Night becoming a full-fledged business, and so I finalized
my DBA and felt the authoritative juices flowing as I was, for the first
time, beginning to validate in a business context what I had been doing
all along with Day For Night as a label and imprint for my music.
What's with the Underground obsession?
In 1991, I made an unusually high volume of train journeys when I went to France and England, and this started a trend in my vacationing, namely that it became more about taking trains, and going to places where you could get around on foot, in between stops. I’m always a reluctant driver. But the Tube in London is exceptionally well-organized, with the Paris Metro being a very close second.
Around that time, I also began to read up on the London Tube and its relationship to the origins of the sans-serif typeface. Frank Pick’s design of the London Underground, as a premier transportation brand was a significant development in the world of design during the first half of the 20th Century. Pick contracted Edward Johnston, the typographer who, by necessity developed an eye for environmental design, as he was developing the standardized type formats for what later became the signage and lettering systems which are used throughout all LUL communications today.
What made it interesting for me was that Johnston designed the Underground railway font long before the much more common Gill Sans, which Eric Gill later embellished from Johnston’s design. So when you look at the history of typography since the 1910s, sans-serifs pre-date Italian Futurism, the Bauhaus, Helvetica, and the Swiss Modernist school – all of which later became the catalyst for Postmodern typography and design in the 1990s (aka anti-Swiss/“grunge”). So there’s a crucial point to be made in that first early divergence, away from standard “roman” typefaces and body-copy text originated by Caslon.
Anyhow, I digress. Everything all resonated for me when I started to appreciate how easy it was to travel by Tube and read the signs, figure out how to get from one place to another in a new city.
So are we seeing the metaphor for web design yet? I hoped that The Tube would become a fairly obvious analogy for good usability design, and the first “official” website for Day For Night was the project which in 2003 I relocated to NightLINKrail.com – and that soon became an obsessive pursuit.
I should also add, for the uninitiated, that the term “trainspotting” – long before the Irvine Welsh book and Danny Boyle film – referred to the activities of hobbyists who (having nothing else to do) would sit patiently on hillsides and jot down the numbers from the sides of locomotives as they passed by. They would record the numbers in the log books that they kept with them, and would, of course share their ‘spottings’ with other trainspotters.
This is really no different from coin- or stamp-collecting
really, just a harmless pastime that also gets you out of doors, hopefully
on a nice day. In more recent years, the term “anorak” relates
to the same intensity of hobbyist, any young person with an impossibly
high level of disposable income, who can be found standing around in
record shops and whose minute knowledge of music comes entirely from
a collector’s perspective. You've got to love "High Fidelity"
(Nick Hornby's book/Stephen Frears' film) for getting that part right
on so many levels!
Why Day For Night? And why the Day logs?
I have always been a music collector and somewhere between musiciandom and fandom, and basically, I know way too much music trivia.
I always loved the more collectible indie labels of the 80s and 90s (Factory, 4Ad, Warp, Crammed, Crepuscule) and felt that the additional attention to detail they gave to precise matrixing and cataloguing made the collectors’ pursuit fascinating and more inviting. They say it’s the Trekkies that put the show back into circulation over a decade later, despite its early, weak performance and relatively few episodes. I believe that the core nature of fans is that way with anything, and I encouraged this kind of curiosity and anomaly in the “misdirection” work category I created for myself and implemented directly for the TV shows “Felicity” and “ALIAS” during my contracts with Touchstone.
The term “Day For Night” is an old-fashioned filmmaking term. It’s that blue filter effect they used for creating fake “night” when the crew could only shoot during the day, and later, became my metaphor for creative misdirection, namely, the art of setting up an illogical conceit and then supporting it with an overwhelming amount of “proof” and evidence, in order to create intelligent entertainment value.
My greatest fun comes from the idea that people love to be tricked and misdirected, but only if you can do it in a really intelligent way – by playing up to people’s intelligence and curiosity, and never pandering or dumbing things down for an “audience.” The earliest example I remember was around 1995 with my design of the Toto album, Tambu, and designing all of the evidence to support that there was an actual pulp-fiction paperback with that name, from which all the song titles came. Next came Caesar’s Magical Empire, in which the conceit for the Las Vegas venue’s souvenir “book of views” was an actual book of evidence from the fake archaeological dig that uncovered this entire Roman world of magic and entertainment.
In 1998 I started doing Day For Night full time,
became the label’s first site, and all the stations/train stops
would be numbered, in parallel to the cataloguing matrix and content
of the label’s real-world catalogue – only with a difference;
namely that it should be a full and concrete representation of a made-up
place that looked and seemed completely real, maybe even misdirected
people into falling for some fairly obvious conceptual gags –
about train delays, minor disasters, worker’s strikes, etc.
What have you done that you feel has been especially innovative? Do you have any one design accomplishment of which you're most proud – a page, a site, a simple solution to a complex request?
I think innovation per se is a worrying term, but I’m proud of all the misdirection work I’ve produced, both personally and commercially for the paying clients of Day For Night Multimedia. Looking back, that gave me endless hours of pleasure. The ALIAS “Web Puzzle” became the commensurate stress test, where my personal privacy fell at risk, and became the subject of a number of server breaches, but in the end, the game turned out exactly as we had hoped, where fans of the show were learning how to play the game while we – actually the producers of the show and I – were instructing them on how to play through entirely non-verbal cues. That was actually quite amazing.
As far as my self-initiated projects, innovation is a quality that I could easily misjudge if I’m not careful. For example, I’m personally fondest of my “difficult” music, and this was most characterized by my attempts to learn orchestration only through my more difficult, minimalistic work in an avant-garde-jazz-classical style. One very nice critic used the term “insistent” instead of “minimalist” or “repetitive,” bless her heart. I think there is something that will always go undiscovered in that earlier work, because it is definitely the most challenging to listen to. What I often find is that the musically-uninitiated get turned off by classical minimalism because they don’t know how to judge if it’s “real” music or not.
I always used to think that Michael Nyman’s music was the greatest and most beautiful challenge for my own ears, and I’ve never known if that could catch on at a big enough scale to become a lucrative avenue for pursuing financially, because even his music for The Piano seemed to be miles away from what he originally did that caught my attention and changed the way I heard things – and that was the propulsive, minimalistic chain of suspensions in A Zed And Two Noughts, The Draughtsman’s Contract, Drowning By Numbers... In fact, I could go on and on as to what that music fueled me with when it came to composing in a manner that was my deeply aggressive response against “New Age” – which is a term that elicits from me nothing but repugnance.
Time passes, and then I’m always slightly
disappointed by some aspect of my own work, usually years after the
fact, at which time I end up wishing I could go back and change things.
This is one more reason why the Day For Night catalogue is created and
manufactured like software. Free updates are available to those who
request them, because I often remix and update the work after it’s
done, and I feel that consumers deserve a right to grow along with me.
The thing is, I soon forget and don’t notice how I am still changing
every single day, and that, of course, I take my scale along with me,
upon which all things get judged. So I’m generally a very tough
critic of my own work.
Can you tell us more about your architectural interests and how they informed your early work.
I did a year of architecture at USC before landing in the business school. I felt that architecture might be a more noble career than “commercial art” as it was referred to on the high-school questionnaires but I was also quite unsure about the contribution I could make to a profession that was so populated by people with a seemingly infinite and greater knowledge of buildings and environment than I had.
Pretty quickly, I figured out that my buildings wouldn’t stand because I didn’t really have the engineer’s grasp of physics, and due to all my sideline pursuits (namely composing music soundtracks for the School of Cinema-Television), I sensed that it was all a wash, and hung up my architectural hat. The only take-home I could see at the time was through my introduction to graphics through a course in architectural drafting, and this introduced me to the world of Letraset letters, colored pencils and layout.
Around 1990, I found myself finishing up a career as a recording engineer and I knew a huge change had to be imminent. All I knew was that I was getting out of that business, and knew that I could teach myself pretty much anything, so long as it was on a Mac, because somehow, this had become the environment of choice for me; I felt like I could adapt very quickly to a full career change as long as it was via that platform, and that was mainly through the work I’d recently done, teaching myself the Studer Dyaxis editing suite software.
So I spent all my lunchtimes in the next-door art store, looking through books of design and not exactly realizing what I was doing there. First of all, I felt unable to articulate anything I wanted to say in a visual sense – I’d had no real training and I’d given up drawing over 12 years ago.
The next step came from a visit I made that summer to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where I saw an exhibition on graphic design in the music industry. This was a turning point because I could see that all the design I really wanted to do was Mac-based computer layout. What made it truly relatable was this first connection I made in my head, between album covers I already knew and admired, and the medium used to create them.
I came home to LA, accepted an internship at a friend’s design studio, and worked many long and hard hours for no money, just so I could stay late at night and teach myself on the computers after hours. Five months later I got my first paycheck, and at the first signal that a new owner was about to buy his company away from him, I saw an opportunity to seek more equitable treatment, and better growth potential. So I presented this new guy with my “new” portfolio of work, because I’d heard he was about to hire an art director, and he pretty soon gave me the job, which means that I went instantly from unpaid intern to career art director in one shot, which allowed me to jockey my way up, through a series of different design agencies, until I formed the plan to emphasize interactive branding, motion design and multimedia, and to get further away from the constraints of print design, and this became Day For Night Multimedia.
The coda to this story is that last year, I found
myself fascinated with architectural metaphors again, when three of
the branding projects I took on received an architectural inflection
from me, upon my recent study of architectural (skyscraper) form factor
designs: notably Tower Art Group, and Commercial Realty Consultants.
At some point in 2004, I realized that – twenty years later –
I really loved architecture and would most likely study it differently
now, if I were to go and study it, mainly because my attitudes and disciplines
towards environmental design, usability and overall design learning
have matured significantly since my university days, and I would probably
make a much better architect now than I had originally thought.
What is the relevance of music to your web pursuits?
I have a back catalogue now of over 1500 music tracks. Several hundred are finished, many others are sketches or beginnings of ideas – all of them are discrete ideas that have received an internal catalogue number. I have an abundant music source to draw from when I start a new composition: sometimes I’ll remix an existing work, and almost always, I’ll sample my own source before borrowing from an outside one.
A perfect dream-mixture would be to find a way to create the financial independence necessary, to then free up all the time necessary to complete every piece I’ve ever written. Now there’s a goal. And of course, a much more realistic goal would be to continue integrating original music into the multimedia projects, and to keep giving visibility to the label and to my skills as a musician, composer, producer and arranger.
For 2005, I’m really looking for more full-time
commissions that will pay me to keep me on the clock creating film scores
and licensing original catalogue work, because that keeps me away from
programming and all the other things about the web that I care less
Is there any long-term goal that motivates you?
Just financial independence, like everyone else,
although I’m only prepared to compromise so much in order to get
there. And I’ve always felt that integrity is a big issue for
me, and becomes an even bigger issue when a public or visible person
actually loses it; so I’m keeping my eye on that one.
If you were a book or film, what would you be and why?
Hmmm... I might actually be “Drowning By Numbers” by Peter Greenaway.
I can be a strange cataloguing exercise and I’m continually looking for the fanciful cross-references between rules and traditional pastimes. And, much as DBN spun off a cross-examination in the form of “Fear of Drowning” – I can easily imagine the same being said about how the Day For Night is a web that leads to many related pursuits and diversions.
The general tone of Michael Nyman’s music for that film, which is largely derived from (in “Endgame”) the appoggiaturas in the slow section of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante (k 364) left a huge impression upon me as I was learning to orchestrate, and has been definitive in my attitudes towards appropriation of outside themes as well...namely, that such things are OK as long as they’re founded in a musical theme.
Lastly, I particularly love the look of that film
too – the green countrysides and the water themes – and
I could probably say that I’m about as complicated a person to
know as that film is for most people to watch... Drowning requires
the trade-off between a little patience, for which it yields so many
rewards... and I always am hopeful that my work does, too.