‘And then the letters all pass through my head…’ On the First Cut; Creating Images Through Sound

The Airborne Toxic Event, MissyBy Yules

How did it all begin?

It seems like I haven’t got much of a story to tell you all, really – I’m a relatively young fan. I’ve not lived enough of life to know that much about it. I only have a few, if any, truly profound experiences in my life up to now, but still, I’d like to share this with you.

My story is a story about imagination. And, well, music. Being that you’re reading this here.

Music, I found, was a way of pretty much losing myself, of celebrating little things in life and telling short stories in just a few minutes. Aged 12, I’d boldly claimed that I hated all music. Five years later, armed with an iPod, I was a changed woman.

Aged 17 – insert “Gasoline” jokes here – I discovered Airborne.

It began in a bizarre way; somewhere I’d glimpsed a strange name belonging to a strangely named band, and found myself on iTunes listening to the preview of Track 1. I liked Track 1 and bought that and loved it even more after listening in full – but the rest was untouched. It was only towards the end of that year that I returned for a few more tracks.

I turned 18 in early 2015, and within a week, I had bought my first two complete, physical albums. Ever. I’d never found a reason to before – digital albums on iTunes were in themselves a rarity for me – but this time, the whole thing was damn worth it. Something clicked and that was all I listened to for weeks.

It was insane.

What began with “Wishing Well” became a mad cascade. Mad, but absolutely beautiful.

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How did that all begin?

The first cut was probably made some years ago; the first time I learned to hold a craft scalpel in school and felt that strange plastic handle press firm into my fingertips. I wondered how sharp the blade itself was, if only pressing on a bit of plastic was already causing such discomfort. My fingers were numbed quickly.

I wasn’t very good at this… paper-cutting lark. The first cuts were probably a mess, to the point where I’m glad I’ve forgotten them. But… it was all a sort of beginning, way back then. I wasn’t much good, but that was only the start.

But now, let’s fast forward. It’s 2015. Tour announcement.

The one thing I was sure of was that I had to go and see this damn band; the tickets came out and the ticket was bought within the hour.

I was already repeating tracks and albums and shamelessly humming and whistling sections of melodies. From the introduction of that very first song, to the extravagance of “All At Once” and “The Fifth Day” and the simple beauty of “Graveyard…” (Confession: I genuinely cried the first couple of times I listened to “The Graveyard Near The House.”) Even the new release hasn’t failed in my books; far from it, and Songs of God and Whiskey is also a delight.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Graveyard Near the House

With everything, I loved whatever the band threw at me. Lyrics, vibes, string-section flourishes.

And that’s how the images came.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Strangers

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How did this all begin?

Have you ever listened to a song and felt like there was a cinema in the back of your head?

That’s what it felt like to me. Airborne wasn’t the first band to play their ‘five minute feature’ to me, but they were definitely significant.

I imagined strange scenes, like animations. Silhouettes, black-and-white dances, rising and falling in and out of nowhere, flowers and storms and dreams and broken glass… Take “The Fifth Day” and imagine strangeness and darkness for hours and hours; then a pause, then move the curtain, and let everything be light. Take “All I Ever Wanted” and picture it: a steely firearm in your hands, and clutch your weapon tighter, and be brave, and oust your demons from existence.

It sounds cliché, but it’s all there.

I was bored in class one day, and began to draw, and realised what I was seeing on paper. I realised that the things I could not animate could come alive in another way.

I thought of the artists I’d Googled years ago, in search of art class inspiration. I thought of the simple images I needed to show and the words that came with them, soft and beautiful and sharp and twisting and fantastic.

I had a paper knife and a cutting mat.

Perfect.

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I posted my first piece on Twitter in March. It was an impulsive image, one that had emerged in my head in the middle of that day. What had begun as a pair of birds doodled in a moment of boredom had grown and developed into a small piece of lyric art.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Chains"

The song was “Chains.” Why? It just happened to be in my head at the time, I guess. It took a few hours to complete, from planning to rough sketch to execution. I was rusty, having not cut paper for a while, but I was proud of what I’d achieved.

That same evening, I logged on to read the next post about the songs of Dope Machines.

I did not realise how significant Mikel’s final paragraph about ‘Something You Lost’ was until I saw an isolated sentence again the following day.

It justhit me.

I dreamt. That evening, I realised that the quote needed to be cut out.

The following day, on Friday evening, work began. Work ended on Sunday, and after some conflict with the scanner – ‘dope machines’ indeed – it was ready. I posted on Sunday night.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Something You Lost"

24 hours later, it had received what to me was significant attention. I’d been a nobody.

I was in shock.

This messy, imperfect thing had been seen. And there were compliments. Even the band had retweeted.

I couldn’t believe it.

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I took up the knife again the day after. From the conception of the twin birds of “Chains” to the frustration behind cutting out the letter ‘S’ multiple times, the letters had all passed through my head. I had more images inside.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Storm

I was in personal awe of the things I was doing. I was putting blade to paper to cutting mat, dreaming and for once, realising these strange, silhouetted visions. There was hope yet of me expressing the strange fantasies that circled around my head as I heard a song play.

I’d had the words and now I had the pictures. It was delightful. Perfect, imperfect, I was getting things out. Dreaming on paper. Realising those dreams. Being on fire inside; somehow enjoying the numb, calloused fingertips and harsh plastic in my hands.

There’s something about expressing yourself. It’s a feeling of happiness.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Time to be a Man

What began as something small grew into an intense but amusing project.

I decided to challenge myself; I thought I’d do as many papercuts as I could before I saw TATE for the first time in mid-April. Weeks of work later, and an ugly callus staining my finger, I settled for 10 images. There were far more mental images and far more songs to portray, but for now, it was all I could do.

The final image, unlike the others, lacked words and incorporated a shocking burst of colour. It was posted at the appropriate time of 12am, on the day of the show I was to attend.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Sometime Around Midnight"

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The show itself. I was nervous about it for weeks; nervous to the minute. Nervous about anything and everything. I went with it.

Hours later, after the end, I came away smiling like a fool (also sweaty as hell – but with two autographs and some conversations!) having learned three things:

  1. The band is fantastic live.
  2. Do not be afraid – everything is definitely worth it.
  3. The fans I met are proof that I am part of a family of sorts.

…and of course, I wasn’t an ‘Airborne virgin’ any more. The stupid, awkward fears I’d had before now lay slain behind me.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Timeless

Through showing my art and jumping into the full experience, I am definitely reassured. I am one of thousands of fans, many of whom attend shows, and a number of whom contribute to this blog. I seriously don’t know how I’d feel about showing my work to the online world without all of this wonderful company and the knowledge that there are other enthusiasts out there. Others mad and much, much madder.

And you know what? It’s great to be mad.

So thank you for giving me the courage to create and submit my work and to share it all with you. Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement. Thank you to the concertgoers and the blog writers and the reviewers and the photographers and all of the rest. Thank you all.

Is this true love? Well, I don’t know. It’s just my best guess.

What I do know is that the first show, just like the first cut and the first song, is only the beginning.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Fall of Rome

About thisisnowhere 413 Articles
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere and author of Toxic History: The Story of The Airborne Toxic Event. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

4 Comments on ‘And then the letters all pass through my head…’ On the First Cut; Creating Images Through Sound

  1. Amazing! I would buy them too. My favorite one is Mikel’s quote from his explanation of the song Something You Lost. I melted when I read that for the first time and to see it in your artwork is truly amazing!

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