Nine things we learnt from the David Bowie “Unbound” panel at SXSW 2016

David isn’t here any more and we’re still processing that… but after some weeks of grief I now feel incredible fortunate to work with him. – Jonathan Barnbrook

On Saturday – the final day of the SXSW Music Conference in Austin, Texas – The Blackstar visual piece “UNBOUND: A★INSTAMINISERIES” was shown in full for the first time, accompanied by a Q&A with Bowie’s long time design collaborator Jonathan Barnbrook as well as the Unbound creatives, Carolynn Cecilia and Lawrence Peryer. The three talked at length about their experiences working with the late, great Bowie, and here are nine things we learnt from the insightful panel:

  1. Jonathan Barnbrook revealed that Bowie “was nervous it wasn’t a good album”, when he sat down with him last June and they listened to it together for the first time.
  2. According to Carolynn Cecilia, writer of the Unbound series, they were only able to listen to the album once, with no lyric sheets, when they were commissioned for the project. It was done in intense secrecy, after all this was “meant to be a secret record… the only reason anyone found out about it before hand was that (news of the record) was leaked.”

    So how did she put together the project from there? “I took the album track by track and I created a story. But because I only heard the album only once,I went off the emotion of the music, rather the lyrics, and the feelings I had (when I listened to it)”.

  3. Jonathan Barnbrook, who designed the album cover for Blackstar, among many other Bowie releases, says that he found out one of the meanings of one of the songs on the album on the condition that he never told anyone.  Barnbrook talked at length about Bowie’s love to keeping the meanings in his music a mystery.
  4. To facilitate discussion of this mystery, Bowie’s digital strategist and Unbound co-producer, Lawrence Peryer, talked about Bowie’s love for fan-on-fan engagement, “He’s always been present online… it’s easy to find his fans online.” Continually fascinated by the digital space, the Unbound project came about when Bowie wanted to utilise new platforms (Instagram and Snapchat) to reach new, younger audiences for the new record.
  5. Learning more about Bowie’s love for a good mystery, Peryer talked about the retrospective meaning put into this project, insisting that “This was finished before he passed. A lot of the meaning people are interpreting from it as is happenstance. We didn’t know he was ill.”
  6. Why was it called Unbound? Carolynn Cecilia revealed that it’s inspired by a space formation (how very Bowie, no?)… essentially, when a cluster of stars become ‘unbound’ they continue to move in the same direction. The title was inspired by this, and how “we go in the same direction and end up in the same place.”
  7. According to Barnbrook, “David was intensely involved in every album cover. He knew how to manage people. Knew what we wanted. Would say when he didn’t like something, but he was never nasty.”
  8. Talking about this album specifically, Barnbrook said that ‘the cover’s simplicity took a long time to get to’ and that he thinks that its design works best on the vinyl. “There is a Monolithic quality to it… especially after he died.” Overall, the ‘album design (the packaging for the vinyl) is about the emotional landscape of the music.’
  9. Barnbrook also revealed that he may release some early designs of the album later – showing how the cover came to be. “It’s still too early though… people still coming to terms with it (his death and the album)”.  But he later digressed that Bowie wasn’t happy there were some draft works for The Next Day covers in the Bowie Is… exhibition. “He wants mystery… By showing the middle it changes the end.” So maybe it’s not something we’ll see after all?

To watch the Instaminiseries yourself, head to their Instagram Page.