It's the second volume in a most unusual DVD series, but Colorcalm by Design is just as interesting as the first. Having known little about Colorcalm when I originally reviewed Volume 1, Skies, for DVD Talk in 2004 (linked below), imagine my surprise when the finished concept proved to be one of the most simple and engaging concepts I'd yet seen on disc. In short, this first project was a near-endless cycle of---yep, you guessed it---skies in a perpetual state of motion, accompanied by four different audio tracks (the last was total silence, presumably for using your own soundtrack or for display purposes). The surreal color patterns were almost random in nature, carefully crafted with the help of Pantone---a name most graphic artists should be familiar with---creating a relaxing and ambient atmosphere that played like a smooth combination of The Weather Channel and Pure Moods.
Obviously a second compilation of clouds would be overkill, so DVD production company Atmos has offered fans something different this time around. It's certainly not a 180-degree turn in subject matter, but the way it's been presented is slightly more focused on all counts. Pairing a trio of graphic artists with a trio of musicians, By Design is slightly more of a "music video" style production in this sense. The music speaks for itself, but the visuals are the real selling point in most cases, often employing organic or more natural compositions that blend and swirl, creating a hypnotic atmosphere in the same ballpark as Skies. It's a simple concept that works just as well, though there aren't as many customized possibilities this time around. The following three segments have been included for your viewing enjoyment:
Art Barcodes (24 minutes, pictured above) is a creation of Dutch graphic artist Irma Bloom with accompanying music by composer Michael Nyman. In short, this interesting project is based squarely in the world of art history, as roughly 80 separate "moving color panels" have been directly influenced by paintings and designs ranging from 1503 to the present. As the piece progresses, the color panels also feature corresponding vertical captions that list the name of the artist and work that influenced each one, though these small captions can easily be turned off. Also available is a handy option to play "Art Barcodes" in the chronological sequence of the original art by year. Overall, this horizontally challenged piece is an eye-catching way to start the show. Rating: 4 ouf of 5.
Food Coloring (6 minutes, pictured above and at top) is quite a bit shorter in length, though the layered visuals are perhaps the most interesting overall. Created by John Maeda of the MIT Media Lab, "Food Coloring" also features music by acclaimed composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto. The title was apparently derived from a series of color palettes based on food the artist found in his refrigerator one day---so we're lucky Sakamoto's not a bachelor, or we'd have a lot more ugly browns and greens to look at. Organic, highly stylized and smartly edited, "Food Coloring" just might be the strongest of the bunch…and trust me, that's saying something. Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Colour Wheel (35 minutes total, pictured above) is divided into two separate sections, with each half being the visual creation of British graphic designer Peter Saville. It's easily the most simple of the three pieces---as evidenced by the screen capture, obviously---since both sections favor flat color transitions instead of detailed patterns or textures like the other two. The second half of the show is particularly mind-bending, as it features a very gradual transition (17 minutes long!) from blue to red. The music is a particular standout this time around, with two different incarnations of New Order's "Elegia" pulling double duty in the audio department (the original album version, as well as the "Terranova" remix). Both complement the visuals well, yet it's this section that begs for any customized soundtrack the viewer can dream up. Rating: 3.75 out of 5 (average score).
There's not a bad one in the bunch, but one point must be made clear for those new to the series: despite their visual and audio strengths and unique approach, this is a compilation for a very specific audience. Don't come looking for crashing, loud music and mind-blowing effects in the vein of the latest big-budget blockbuster. If you're not a fan of more abstract, atmospheric artwork, either volume in the Colorcalm series is bound to disappoint. If you're like me and love all of the above, though, By Design---as well as Skies, for that matter---will be a dependable disc that you'll pop in whenever you need a bit of rest and relaxation. It's one DVD you'll want to fall asleep watching.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Colorcalm By Design is a DVD that aims to stimulate the senses, so it's a good thing that it delivers in the visual department. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great, free of dirt and bursting with color. Image contrast is excellent and there also aren't any glaring compression issues or other digital problems to speak of. Although there's a bit of grain present in certain areas, this looks to be intentional and doesn't distract from the viewing experience at all.
Likewise, the audio treatment is excellent. Presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround, the ambience could have been a touch stronger but still gets the job done nicely. As there was no true dialogue present, the music tracks come through clean and clear while really providing a convincing atmosphere.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
With unique packaging and menus, By Design stands out in more ways than one. The stark menus (seen above) are simply designed and easy to use, featuring smooth animation and subtle audio. Each of these design and music combinations has been given its own chapter, including the various options available for the first and last ones. The packaging was not on hand at the time of review, but looks to be in roughly the same vein as the previous installment (white digipak case).
There were no disc-only extras to speak of, though a handful of Playback Options earns this installment slightly more replay value than it would've had without them. In addition to the options already listed above, there's also a way to customize your own playlist or set everything to random. Also included in the packaging (though once again, not available at the time of review) is the previously mentioned Booklet, presumably filled with essays and artists' statements.
It's a smaller package than Skies, but at least Colorcalm By Design switches gears to offer fans of the series something a bit different. The combination of art and music really worked well from start to finish, though the overall "unique factor" of this release has faded slightly since the first installment (an unavoidable problem, but a slight problem nonetheless). Even so, here's hoping that Atmos continues the Colorcalm series: so far, each one has provided a unique visual alternative to the DVD norm…and that's what makes them worth hunting down. Highly Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: Atmos Colorcalm: Skies
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable desk jockey and art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA (how's that for diversity?). In his free time, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.