Design: Onion Design Associates
Project Type: Produced, Commercial Work
Client: Muddy Basin Ramblers
Packaging Content: Music CD
“Hold That Tiger” is the third full-length album by the jug band the Muddy Basin Ramblers, a group of US/UK expats living in Taipei, Taiwan. The album has 22 tracks of mostly original music with styles that range from swing jazz, blues and ragtime to Taiwanese traditional temple parade music, Nakashi (known in Japan as Enka), Irish folk and even Taiwanese hip hop. The song lyrics cover an eclectic mix of topics and themes, including the phenomenon of folk religion and cults, the Asian immigrant diaspora, the Beat Generation, sci-fi/UFO kitch from the 1950s, and the history of jazz music.
To convey the experimental nature of the music and its subject matter, which plays with the East/West cultural divide, we decided to create a visual style that combines Taiwan’s religious folk culture and Taoist mysticism with a touch of 50’s retro-futurism from the West.
The title “Hold that Tiger” comes from a lyric in “Tiger Rag”, a jazz standard dating back to 1917, which is the first song on this album. We borrowed from traditional Chinese folk art, invoking an iconic image of the Taoist figure Zhang Daoling, aka “Chinese Celestial Master Zhang Tianshi” (張天師神符), who is often portrayed with a tiger. The image is sourced from a Taoist paper talisman (“Fu”/符). The Fu talisman is traditionally kept to ward off evil or unwanted spirits and ghosts. In keeping with one theme on the album — the mixing of traditional and modern elements — we “retro-fitted” Master Zhang with a space helmet, 3D glasses and a jug (often used as a homemade “tuba” by jug bands).
The lyrics and liner notes are printed in both English and Chinese, with the latter accompanied by symbols representing Taoist magical spells, which were originally found on Fu talismans. These symbols were sourced from esoteric texts akin to a Chinese “grimoire,” which date back thousands of years. The grid layout for the lyrics was inspired by the standard chart form used in Purple Star Astrology (Zi Wei Dou Shu / 紫微斗數), a common form of Chinese fortune-telling with Taoist roots that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (during the years 618-907).
The CD is wrapped in a sheet of yellow paper that takes on the appearance of a Taoist Fu talisman. The printed calligraphy may look like abstracted Chinese glyphs, but is actually comprised of Roman letters, with the band’s name written on the right (The Muddy Basin Ramblers) and the title of the CD on the left (Hold That Tiger). This reconstruction technique is borrowed from artist Xu Bing’s “square word calligraphy,” in which he devised a system for writing English in a form that resembled Chinese characters. When folded using a origami hexagon folding technique, the CD sleeve emulates the appearance of a traditional Taiwanese amulet.
The design derived from a Chinese zodiac wheel (denoting 12 palaces) in a fortune-telling chart, originating from Yilan, Taiwan.