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meaning across disciplines

How can Led Zeppelin songs be translated into Astronomy themed visuals?

Alexandre Navarro Caldeira
London Metropolitan University September 2012

what is this project?
An attempt to represent 5 different Led Zeppelin songs using imagery drawn from astronomy through a creative process that involves:

A way to achieve original results and inspire interest in the audience on scholar themes.

Meaning Formation
Interpretation of the feelings that the songs evoke on an audience
This project aims to explore the process of meaning construction through visual analogies between songs and astronomy themes, stressing the subjective quality of interpretation. Metaphors are the most used language figure in persuasive communication, due to the agility to transport meaning that they possibilitate. When one subject is represented via a theme that is fully understood by the target audience, cognition is simplified and the message is transmitted with ease. But what if the audience is not familiar with a specific theme? Is it possible to create interest in a subject -or even a discipline - by using it as the source of material to represent a better understood discipline?

Creative Process
The project also tries to set a creative process that takes in consideration primary research data filtered under established rules in order to provide a narrowed down frame of technical, compositional and stylistical choices for the designer to draw upon during the graphic design process. By having a subjective source of meaning (songs) quantified in a questionnaire with both open and closed questions, the nature of subjectiveness is stressed and a search for patterns among different interpretations is carried in order to capture a distilled essence of this meaning. On the other hand, having a scholar subject as provider for illustrations pushes the designer’s ability to connect extremely diverse themes under a same meaning, thus providing a better awareness of ways to improve the creative process outcome. This process can be applied to more commercial objectives, as the beauty in it is the risk of taking a longer path to reach a deeper spot in the audience consciousness. It also is a way of achieving new results through conversations between disciplines that would unlikely meet in a regular brainstorm. It would be nice to see communication that, instead of just sending a message, starts sending a message and teaching something interesting at the same time, communication that enriches the audience culture or increases its acceptance towards subjects that are seen as boring or difficult but hold many interesting, enlightening topics.

Interpretation of the songs meanings


Poster Interpretation

Association of the feelings with graphic language (look-and-feel)

Association of the meaning with Astronomy themes (message)

By representing music - a subject that is both interpreted and felt - with astronomy themed visuals, the boundaries between message and language are mixed in an attempt to create a thirst for knowledge in the audience. Choosing not to leave the message explicit, the designer invites the reader to generate his own idea of the message, in order to set a ground for the concept absorption. Later in this project book the concepts are explained and you, the reader, are invited to compare your interpretation with the one intended originally..


what will feed the process?
Perception of the song:
A set of rating questions on the questionnaire will feed a dimensional graphic regarding the following characteristics

what will be generated?
Result in Look and Feel:
The characteristics will become rules to be followed on the visual confection of the poster













Interpretation of the song:
The interpretation will part from the designer and the audience.

Astronomy Themes:
The information gathered on the interpretation will feed the theme choice

Lyrics interpretation via contextual research and literature review of Astronomy theory books.

Answering open questions that will provide keywords

Meaning mapping between keywords found with Astronomy themes studied

Choice of the imagery based on meaning synthesized

Design of the graphic product based on look and feel acquired and theme chosen


Led Zeppelin Spiral Galaxy
Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy Physical Graffiti

the 5 chosen planets
Communication Breakdown
Led Zeppelin System

Led Zeppelin III

Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
Led Zeppelin III System

In Through the Out Door Led Zeppelin II


Led Zeppelin IV

No Quarter
3 4

The Ocean
Houses of the Holy System


The Led Zeppelin galaxy (band) is a member of the Classic Rock supercluster (genre) of the early Modern Music Multiverse (scenario). Its 9 official planetary systems (albums) contain 81 planets (songs), some of them so different from the ones known by the time of their discovery that they were considered new models of planet formation (musical composition). The 5 planets visited by this project belong to the systems highlighted on the map, which are: Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin III, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.

Trampled Under Foot
Physical Graffiti System

the final posters
1 2 3 4 5

1 communication breakdown
Led Zeppelin (1969), track 7
Hey, girl, stop what you’re doin’! Hey, girl, you’ll drive me to ruin. I don’t know what it is that I like about you, but I like it a lot. Won’t let me hold you, Let me feel your lovin’ charms. Communication Breakdown, It’s always the same, I’m having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane! Hey, girl, I got something I think you ought to know. Hey, babe, I wanna tell you that I love you so. I wanna hold you in my arms, yeah! I’m never gonna let you go,’Cause I like your charms. Communication Breakdown, It’s always the same, I’m having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane Communication Breakdown, It’s always the same, I’m having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!

solar storms
and earth’s magnetosphere

astronomy theme:

Song perception (as reported on questionnaires):

It is common knowledge that the Earth (together with 7 other planets - since Pluto’s demotion to Dwarf Planet) orbits the Sun, right? Well, technically, Earth - as any other planet in the Solar System - is ON the Sun, such as everything you see around you is on Earth. The Sun’s atmosphere - the Heliospehere - extends to millions of miles further than Pluto (the Dwarf Planet), and it has even its own wind. Solar wind is basically a stream of charged particles ejected from the Sun. It is mostly electrons and protons and the stream varies in temperature and speed over time. Regularly it is possible to notice stronger streams of solar wind caused by Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), giant explosions that launch a massive amount of energy and particles throughout the solar system. This stream is extremelly harmful to every form of life on Earth, but we can thank our planet’s natural magnetic field for being protected from these daily blasts. This space protected from the majority of the impacts is called Magnetosphere. It has an elongated shape that faces away from the Sun, just like a comet tail (which exists exactly because of the solar wind). Sometimes stronger solar storms manage to pierce a bit into Earth’s atmosphere,

causing geomagnetic storms that might affect our communication devices, and even, according to some - yet unconfirmed studies, human behaviour, affecting changes of humour. The most noticeable effect of solar wind though is a beautiful light show that happen close to our magnetic poles: the auroras. Auroras are caused by the collision of particles that manage to get through the magnetic barrier with particles that occur naturally in our atmosphere. Every day the Sun bombards our planet with its protons and electrons (let’s not be ungrateful and remember that it also gives us light and warmth, right?), like someone trying to discuss a relationship might throw ideas and feelings towards their partner. Apart from rare ocasions then, Sun’s attempt to discuss with us are frustrated by our invisible barriers. Through these connections one can infer that, under the right lenses, Earth’s magnetic relationship with the Solar wind, and therefore the poster made on this theme, are connected in meaning with Communication Breakdown.

Keywords from questionnaires:
speed, fight, frustration.

Interpretation of the Data acquired:
Communication Breakdown is Led Zeppelin’s first great hit. With a raw, sharp distorted riff, the main feeling transmitted by the song is that of a pure, instinctive, gutsy drive similar to that of a fight for survival, a need for quick action. This is strenghtened by the fast tempo and Robert Plant’s visceral, high pitch vocals. The lyrics point to a conversational barrier, a lack of courage or an excessive anxiety that holds the character back from achieving his romantic goal. On the questionnaires many answers mentioned discussions and break ups, a manifestation of this angry, battle-ish feeling on a romantic relationship thematic. On the rating questions,the results pointed that the track feels personal and realistic, dragging the listener in an expected progression towards a slightly dark, closed environment. This feeds the look and feel of the poster, implying the use of a smooth texture, photographies and 3d renders, in a contrasted, balanced vibrant layout. By applying the criteria explained earlier in this paper to define the theme that will illustrate the poster, the natural focus was to look for a specific interaction between celestial bodies that involved a highly energetic stress and, if possible, the figure of a barrier, some dissipation - frustration.

2 bron-yr-aur stomp
Led Zeppelin III (1970), track 9
Ah caught you smiling at me, That’s the way it should be, Like a leaf is to a tree, so fine. Ah all the good times we had, I sang love songs so glad Always smiling, never sad, so fine. As we walk down the country lanes, I’ll be singing a song, Hear me calling your name. Hear the wind within the trees, Telling Mother Nature ‘bout you and me. Well if the sun shines so bright, Or on our way it’s darkest night The road we choose is always right, so fine. Ah can your love be so strong When so many loves go wrong Will our love go on and on... As we walk down the country lanes, I’ll be singing a song, Hear me calling your name. Hear the wind within the trees, Telling Mother Nature ‘bout you and me. My, my la de la come on now it ain’t too far, Tell your friends all around the world, Ain’t no companion like a blue eyed merle. Come on now well let me tell you, What you’re missing, missing, ‘round them brick walls. So of one thing I am sure, It’s a friendship so pure, Angels singing all around my door, so fine. Yeah, ain’t but one thing to do Spend my natural life with you, You’re the finest dog I knew, so fine. When you’re old and your eyes are dim, There ain’t no old Shep gonna happen again, We’ll still go walking down country lanes, I’ll sing the same old songs, Hear me call your name.

gravity, attraction and rings

astronomy theme:

Song perception (as reported on questionnaires):

What happens when you have a really massive body close to considerably less massive ones? If the distance is close enough, attraction. Yes, that’s gravity, probably the simplest force in the universe (well, let’s not get into relativity, at least not now). Gravity is responsible for you not to be floating on space (actually you are on a really big rocky ship that IS floating on space, turning around a big fiery ball because of gravity also, and this fiery ball is turning around a supermassive black hole because of gravity, and so it goes), it is responsible for planets being held together, for stars burning and dying, among many other astonishing facts. Another thing for what gravity is responsible is something called Accretion. Accretion is the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter (a development of what was said on the first paragraph) tipically into an Accretion Disc. Protoplanetary discs, the first sketches of a planetary system, are a huge amount of dust and particles gathered around the system’s star, that formed first from a gas cloud. This massive body then attracts all the remaining mass in a disc shape around itself. Naturally, over time, matter starts to get atracted together and new planets start to emerge from this disc.

In a smaller (not so smaller) scale, planetary rings are in a way accreted also. Saturn’s rings, for example, are composed of ice and dust particles that gathered around the planet (some believe that they are remnants of a moon that was destroyed) and are shaped by “shepherd” moons, satelites which orbits delimitate the shape of the rings. In Saturn’s case there are actyally moons orbiting in between the rings, causing the gaps that give that striped appearance to the rings. On an accretion disc, all the dust and particles gather around a big, round bon fire, to sing some happy tunes, eat sausage, feel the heat, or just stay there, standing because it’s the natural thing to happen, like a dog following his master.

Keywords from questionnaires:
simplicity, happiness, roots, bon fire

Interpretation of the Data acquired:
Written after a relaxing time in a cottage deep inside Wales’ countryside called Bron-Yr-Aur, this songs lyrics are allegedly about Plant’s dog, Strider. With acoustic instruments, including a five string fretless bass played by John Paul Jones, this track feels like it’s being played on a farm, a tavern, or any other clichê image of a rustic place. The open answers received from the questionnaires mentioned freedom, simplicity, carelessness, sometimes warmth, roots, bon fires. Most of these words match this rustic feeling, a simple happiness, a natural connection. The ratings weren’t extreme on this track, with the exception of the ones related to the song’s ambience, which portrayed an open and bright environment, which according to the established criteria translates into a less striking use of colours and a subject disputing less space with other elements - the texture comes from the slightly external thematic feeling. Regarding the theme to be chosen to illustrate this song, according to the data acquired it should enclosure a natural, simple attraction (a form of happiness?), connected to ancient times.

3 no quarter
Houses of the Holy (1973), track 7
Close the door, put out the light. You know they won’t be home tonight. The snow falls hard and don’t you know? The winds of Thor are blowing cold. They’re wearing steel that’s bright and true They carry news that must get through. They choose the path where noone goes. They hold no quarter. Walking side by side with death, The devil mocks their every step The snow drives back the foot that’s slow, The dogs of doom are howling more They carry news that must get through, To build a dream for me and you They choose the path where no-one goes. They hold no quarter. They ask no quarter. The pain, the pain without quarter. They ask no quarter. The dogs of doom are howling more!

voyager 1
the brave trip of no return

astronomy theme:

Song perception (as reported on questionnaires):

Launched on the fifth of september of 1977 by NASA, the Voyager 1 is now (and probably will be for a long time) the farthest manmade object from Earth. Its instruments and cameras captured information from Jupiter and its moons and Saturn until 1980, when the primary mission was declared finished. From then on, the spacecraft has been wandering space in inertia and sending information back to Earth. On February 2012, the recorded distance of the spacecraft was of 120 Astronomic Units, that is 120 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Long past Pluto, on June 2012 it was announced to be very close to leave the Heliosphere (remember the Sun’s atmosphere mention on Communication Breakdown?), which means it will soon reach interstellar space, the most empty void between the influences of our Sun and another star. This secondary part of the mission was predicted, so the scientist team that assembled the spacecraft, led by the astronomy icon Carl Sagan, decided to prepare the spacecraft for the case of it being found by intelligent spacefaring beings (no matter how unlikely or many thousands of year away from now this might be to happen). They put in the spacecraft a golden

record (with even instrucions in binary code to get the thing playing) with sounds from Earth, like people speaking diverse languages, birds, whales, Mozart, Chuck Berry, wind and thunder (unfortunately no Led Zeppelin). Voyager 1 is bound for a really long trip of no return. It is unknown when it will collide with something, if it will, but really soon it will start to send signal from the most misterious parts of the universe, a “limbo” in between stars. It actually already sent information from the end of the Solar System that revolutionized some ideas about it. The Heliosheath, which is the outermost layer of the Heliosphere, according to an interpretation of the data received from its sensors, is full of magnetic bubbles that interfere with and provide resistance to the spacecraft. Those magnetic bubbles are the pomegranate seed like shapes that appear below the spaceship on the poster.

Keywords from questionnaires:
prison, pain, dream, wet

Interpretation of the Data acquired:
No quarter, a military expression that indicates no mercy - no quarter will be given for war prisoners -, is a heavy, atmospherical track. The dark, mysterious sound is there mainly because Jimmy Page slowed down the whole tape, which made the song distort to a lower pitch. In 1975 Dallas show, Plant states that this song is “about the journey, the whole thing as a journey, as you walk in, as you walk out, as you go to sleep, as you move on down the road”, which is quite clearly stating that the song is about the artist’s journey, the sacrifices that he has to make in order to realize his dream. The questionnaire showed a clear response to that regarding the open questions. Pain, prison, sacrifice, angst, and wet - which resembles a bit a “limbo” environment - popped as keywords. On the ratings, a strong fantasious theme was pointed out, which leads the technique to elaborate this poster towards a 2d illustration. The surprise in the song structure fed into an asymetric layout, with a more distinct focused point. As for the theme chosen, well, a space mission was inevitably the path to follow.

4 the ocean
Houses of the Holy (1973), track 8
“We’ve done four already but now we’re steady and then they went: One, two, three, four” Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain Got no time to pack my bags, my foots outside the door Got a date, I can’t be late, for the high hopes hailla ball. Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean’s roar Play for free, play for me and play a whole lot more, more! Singing about good things and the sun that lights the day I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost it’s way. Sitting round singing songs ‘til the night turns into day Used to sing on the mountains but the mountains washed away Now I’m singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart She is only three years old and it’s a real fine way to start.

black holes
endings, starts or both?

astronomy theme:

Song perception (as reported on questionnaires):

Here comes gravity again. When talking about accretion on Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp we saw that this most natural force of the universe is the responsible for more massive objects attracting less massive ones. Of course a car doesn’t attract you (well, at least not in the gravitational sense), gravity only starts to make sense on really big masses. Mass can get big, and bigger and bigger, in value and volume, until it starts to get bigger in value and smaller in volume, because there is so much matter attracting itself that it starts to collapse into an infinitely dense object. That’s a black hole, and now we have to go into general relativity. Gravity doesn’t only attract mass, apparently it also distorts space and time, like a billiard ball makes a bulge on an outstretched cloth. This is observable in a phenomenon called Gravitational Lensing, which happens when light from an object that is behind a really massive object is distorted like if there is a lens in between the light and the viewer. It is presumed that an infinite amount of mass distorts infinitely space and time, thus separating every particle from its neighbour and stopping time. That’s why black holes are black. Light can’t escape, because light speed isn’t infinite. Nothing can escape.

Black holes are thought to “swallow” every matter that comes into it’s way. Is it destroyed? Well, the greatest paradox of black holes is that the information about everything that goes inside it gets lost, which contraries a main observable principle of everything else in the universe . But nobody’s been inside a black hole to prove that. Do things simply vanish in there? There is a theory that black holes actually originate new universes, thus eliminating the “destruction” problem. What is widely believed though, is that there is a supermassive black hole in the core of possibly every galaxy in the universe, including ours, and these black holes are the responsible for the galaxy revolution, they basically give life to it. The end of everything, a bridge from one place to the other or maybe just the start of a new universe, it is impossible to be sure of what a black hole really is, but it is quite possible to think on what it means, and how our life itself is a cycle, like everything else in the universe. After all, the atoms that form us were forged inside a star once that had a beginning, and without its end there would be no you. Philosophic, huh?

Keywords from questionnaires:
responsibility, rhythm, cycle

Interpretation of the Data acquired:
Dedicated to the audience whenever it was played, The Ocean represents the band’s trajectory over the years. Right in the start, John Bonham says: “We’ve done four already, but now we’re steady”, referring to the four previous albums the band had already recorded. With a “Jam” feel, the song is groovy and rhythmic, like ocean waves, the ocean of people who crowded Led Zeppelin’s concerts. It’s evident in the last strophe the progression from beginning, middle and end: mountains (singing alone in the landscape) - washed by the ocean - “the girl who won my heart” (Plant’s daughter), and how it all turns into a start again (“a real fine way to start”). It’s all cyclic, and this was reflected also on the words acquired on the open part of the questionnaire. This song was rated as slightly realistic feeling, which made the choice of the technique a mix of photos and 3d. The more External perception brought the paper texture into the poster, which is distorted by the main theme, an enigmatic body that represents, among other things, a cycle.

5 trampled under foot
Physical Graffiti (1975), track 5
Greased and slicked down fine, groovy leather trim I like the way you hold the road, mama, it ain’t no sin Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] Trouble-free transmission, helps your oil’s flow Mama, let me pump your gas, mama, let me do it all Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] Dig that heavy metal underneath your hood Baby, I could work all night, believe I’ve got the perfect tools Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] A model built for comfort, really built with style Specialist tradition, mama, let me feast my eyes Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] Factory air-conditioned, heat begins to rise Guaranteed to run for hours, mama it’s a perfect size Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] Groovin’ on the freeway, gauge is on the red Gun down on my gasoline, I believe I’m gonna crack a head. Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] I can’t stop talkin’ about... Come to me for service every hundred miles Baby, let me check your points, fix your overdrive Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] Fully automatic, comes in any size Makes me wonder what I did, before we synchronized Talkin’ ‘bout love [X3] Feather-light suspension, Koni’s couldn’t hold I’m so glad I took a look inside your showroom doors Oh, I can’t stop talkin’ about love The words acquired from open questions pointed the interpretation of a love chase, a pursuit for the wanted one in a high speed lane. The groovy rhythm highlights an ongoing acceleration and deceleration of either a car chase or a sexual relation.

binary stars
a dancing couple

astronomy theme:

Song perception (as reported on questionnaires):

Stars seen by the naked eye always look like a single isolated point in the sky. Sometimes, though, a most detailed instrument might reveal systems of stars containing two or even more stars. When this system is composed by two stars, it is called a Binary Star System. Binary star systems are interesting because stars are really massive objects. It is known that the Moon orbits the Earth, which orbits the Sun. That’s because one is considerably more massive than the last one. On the Moon-Earth system the difference is not so big, and so we notice tides, but on the Earth-Sun system there is no way to account an interference of Earth’s gravitationall pull on the Sun’s behaviour. When we talk about two stars though, there is a mutual interference, even if one of them is more massive than the other, there is still a considerable pull from both bodies. This results in an orbit around the system’s center of gravity. Both stars are orbiting each other, effectively. These systems can be Visual - when the stars are far enough from each other to be visually distinguished -, Astrometric - when one of the stars is to faint to be seen and its existence is supposed by the orbital pattern of its pair -, Spectroscopic -when the system is identified by the change

on the color spectrum of the main star-, Eclipsing - when one star covers the line of sight of the other and the system is perceived by a rhythmic reduction of the light intensity-, or Contact - when there is an exchange of material between the stars in the system, one star vampirizes the other-. Binary stars eventually have their orbits spiralled, which results in either a merging or a supernova (a stellar explosion, which possibilitates the stars’ inner atoms to reach all over the universe - remember the “we are made of stardust” talk?). That’s why they are the perfect representation of a couple interactive relationship, one chasing the other mutually (unless your concept of couple is one person standing still and the other running around, then probably there are some bad news waiting for you).

Keywords from questionnaires:
chase, highway, dance

Interpretation of the Data acquired:
With a funky keyboard intro inspired by Stevie Wonder, this track can’t carry other meaning than sexual temptation, reiterated at the end of every strophe with “Talkin’ ‘bout love”. Trampled Under Foot uses car parts and mechanical characteristics as a metaphor for the tension between a man and the desired lady. The emotions evoked by the music are realistic, personal, the structure is attractive but predictable, and the ambience is closed and bright. Following the logic determined initially, the best way to make this poster would be associating it with a theme that involves a mutual relationship between celestial bodies.