Interview: Adele Nozedar, Author
Adele Nozedar is an English author who began her professional career in the music industry: first as a performer, then as co-founder of indie label Rhythm King Records, and eventually an A&R Director and General Manager of Arista/BMG Records. Since then, she has used the medium of print to explore her eclectic interests in art, symbolism, myth, religion, photography, wildlife, and music.
In 2010, the UK division of Harper-Collins published her book “The Illustrated Signs and Symbols Sourcebook: An A to Z Compendium of over 1000 Designs”. This colorful, expansive tome explores an extraordinary breadth of topics, as dictated by Ms. Nozedar’s voracious curiosity and meticulous thirst for detail. One can learn of the literary, historical, and religious meanings associated with a myriad symbols, shapes, colors, minerals, animals, numbers, and cipher texts. It is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the arts.
Ms. Nozedar spoke with me in late February of 2013 about her career, her interest in symbology, and how being deaf until the age of seven has shaped her entire view of the world.
I was hoping that you could tell me a little about your career in the music industry. What were some of your personal highlights at Rhythm Kings and later Arista/BMG Records? Did you find that your experiences influenced any of your later work as an author?
It was accidental. I was in a band which ground to a halt after my drummer got deported back to Australia after he was discovered hiding in the back of the van during a routine customs search after a tour of Ireland. Me and two friends happened to go to a club in London a short while later- a real ‘toegazing’ series of bands which at the time we found tedious as heck.
However, there was some incredibly exciting new music coming out of the USA – it was the beginning of the dance music era. So we decided to see if we could release some of our favourites in the UK. Daniel Miller of Mute Records gave us office space and we had a hit with an import within the first few months of operating. We then went on to produce our own records.
What led to your study and exploration of symbology? Are there any concepts or ideas that are of specific interest to you? Your “Signs and Symbols Sourcebook” seems pretty comprehensive across all topics.
I’m interested in the origins of sounds, language and thought; no mistake that the Bible says ‘in the beginning was the word’. If you give something a name, you have an implied mastery over it. Knowing a name is power. I was deaf until my ears were fixed when I was seven, which might have given rise to a life-long fascination with trying to work out a world without sounds or words.
I’d imagine that becoming aware of an entirely new sense is something that can’t really be understood unless you have experienced it. Do you still remember the moment when you first became capable of hearing?
Although I can guess that there must have been sounds before it. In the hospital, from the hospital to home, etc, my Dad got hold of a kitten to welcome me home. I remember very distinctly its mewling as a totally miraculous thing. I can hear it now actually. I guess it was the combo of kitten plus small child having a far greater impact than anything else!
Speaking in broad strokes, have you found any overarching symbols that you find have a similar meaning across cultures? Are there universal markers, old or new, that transcend boundaries? (e.g. The Red Cross, perhaps)
The Red Cross is a good example of a constructed symbol that sweeps across linguistic boundaries. Most people recognize it and it must be a comforting sign in a war zone. Speaking of war, the white flag is pretty universal, too, although its message of truce is not always respected.
Some had gestures and symbols we might not know the precise meaning of, but their shape and attitude are generally pretty straightforward, with no need for words. The exclamation mark…a hand facing you, palm up – ‘no’, ‘keep away’…there are lots and lots. With (my) book, I really wanted to show people that, beyond the trappings of religion/faith/whatever you care to call it, we are all the same. The symbolism of animals and birds, too, tends to be shared and it’s easy to see why.
On the other side of the coin, what are some symbols or motifs that surprise you in how wildly different their meanings can be? The contrast of the Swastika in World War 2 Europe and in Hinduism springs to mind. Or, how the color white can represent purity in the west and death in the east.
Again, you’ve pulled out the perfect example for modern times. The swastika is likely to be a sun symbol, ancient as the hills, possibly derived from the process of basket weaving. It was not the symbol that was evil during the Nazi reign, but what was pasted over it. Black cats are lucky in the UK but in the USA they’re the opposite. we think that vultures are scary harbingers of death but in ancient Egypt they were revered, not only as a Goddess, Nekhbet, but as the favoured bird of the Pharoah. The snake too, in Christian imagery, is a symbol of evil. Yet, in Hinduism it is seen as the symbol of healing and transcendence.
Modern, industrial nations now face the problem of disposing hazardous waste that could remain dangerous to life for thousands of years. One conundrum the designers face is how to construct universal symbols that would warn people away even from these containment areas after our civilization and language have passed on. Any suggestions? Are there certain images that are hardwired for us to interpret as threatening? Future generations may depend on your answer!
Heck, that’s some responsibility you’ve laid on me! red as a colour of danger is prehistoric. Add a diagonal black cross and a palm-up hand and we’ll probably be safe, but the random factor is human curiosity…wouldn’t you want to open up the box somehow?
What are you working on now? Anything that you’d care to mention?
Yes….but first. a quick advertisement from our sponsors. My 11th book just came out. ‘The Encyclopedia of Native Americans’ is exactly that. it’s out via Harper Element, who also publish Symbols. I am also pretty hot on plant identification and I wrote a book called The Hedgerow Handbook, very big in Britain but definitely a brit-centric book. Writing this book – which looks at the edibility and medicinal uses of wild herbs – not only inspired the Natives book but the book I am working on right this minute, which is about sweets and candies. Many of them started as medicines; add sugar and the emphasis changes. these little chunks of deliciousness also have strange and eccentric stories to tell.
I would LOVE to do a volume 2 of Symbols. I have enough material. Watch this space…..
Adele Nozedar can be followed on Twitter: @hedgerowguru.