A new Michigan-made children's book and album released last week presses the boundary between art, literature and music.
The book, called "The Listeners/These Train Tracks," was written, illustrated, carved and printed in the woods of the Jordan River Valley over a period of almost three years.
Creator and East Jordan native, Micah Middaugh, worked on the wood cut designs at Cavern Lantern Wonder Welding between tours with his band, Breathe Owl Breathe.
"With snow everywhere, I just burrowed into my upstairs studio carving out wood cuts, with wood chips all around me," said Middaugh, noting the lengthy process of creating the book at the cabin built by his grandparents was cathartic and enjoyable.
Every cover, page, sleeve and block of the book was made in Michigan. The block is the woodblock used to impress the ink onto the pages to create the illustrations.
Middaugh said it took longer to use everything Michigan-made, but he had fun with it.
"It was like a scavenger hunt finding everything," he said.
Dedicated "to friends, wherever they happen," the book has two stories. It is canvas-covered and reads from outside covers inward, ending at the center.
In the middle, slipped between a hand-cranked copper block printed sleeve, are two new Breathe Owl Breathe songs pressed on 7-inch vinyl.
"We really wanted each song to be its own experience," said Middaugh. "The overall goal was to create something that looked timeless, felt satisfying to the touch and appealed to any and all ages."
The book encompasses two stories told on the pages and in the songs.
"The Listeners" is about a mole and ostrich that bond because of their flaws, which make them complementary to one another. They become friends and start a band. The story is printed with black and mustardy yellow ink and climaxes with the line, "We are not perfect and we are not normal, we are ... exceptional!"
"These Train Tracks" is a bedtime story which takes the reader on a journey across train tracks, under a quilt made by Grandma and through the night sky.
Middaugh said he came up with the story, a while ago while mowing the lawn. He had finished one row and started on the next. The pattern reminded him of train tracks.
"So, that's how that began," explained Middaugh.
"The Listeners" started as a song. The band had been playing around with new instruments, creating different textures and ideas in their music and the song sprung from that experimentation.
Breathe Owl Breathe is composed of Middaugh, Trevor Hobbs, and Andrea Moreno-Beals. Middaugh met Colombian-born, classically-trained cellist, Moreno-Beals in 2004 and they began creating music together immediately.
The duo later joined with multi-instrumental percussionist Hobbs and formed the now internationally recognized band.
The trio's most recent full-length album, "Magic Central," was featured on NPR. Earlier this year, Breathe Owl Breathe toured Europe playing shows in France, Spain and Ireland.
Last weekend, they wrapped up the year and a tour of their home state with a show at North Woods Yoga Studio in Petoskey.
Middaugh described the concert as "a voyage on the hardwood floor, with big windows overlooking the bay." This was their third year playing the venue, which Middaugh said he looks forward to every year.
They didn't use a set list, employing improvisation instead.
"The songs can be molded differently day to day depending on the space and people," said the musician. "It keeps things interesting."
The concert was preceded by an art show featuring work from their new record label, Rad, under which "The Listeners/These Train Tracks" was released.
Together, Breathe Owl Breathe and musician Kyle Field, who performs under the name Little Wings, have started the art label. They have a website where customers can purchase the art and, like in Petoskey last week, will sometimes have art shows running concurrently with their concerts.
The art encompasses many things. There are woodblock prints, watercolor paintings, hand-painted skateboards, embroidery, vinyl records, cassette tape releases, books and handmade sleds.
This isn't Middaugh's first foray into visual art. He majored in it at Grand Valley State University and, after taking time off to join a competitive snowshoeing team with his brothers, loaded up on printmaking classes.
He remembered those long hours spent in the studio, "everyone working on their own pieces, but together in the same room."
Right now, the band is beginning to think about their next full-length album, which should be released by fall 2012.
"It will be completely different," said Middaugh. They're gathering songs over the winter and once the snow melts, they'll begin recording.
"The Listeners/These Train Tracks" is $28.50 and available on the band's website, www.breatheowlbreathe.com or at www.whatisrad.com.
Those involved in the making of "The Listeners/These Train Tracks:"
Layout by Patrick Lelli at Miscellany, Grand Rapids
-- Inner sleeve printed with Chad Pastotnik, Deep Woods Press, Bellaire
-- Inner sleeve assembled by Diecutting Services Inc., Dexter
-- Cover and pages printed at Thompson-Shore Inc., Dexter
-- Outer band printed at Allegra Print & Imaging, Saline
-- Songs engineered by Jim Roll at Backseat Studios, Ann Arbor