Have you caught up with this news then? Beck, prolific, interesting, innovative artist, who in recent years has been hiding out in a Producer-role (for Thurston Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stephen Malkmus) as well as recording his own cover versions of classic albums with his Record Club in and around his own releases (2006's The Information and 2008's Modern Guilt) has announced that his new "album", Beck Hansen's Song Reader, will not exist as recorded music. At least, not until you record it.
Yep, that's right - the future of the music industry is sheet music.
In a move that is either shrewd marketing via a clever viral plan or simply hipster-folly, Beck's Song Reader will feature the notated score, the written music, for 20 new songs. The purchaser (formerly "the listener") will then have to learn to read music, learn how to play an instrument and buddy up with some musicians to record their own versions of the songs.
It is entirely possible that there are Beck fans who can read and write music - and play music. So this might not sound like any sort of arduous task. It might, instantly, seem a labour of love, or a fun way to spend an afternoon (or weekend) at least. And it might encourage a few bedsit-hacks or wannabe party-guitarists to improve their skills.
(Just so long as it doesn't inspire too many ukulele versions, eh?)
Since the announcement of this audacious project, Beck has been praised and ridiculed (read the comments on any post that praises this idea as a form of genius). Not only that, there are already versions of Beck songs appearing on Soundcloud and YouTube - and "the album" is not available until December 7.
So, I'm curious to know what you think. Do you consider this to be brilliant and clever, innovative and a stroke of genius? Or mere folly? A prank? And can't it be both at any rate - a silly/clever prank that is innovative and cheekily sends up the rut that the recorded music industry is in?
I don't think that Beck's Song Reader points to a new (old, extremely old) way of conveying music that will become any sort of norm (again). But I do think it caters, brilliantly, to whatever remains of Beck's core audience.
Beck Hansen could release an acoustic folk album tomorrow and I'd buy it. I'd want to check it out. He could announce a DJ-project, a makeover where he is now a dance-music producer. And I'd be on board - at least in a have-to-check-it-out kinda way. It might not stick, but I'd want to hear it. He could go hip-hop or proto-punk, he could re-record Mellow Gold, all new versions of the old songs or dig into the archives once more for even more outtakes to accompany One Foot in the Grave and I would be on board. At least in the initial listening stages.
But that doesn't mean that I'm waiting, with bated breath, to hit the ivories, a dog-eared copy of Song Reader just below the bust of Beethoven.
That said, I do applaud the move.
Just as I liked the idea of Beck's Record Club.
I haven't been fully on board with everything he's done as an artist (or producer) but I like that he keeps moving, keeps interested and tries his best to stay interesting.
There are lots of reasons that Song Reader could flop; it is something of a punt. But why not try something new - in the scheme of things Beck is, essentially, a one-hit wonder, and has done his best to manage his career away from having another "hit". He's made music for both himself and his audience, but he's never tried to be all things to all people. I don't believe he's sold out in any way artistically. And by virtue of the fact that this is a luxury-fringe item (the clue is in the fact that it's being released by McSweeney's), it is almost as though it's a subversive poke at style-over-content. You can't actually level that charge because you get to decide the style. He's just (and only) supplying you with the content.
And it's opt-in, like anything. You get to choose to opt-out. There will not be door-knockers bringing this sheet-music to your house, tempting you. You have to make the choice that this is of interest.
It could make future Beck gigs very interesting. You're already going along with an idea (or several) of how the songs sound - and then you, finally, hear his version.
In many ways, by playing with a very old-school idea and updating it, Beck has created a hope for a longer life with his new album. It lives on in the good and bad versions that you and I may attempt. It plays to the culture of YouTube cover versions and send-ups immediately. It issues a challenge to them, for them. And makes the music infinitely collectible.
But then the proof is in the pudding. I know that Beck's clever - but it's been a while since I've really felt that he is genuinely talented. And there are only a small handful of examples, so far, that he has any (real, lasting) worth as a songwriter. So the material needs to be good before it can be transcendent.
What do you think? Is this just a silly gimmick - or a clever comment on where music is at and/or needs to be? (Where It's At pun not intended - but check out that killer live clip I just linked to at any rate).
So will you be signing on for Song Reader? (You can pre-order from McSweeney's already - for $50 you can get a special-edition copy of the song-charts signed by Beck.) Will you be interested to hear some of the versions of the songs online? Or will you wait for Beck's own recorded versions? Or will you play/record your own?
Or does this idea all seem too silly to you?
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