It’s most likely that as a pop music fan you won’t be able to read music notation. Don’t feel any shame though, because most pop musicians can’t either – unless they harbour any secret creative desire to compose a top ten string symphony. So why has the perennially awkward chart-botherer Beck (Hansen) chosen to release his latest album in only sheet music form?
Yes, that’s right, you will only be able to assess or enjoy ‘Song Reader’ if you and a load of instrument wielding mates can actually play it. Beck hasn’t said he’ll ever record or perform the songs and no CD or iTunes-friendly MP3’s will see the light of day.
Some commentators, including BBC Radio 4, have concluded that Beck is trying to bring people together. The theory being multiple people are required to play each required part of the music, while most modern albums tend to be enjoyed in solitude. Apple’s iPod has in some ways encouraged the notion of an introverted approach to soundtracking our lives, so it could be a reaction to that. His official Song Reader website certainly reinforces this notion, culminating in a unique social hub for third-party interpretations of the album songs.
However what he’s likely lashing out at most is the ease of modern music consumption. We can obtain and enjoy virtually any song we want instantly these days, to the point where it becomes readily disposable. The value is lost and although we end up with a much bigger library of content, it means less to us overall.
A great BBC Four documentary ‘The Joy of the Single’ recently underlined this phenomenon by describing how in the 1950’s and 60’s fledgling pop fans would fetishise vinyl 7″ singles. They would scrimp and save pocket money or that first job’s meagre wage just to get hold of the latest pop ditty released that week. Once purchased it was the only thing they could listen to for a while so it was cherished and obsessed over. Things are different now of course, largely for the better, but it provides a nice lesson in appreciation that applies here.
Another point worth making is the denigration of the pop musician or pop star. TV shows like the X Factor have realised we all want to be one and encouraged everyone that they can. However this has also demystified the industry, cheapening the art and craft of pop music. Contrary to Simon Cowell, NOT everyone can or should be a pop star and thank Christ for it. By releasing a pop music album entirely in sheet music form, Beck is re-emphasising this idea of craft. He’s a vastly talented artist who has achieved success on his own terms, someone who doubtlessly feels contempt towards the contemporary pop scene. Trouble is, such an intelligent marketing stunt is futile if the output is ignored.
Seeing as its likely none of us will get to enjoy this latest work from source, has he merely made his music more disposable to the masses than ever before?