By Jim McCarthy Aug 15, 2012 0 comments

Beck is a Crazy Genius

As a further demonstration of the ascendance of live entertainment, Beck’s next “album” will be made available only in sheet music form.

This is an incredibly cool idea.  Here’s what his website says about it:

“In the wake of Modern Guilt and The Information, Beck’s latest album comes in an almost-forgotten form—twenty songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music, never before released or recorded. Complete with full-color, heyday-of-home-play-inspired art for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case (and, when necessary, ukelele notation), Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012—an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that’s as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together. The songs here are as unfailingly exciting as you’d expect from their author, but if you want to hear “Do We? We Do,” or “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” bringing them to life depends on you.”

In other words, if you want to hear these songs, you’re going to have to play them yourself or go where someone else is.  Now, of course, what’s bound to happen is that there will be dozens or hundreds of versions of these songs also recorded for Youtube, but the biggest thing of all about this is that eventually, Beck will play these songs live, probably incorporating some of the best flourishes and interpretations done by musically-inclined fans.

I’m not saying, by the way, that this will represent any kind of trend.  It’s just too much to ask for most people to take an arrangement of a song they don’t know and put it to music.

But what it does do is put the emphasis on the performance itself rather than that one moment, preserved forever electronically, when the music was recorded and put on an mp3, CD or whatever.  The song is, fundamentally, an idea expressed in sheet music and then interpreted and experienced over and over again, and what Beck may be saying is that it’s all those different uniquely occurring expressions that make it special.  Or maybe he’s just trying to be weird and different.

When he does tour for this music, I’d like to go on record now as saying tickets will sell fast and at high prices.

This is something that only live entertainment can do, whether that’s Beck onstage at the Hollywood Bowl or you on piano and your mom on ukelele in the den.

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