|rethinking Albums: a short article
|album - ae.lbum, n. [Latin - album: a blank tablet]:
a blank book in which to store autographs, verse, drawings,
photos, stamps etc.
a collection of music recordings presented as a single item.
When sound recording began, the cylinder, then the gramophone
record, offered a single recorded piece. As the record
predominated and developed, its double-sidedness was eventually
used to present two pieces. For longer material the 78rpm
disc was collected and presented as several discs housed
in a book-like container - the first appearance of the
The 45rpm disc further established the idea of the 2 'A'
and a 'B' sides and the 33rpm long player provided the
opportunity to assemble more tracks, or tracks of longer
duration, than before.
At first, the '33' was presented just as a 'long player'
- a collection of disparate material by the same artist.
However, the identity of the 33 as an 'album' was established
by two phenomena:
1./ the evolution of the record sleeve into an artistic
form and 2./ the use of the 33 to present unified material
(e.g. 'Kind of Blue'; 'Sgt Pepper' etc.) especially the
'concept album' (e.g. 'Dark Side of the Moon').
Thus, from being a means to an end, 'the album' developed
into a much-loved cultural unit, comparable to 'the book'
or 'the film'.
The early 80’s heralded the birth of the compact disc
or CD which rapidly took over from the gramophone record as
the main medium for recorded music distribution. The advantages
the CD brought - scratch-free music, greater resilience, smaller
storage size etc. were grudgingly thought, by many, to outweigh
the more vulnerable qualities of the record.
Some people, however, continue to miss the materiality of
the record (its size and texture) and similarly the presence
of the record cover (CD covers are just not as substantial).
At the present time we appear to be in a transition stage
between the CD and other, even less tangible, digital forms.
Many people now choose to download tracks from the internet
to a mobile or an mp3 player housing
an entire record collection in a single, small box.
This new method challenges the idea of the album and returns
us to single recorded pieces which we choose to assemble ourselves.
This allows for novel listening situations and the opportunity
to create new musical forms - forms that have a dynamic relationship
between the content of the music and its representation.
We are now in a position where we can reinvent 'the album' while
retaining some of its positive qualities. Motile are
particularly interested in considering how the form of material can
be used to contribute to the content and experience of music.
Here are some current thoughts:
The album as a physical form
Could the objects that contain musical information such as CDs
reflect musical content? Also, by extending the idea of 'the cover'
as a separate entity, perhaps storage media could be partnered
with specially fashioned objects (e.g. you could buy both a
collection of sound files and an accompanying physical item
designed by an artist.
The album as a discrete collection of pieces
As it is now possible to buy musical tracks singly, perhaps some
artists will find other ways to group musical material together
- e.g. recommend that a suite of tracks is downloaded.
Another possibility is to think of albums as having semi-permeable
membranes, so that the release of a new album might influence or
commingle with a previous release (this could be achieved digitally
e.g. via apps).
|You can buy Motile albums as downloads or as CDs by
Post (UK only - £9.99)
© Chameleon Lectra 2021