Music Is A Package
In his review of the recent Rune Grammofon release, Money Will Ruin Everything, Dan Hill attempts to counter the idea that the days of consuming music as we do now - bound together with packaging, liner notes and the like - are numbered.
Denying the claims of the Forrester consultancy group that the CD is bound for obsolescence in the face of ubiquitous downloading, and Tony Wilson’s assertion that the iPod has invigorated the packaging of music, Dan says:
Poppycock. While the iPod itself may be kinda coquettish, the idea that digital downloads are the only way forward ignores the important work of several small labels who produce packaging which truly adds to the experience of listening to music; who realise that if you’re going to make something to accompany the music, you do it with the same care and loving attention to detail as the musicians themselves; labels that truly make a physical artifact worthwhile (and incidentally offer a way out for the music industry.)
At the moment, I’m working my way through Dust to Digital’s Goodbye, Babylon, a six CD compilation of religous music that comes in a cedarwood box packed with raw cotton, and an accompanying booklet full of essays, potted biographies and photographs of the collected artists. Taken together, the music, packaging and book offer an experience that goes far beyond listening - the thing even smells lovely - and this is why I happily spent ÃÂ£70 on it, waiting a month for it to arrive in the post, rather than downloading the lot on the day of release.
I do think, however, that this idea of music as an artform to be consumed with attendant artifacts is having a hard time crossing a generation gap.
Maybe Dan’s parenthetical aside is on the money, and packaging will return to the fore as a means of justifying the expense of buying music when it is so readily available free and gratis.
But I doubt it.
My generation’s understanding of music and the way it ought properly to be consumed is inextricably linked to growing up around our parents’ LPs. These were precious things, to be held gingerly by the edges on the way to the turntable, with lyrics on the inner sleeve to be learnt, and cover art to be gazed upon while listening. My introduction to the American civil rights movement came from the inner sleeve of Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July, I had an understanding of Pop Art from Blake’s cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band before I set eyes on a Warhol or Lichenstein, and so on.
I don’t know any teenagers to ask, but surely those raised on CDs - with their illegible liner notes and cramped 5” square covers, not to mention their supposed indestructability - cannot hold the package in such high regard. Those growing up today, who consume music in discrete chunks as MP3 files, tracks burned to generic CD-Rs and - God help us - ringtones, might well raise children of their own to whom the term album will be wholly meaningless.
Even folk my age have music collections that ossified with the advent of broadband. They now buy external hard drives, iPods and streaming MP3 jukeboxes, but fetishising these things is analagous to drooling over shelves, crates and boxes. It is not, as Tony Wilson would have us believe, akin to appreciating the mixed media art object that is the record album.
I’m not saying all this is a bad thing, per se. Freeing the music from it’s packaging could, at a stretch, even be seen as a liberation of sorts. But it is, I think, a sad thing.
Call me old-fashioned, nostalgic and resistant to change if you like, but I don’t want music to become something served up naked and alone; I want it to be framed, contextualised, enhanced and made whole by its packaging.