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August 10, 2012 4:43 PM   Subscribe

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

Forbes comments.
posted by cmoj (66 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a really interesting idea, but I can't decide if it's wankery or really cool. I think that there would need to be some social component to this to make it pay off that was built to highlight what happens to this stuff after he releases it into the wild.

Also....sheet music? Almost forgotten? By whom?
posted by nevercalm at 4:49 PM on August 10, 2012


Yikes, Beck teams up with McSweeney's for the musical-Etsy generation.
Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall etc.


(Forbes link is to a post by CEO of a marketing consultancy who blogs on the HuffingtonPost style Forbes blogging network, btw)
posted by Bwithh at 4:50 PM on August 10, 2012


He's not giving me a new album he's giving me homework. Touché Beck.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:51 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Cool, but the mastering sucks. Another victim of the Loudness Wars.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:52 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


From the Forbes link I'm reminded Loser came out in 1994. I'm so old.

I can't read music and would be more interested in hearing Beck's version of a song before hearing other people's versions. Still, it is an interesting idea.
posted by birdherder at 4:53 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can people perform the music (publicly) without a license from Beck?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a playwright, I totally understand this idea of seeing what other people do with your vision before you tackle it. I think it's terrific.
posted by xingcat at 4:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's pretty cool. It's always better to do something different if you can think of something different to do and you have enough social capital to get it done. I think the culture as a whole benefits from that, even if most of us can't do anything with the actual product. Everyone doing the same old thing over and over and over is just pretty pointless, isn't it?

Also, I imagine if he goes on tour for this "record" it will be 100% unmissable.
posted by bleep at 4:59 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's not that I don't see the thought process behind this, but saying "this is a song you can look at but not hear!" (which it is to me, since I can't play it myself) is not really far removed from "I tailored the coolest suit of clothes for the emperor, it's his own naked body!"
posted by Kiablokirk at 4:59 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neat!
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:00 PM on August 10, 2012


can't decide if it's wankery or really cool.

Every thing a musician does is wankery. This actually seems like less wankery than expecting me to sit and listen to someone whine and cry about their broken heart and strum at their guitar.
posted by bleep at 5:00 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's not that I don't see the thought process behind this, but saying "this is a song you can look at but not hear!" (which it is to me, since I can't play it myself) is not really far removed from "I tailored the coolest suit of clothes for the emperor, it's his own naked body!"

Nah, it's more like releasing a knitting pattern instead of a hat. There's no sense in complaining about it - you were never entitled to a hat in the first place.

Also, the interbutts will be swamped with various competing versions of these songs.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:01 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah whatever, my new album was recorded with the patronage of a Tyrolian baron and will only be performed once at the Wiener Hofoper
posted by theodolite at 5:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sigh. As if I didn't have enough to do...

*fires up Garage Band*
posted by sourwookie at 5:05 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is how music was released prior to the Edison Phonograph. If you didn't play an instrument back then, chances were good that you knew someone who did, and could go hang out in their parlor and listen to them play it, maybe even sing along once they know how the tune goes. People used to do things like that together.

When I was a kid too dumb to realize what a special thing it was, my grandfather would play the organ while my family stood behind and sang along, and I'd sit off to the side and roll my eyes. I'm pretty sure I was the wanker in that equation.
posted by usonian at 5:12 PM on August 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


What's the sheet music notation for samplers and effects?
posted by dunkadunc at 5:23 PM on August 10, 2012


Will Beck's Finale-jockey* get a credit in the liner notes?

(*It's been at least decade since I used music notation software, so there's probably a new standard. In my day it was Finale.)
posted by eric1halfb at 5:30 PM on August 10, 2012


dunkadunc: "What's the sheet music notation for samplers and effects?"

SuperCollider scores or Max/MSP or Puredata diagrams.
posted by mkb at 5:35 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's copy right law on something like this? I mean, if I perform an interpretation of a song from this and then use that song in a commercial work am I liable for anything?
posted by coolxcool=rad at 5:36 PM on August 10, 2012


- ...they've only released it online.
- As an mp3?
- As a Word document.
- Wow, that's pretty underground.
posted by micayetoca at 5:37 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Chord diagrams or I sue.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:37 PM on August 10, 2012


Good christ, Beck has turned into such a tool.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:49 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe he'll be touring Kinko's.
posted by hal9k at 5:50 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's a cool idea- I like it a lot. Not everyone is going to want to purchase the actual songbook, although some non-music reading people might want to buy it for the art. I think they have a plan for the social component- the link says Readers’ (and select musicians’) renditions of the songs will be featured on the McSweeney’s website. So really, in a way you'll kind of get to listen to the album for free, even though it's not going to be Beck playing the music.
posted by Secretariat at 5:55 PM on August 10, 2012


This smells like a Mefi music challenge in the making.
posted by swift at 5:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm curious as to exactly what this sheet music is going to be. Is it going to be piano sheet music, like was sold in the Tin Pan Alley days (and has continued to be sold since then, even today)? Is it going to be a band score, maybe with parts or charts for various musicians? Is it going to be notated music for guitarists, or tabulation?

Frankly, I mean... I can't even imagine what a piano score for Devil's Haircut or Where It's At would look. So in a sense, this may mark a pretty sharp turn from the style we've come to expect from Beck.

There are a LOT Of unanswered questions about exactly what this product is going to be. If it turns out to simply be a book of decent piano sheet music arrangements, like that's how it was written and meant to be performed, I'll probably buy it. Heck, the book I have containing nearly everything Scott Joplin wrote (minus his opera) is basically just a bunch of reproductions of each individual release of the sheet music (as that is how it was released originally), complete with covers. (Covers which would freeze cold anyone who insists on viewing the past through the lenses of today's political correctness.)

If it's a book of band scores, I MIGHT buy it, depending on how difficult they might be to render in GarageBand. I certainly don't know the right group of people where I live to be able to draw them together for a night of "hey, let's play Beck's new album. No, seriously, I mean LET'S PLAY IT!"

(Although, that would be a pretty awesome invitation to put out there.)

Anyway, I think it's a fascinating idea for a project, and would like to know more about it.
posted by hippybear at 6:00 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm already putting together a band to perform it at a local club. May even photocopy the music and make pamphlets and distribute it to the audience so they may see the source material.
posted by sourwookie at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this is pretty cool. Sad people, it says that the best versions will be presented on the McSweeneys website, so it's not as though you'll never hear the songs.




But... an almost-forgotten form? What? What? Sheet music notation has been around for centuries and people haven't really come up with anything better. It's not going anywhere.
posted by chiquitita at 6:06 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scientology has ruined him.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:06 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


@hippybear: I've got career experience with sheet music and scores and I like to think I've got arranging chops. I'm also fortunate enough to have a go-to crew of musicians I work with (a lot of band crossing and session work happens with us) that I think I can make this happen.

A couple times a year we pick an album and recreate it live so this wouldn't be that far off (though we might have to reschedule Bat Out Of Hell to do it timely).
posted by sourwookie at 6:08 PM on August 10, 2012


But... an almost-forgotten form?

I assumed they meant this songbook-as-the-product thing.

So in a sense, this may mark a pretty sharp turn from the style we've come to expect from Beck.

Maybe so, but his last couple of albums have been a pretty sharp departure from the Midnight Vultures days that I can see segueing into straight forward piano/singer music.
posted by cmoj at 6:19 PM on August 10, 2012


He should release them as a midi file.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:22 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should release them as a midi file.

I expect someone to do that pretty quick. It'll be a race, I bet. One of the sheet-music-to-Midi software vendors will do it for bragging rights.
posted by surplus at 6:42 PM on August 10, 2012


At one point in my life, I was a fairly accomplished musician, not only able to play from sheet music but usually able to hum the tune of a piece of music I'd never heard, just looking at the score. Now, after years of improv and crappy garage bands, I'm totally lost if you stick a piece of paper with 5 horizontal lines and some dots on it.

In high school, I developed my chops playing in a band that catered almost exclusively to rich private school girls, playing Cure covers and the like for school dances and sweet 16 birthday parties. It was the perfect combination of good money and meeting cute rich chicks. Anyway, if we felt like we weren't being paid well, or we needed money to fix the van, we go to daddy or the prom committee and tell them we needed extra money for sheet music.

The point is, this latest release is only slightly less useful to me than the rest of Beck's work after Odelay.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:52 PM on August 10, 2012


The part where they include readers' renditions on McSweeney's may give some pretty excellent exposure for some people who really deserve it. There will be a lot of people who want to listen to new Beck songs, and a lot more drawn in just because of the novelty of this project, and that's a lot of ears - hopefully McSweeney's is pretty good about their selections of who to feature. I like this.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:00 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although I'll never actually do it, this makes me want to find my Commodore 64 to turn this into 8-bit goodness.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:05 PM on August 10, 2012


This is a natural extension of Beck's work, no doubt. He's been exploring the relationship between the musician and the audience for years, and each album usually comes with a few interviews where he imagines a much different way of making this interaction work for him.

The problem I have with this particular interaction (and I know I'm not the first one to point this out) is that sheet music is barely enough. I'm going to out on a limb here and suggest that Beck is known for two things about his sound:

1. His highly idiosyncratic and personal lyrics.
2. His soundscapes and sound environments.

He happens to be a pretty good musician with an ear for unlikely melodies and decent chops (in terms of playing [or abusing] various instruments) and he collaborates with a wide variety of really talented folks who have helped him explore his particular brand of Americana. But for any given track you are going to first pay attention to the words and then the timbres he uses in the studio to build the song atmosphere.

This second part just does not map well to transcribed sheet music. Most of the songs are going to be, in musical terms, very simple. Often groovy, repetitive loops with minimal changes. Maybe a strange bridge or outro. So, yeah, you can publish the music or the charts and maybe good musicians will be able to comp along, but we will be missing "Beck" the infamous bedroom X-track rocker.

Maybe this is the point, I suppose. Live, Beck plays very spare and pared down versions of his songs, and often just plays stuff that the other touring members want to play at that time with what they have in their hands at the moment. So, maybe this release is an attempt at getting us back to where house parties included making our own music, with guitars and banjos and bongos and shitty Casio keyboards, instead of letting iTunes or some self-described tastemaker DJ choose the next 128k MP3.

If so, I hope it works. But I don't have high hopes. With every passing decade Western civ seems to split further along the music maker vs. music listener dichotomy.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:29 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm interested in how, when, why the standout tracks will be determined. Will some awesome youtube performance of one of these songs turn it into a hit? On any given album are there songs that are just objectively better than other songs, stripped down to just notation?

In this case you have zero interference by DJ's, producers, record companies, etc. The people that will get first crack at it are those that have studied music, know how to play music, and can read notation, which is kind of a cool change from the current setup. Arranging and producing a song from scratch can't be easy, and I suspect that people who can do it will choose to bring their favorite songs to life. It will be neat to see what the musically literate collectively decide which songs are the best.
posted by amcm at 7:43 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's like IKEA. "Here are some parts and instructions, now go build yourself a bookcase."
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:45 PM on August 10, 2012


I like this because it makes explicit what I think some other artists are already doing -- e.g. there are many Mountain Goats records where it's implicit that the "real version" of the song is the one you play yourself in your house, not the recorded versions on the album.
posted by escabeche at 7:46 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Awesome!
posted by spbmp at 7:57 PM on August 10, 2012


His vocals have sounded progressively more bored over the years. This is the natural next step: 'Here's a few songs I jotted out, you fuckers take care of the rest'
posted by Fig at 8:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. I'm excited about this the more I think about it. And I'm hoping it will be full scores.
posted by queensissy at 8:28 PM on August 10, 2012


I, for one, approve of this new direction by our musical overlord thetans.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:33 PM on August 10, 2012


Pretty cool.

the link says Readers’ (and select musicians’) renditions of the songs will be featured on the McSweeney’s website

That's one way to go about it. I think I'd love it even more if it were debuted in a series of real live participatory concert hall events, but I'm trying to make it even more arty than it is.

Very cool statement.
posted by Miko at 8:53 PM on August 10, 2012


Scientology has ruined him.

From birth, you mean? He's always been a Scientologist.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:04 PM on August 10, 2012


It's not that I don't see the thought process behind this, but saying "this is a song you can look at but not hear!" (which it is to me, since I can't play it myself) is not really far removed from "I tailored the coolest suit of clothes for the emperor, it's his own naked body!"

You can hear it if you play it.

You do know that once upon a time, this is how all music was released? You would go to the store and buy sheet music and take it home and play it?
posted by kenko at 9:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, you can't play it. Maybe don't buy it, then. I don't buy vinyl, because I don't have a record player. Easy-peasy!
posted by kenko at 9:14 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can hear it if you play it.

YEah, this will bring to a lot of people their first insight that what you buy when you buy an mp3 or CD isn't music. It's a recording of a performance (or set of performances) of music, which on playback gives a pretty good illusion of that music actually being played.

This is a good realization to have and I think Beck is doing something good by provoking that sort of thought.
posted by Miko at 9:23 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


YEah, this will bring to a lot of people their first insight that what you buy when you buy an mp3 or CD isn't music. It's a recording of a performance (or set of performances) of music, which on playback gives a pretty good illusion of that music actually being played.

This is a good realization to have and I think Beck is doing something good by provoking that sort of thought.


I don't think I would have had that thought at all without reading this.

Now I will never be able to not have that thought.
posted by hippybear at 9:28 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Scientology has ruined him.

But not the music.
posted by juiceCake at 10:17 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll buy this, tonk it out really awfully on the piano and declare it unlistenable.
posted by kreestar at 10:22 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like Beck, but, I mean, these are not the Trio Sonatas. Geez.
posted by skbw at 10:52 PM on August 10, 2012


I like Beck, but, I mean, these are not the Trio Sonatas. Geez.

No, but they might be Daisy Bell, or Alexander's Ragtime Band, or God Bless America, or Sweet Georgia Brown, or Take Me Out To The Ballgame, or Give My Regards To Broadway, or any of other numerous songs which were originally only published as sheet music which have continued to come down through our culture into popular consciousness to the point where we forget that such songs ever actually had authors and didn't exist at some point.

I think it's an interesting experiment. And while I don't necessarily place Beck on the same level of songwriting talent at George M. Cohen or Irving Berlin, I do think he's got enough chops and enough experience to pull something like this off. The questions that remain, for me, are what form will the sheet music take, how well has he studied the Tin Pan Alley era and what made their sheet music only songs successful, and how well can he incorporate his own expressive personality into a realm where he doesn't have studio production on his side, and only has his ability to arrange and present a melody and lyrics for others to interpret to contain his muse.
posted by hippybear at 11:27 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


This Content Will Be Hungrily Consumed.

Ack.
posted by wallabear at 12:00 AM on August 11, 2012


Will the people who post recordings of the songs on YouTube be vulnerable to takedowns, or does the fact that the song was never recorded provide some kind of loophole?
posted by BiggerJ at 1:27 AM on August 11, 2012


Finally, I have the chance to give the finger to the rock'n'roll singer as he dances upon my paycheque!
posted by mannequito at 3:53 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


A few years back, Deerhoof leaked Offend Maggie as piano-condensed sheet music, and asked fans to record their interpretations and post them to YouTube. On that tour, you could buy a nicely-printed edition as merch.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 5:19 AM on August 11, 2012


I like Beck, but, I mean, these are not the Trio Sonatas. Geez.

Therefore, how dare he publish them as sheet music? Because only Great Works deserve to be written down, the rest can just be recorded?

Once upon a time this would have been a banal way to publish a tune; the fact that it survives only for art music is a historical accident.
posted by kenko at 7:16 AM on August 11, 2012


The copyright questions are kind of missing the point; he has written and released songs, just not recordings of said songs. It’s kind of like asking "can I legally copy and use this new novel if no one has released a recording of them reading it aloud?"
posted by bongo_x at 9:01 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


My ex just reminded me that Beck's dad is a string arranger, so yeah, I don't think this is just going to be an "EZ Play The Hits On Piano" sort of thing.
posted by queensissy at 9:12 AM on August 11, 2012


I'm waiting for the player piano roll version.
posted by orme at 11:49 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm thrilled by this for many reasons - it feels like an evolution of Fluxus whilst also being totally a product of Beck the experimental musician (as opposed to Beck to the barnstorming alt.pop geek). I was a huge fan of his back in the ready-made days (Stereopathetic Soulmanure is still one of my all time faves) and saw him live a few times but I stopped paying attention around Guero - the sound got too slick. This feels like a really exciting progression, whatever the actual music turns out to be. For an artist as prolific as he is it must come to the point where your output becomes a hall of mirrors, the only way to explore new directions then is to remove the performance element completely and produce a score for endless interpretation without deference to the 'canon' version. It's a really interesting technical challenge too.

Also, I'm far from being a pro but I very much enjoy reading scores and trying to construct passages or pick elements out on an instrument - if this gets people interested in notation that can't a bad thing.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:43 PM on August 11, 2012


For an artist as prolific as he is it must come to the point where your output becomes a hall of mirrors, the only way to explore new directions then is to remove the performance element completely and produce a score for endless interpretation without deference to the 'canon' version.

Honestly, one of the things that makes me saddest about rock-n-roll or even pop music is that it has never gotten on the bandwagon with jazz and realized that one of the most interesting things about music is having many many different people doing their own versions of songs. It seemed like we were getting close there back in the 60s and even into the 70s, but with the rise of the singer-songwriter (and perhaps having to do with copyright law and the influence of labels) we stopped having groups cover each others material much, if even at all.

I think music is a much richer thing when you have songs being interpreted multiple times, even within a relatively short release window. All these tribute albums don't count. The more widespread the practice of recording songs written by others becomes... the better developed a "classic songbook" of rock and roll or pop songs is... the stronger our collective musical heritage will be in the long run.
posted by hippybear at 9:24 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seemed like we were getting close there back in the 60s and even into the 70s, but with the rise of the singer-songwriter (and perhaps having to do with copyright law and the influence of labels) we stopped having groups cover each others material much, if even at all.
There was a great interview with Neil Diamond on Fresh Air within the last 5 years or so - he was one of the last big songwriters to come up through Tin Pan Alley, and he said that the shift towards artists writing most or all of their own material was pretty much entirely due to the unprecedented success of The Beatles.
posted by usonian at 5:29 AM on August 12, 2012


one of the things that makes me saddest about rock-n-roll or even pop music is that it has never gotten on the bandwagon with jazz and realized that one of the most interesting things about music is having many many different people doing their own versions of songs.

And that wasn't even unique or original to jazz; it was a quality of all vernacular music up to that point, especially including some of the most direct antecedents of rock'n'roll: blues and old-time country music. The mid-20th-century conceptualization of popular music, and particularly its dependence on the 'auteur' concept where one artist or band is composer, performer, recorder, and salesman, is something of a historical anomaly.
posted by Miko at 6:08 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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