Why Beck’s New Album Is An Experiment in Social Media

Recording artist Beck Hansen has announced the release of an experimental new album that will take music back to the days when recording technology didn't exist. It's a book of sheet music, basically, and McSweeney's will publish it in December 2012. Beck's decision not to perform the music himself seemed lazy to some, "hipsterish" to many, but at least one person knew exactly how to handle it. A few hours after McSweeney's released a single page of "Do We? We Do" to promote the album, a fan posted an arrangement of the song on SoundCloud. So it begins.

Recording artist Beck Hansen has announced the release of an experimental new album that will take music back to the days when recording technology didn’t exist. It’s a book of sheet music, basically, and McSweeney’s will publish it in December 2012.

Beck’s decision not to perform the music himself seemed lazy to some, “hipsterish” to many, but at least one person knew exactly how to handle it. A few hours after McSweeney’s released a single page of “Do We? We Do” to promote the album, a fan posted an arrangement of the song on SoundCloud. So it begins.

Danny Goulter loaded the page of music into MIDI, a software program that can “read” sheet music and play it back using synthesized instruments.

What you’re about to hear is not exactly what’s printed on the sheet — Goulter said he “re-arranged it a little.”  Take a listen:

Even without Beck’s rumbling voice and sophisticated blend of electronic and acoustic instruments, the sound is all his.

In an age when great performances can be captured and mass-distributed, cover songs are considered derivative, often inferior works. Classical music would be lost to history were it not for written music and performance techniques passed down from teacher to student. In this context, a song doesn’t truly have legs without other artists to take the music and run with it.

In 2012, people not only have the means of amplifying and recording music themselves, they also have ways to share it with others for free. YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, and other creative platforms will become studios where those who read music can teach Beck’s songs to those who don’t.

Sight reading isn’t easy, but it helps musicians make a song their own; to respond to its rhythm, harmony, and lyrics before any one performer’s interpretation can seal its fate. There is beauty in the way the songs unfold from page to page. If a novel can give readers a movie in their minds, a book of sheet music can give them a concert.

If anyone reading this post would like to share their recording of Beck’s new song, find us on SoundCloud at Soundcloud.com/mediabistro.  We’d love to hear it!