notnicolajames

Beck’s new release is sheet music only – not a recorded CD

This is an interesting and exciting move: Beck is releasing an album that consists purely of sheet music. There will be no CD. Thank God I’ve started to learn reading music last year!


Beck is either brilliant or a mixture between arrogant and ignorant. His new ‘album’ will contain only sheet music, but no CD. This means that only musicians, and among those, only the ones who read sheet music, can access his work.

Over 100 pages visual art and sheet music

The Beck Hansen’s Song Reader, to be released December 2012, consists of over 100 pages in an artistically appealing package (they call it “lavishly produced”). There will be 20 songs with two instrumentals and covers of other artists. “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”, is written on his webpage.

The reason for this move is that the sheet music “enlists the listener in the tone of every track.” It also seems that they put quite a bit of emphasis on the visual package: The reader features art from Marcel Dzama, Leanne Shapton, Josh Cochran, Jessica Hische, and others.

A project to foster creativity and interpretation: It’s like Beethoven all over again

On the one hand I’m intrigued. It can turn into an exciting exchange between musicians interpreting his songs, probably on youtube. Anyone can try to create their own version instead of just covering what you hear from the CD. Musician’s creativity will lead to vastly different ‘feels’ of the songs, unlimited by a recorded version they have to live up to. While this will surely go on youtube, Beck’s website also says that he or his publisher want to allocate some space for the interpretations: “Readers’ (and select musicians’) renditions of the songs will be featured on the McSweeney’s website.

Exclusion of non-musicians and tab readers

On the other hand, Beck’s release will create exclusion. Many musicians don’t read sheet music (I only started learning it end of last year). I wonder if someone will go ahead and translate it into tabs? That won’t be able to re-create the rhythm though. Also, and this bothers me most, does Beck only want musicians and musically trained fans to enjoy his music?

Work to enjoy the music

My 17-year-old sister Melanie (see left picture) made some other good points: The ‘album’ does not work for people who like music but never learned to play an instrument. Music is supposed to be fun and enjoyable – without the effort of learning and practicing the songs first. Also, if Beck ever decides to tour with this album, people might be very disappointed when the songs do not sound as they expected at all. The whole point of concerts is going with your friends and having the whole audience sing along. That won’t be possible at all. It’s like when you read a great book and the movie comes out and is horrible, says Melanie.

How expensive will this be, compared to a CD?

Depending on the price of this “lavishly” produced reader I’d be up for joining the project and trying to play some of the songs. I wonder if other enthusiasts will follow, or if only lovers of art (visual) will buy the reader to put it on the coffee table?

Reactions are rather cynical

The MTV commentator was sceptical: “Oh, and in case you can’t actually play a musical instrument, well, you can still admire the pretty pictures that come along with the “Song Reader.”

A reader of the Rolling Stone commented: “I ordered dinner today at a posh restaurant and was served a recipe…” Another cynical comment was: “wow this is almost as cool as those greeting cards that play music”.

The song reader as an IKEA kit – assemble yourself

On the Guardian webpage, readers had mixed reactions. One writes that there’s a value to being able to read sheet music: “I think it’s a bloody great idea. A return to the essence of songwriting itself, i.e. the song composition. … Maybe a return to musical scoring and composition will give us something new and more varied? If this gets even a handful of people interested in learning how to read music, then it can only be a good thing.”

Others are unhappy: “It’ll be even worse for me since i cant read sheet music. Maybe someone will transcribe a tab version sort of a more lo-fi version of illegal downloading.” The probably most fitting remark was that Beck is the new musical Ikea – assemble everything yourself: “…so in order to hear the songs, I have to learn how to play them myself? Sounds like Beck has taken a leaf out of Ikea’s book. Hmm.”

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5 thoughts on “Beck’s new release is sheet music only – not a recorded CD

  1. Wow, interesting concept. I’ve always liked Beck, but for a non-musician, I definitely wouldn’t buy it.

  2. Pingback: Beck’s sheet music only album is out: “It was a struggle for me” « notnicolajames

  3. I’m a bit bemused by some of the negative comments – folk seem not to be able to get their head around that this isn’t going to be a Beck CD, it’s a different medium so the same rules don’t apply.

    It’s a bit like folk complaining when Nick Cave publishes a novel – “How am I supposed to play this?” or when Harry Hill publishes a book – “How am I supposed to watch this? Comedy’s supposed to be easy – but he expects me to read?!”

    I’m not sure that music is “supposed” to be anything other than music. Notated music is different from recorded music – but it’s no less valid, no less “music”. Certainly it’s less immediately accessible if you don’t read music but have a CD player/the internet, but is accessibility isn’t the key defining feature or quality of music? Besides, it’s more accessible if you do read music and don’t have a CD player/the internet.

    This seems to me an interesting project – I write as someone who plays music but doesn’t read it – and I’m excited to hear how the songs will be played and arranged, including on this blog (you’ve promised NotNicola!). I might even learn enough music to give them a try myself.

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