Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beck's DIY

The world of creativity knows no bounds.

The eclectic singer-songwriter Beck has a new project in stores today.  In the normal world of commercial music sales, that would mean a new CD or a new digital download or a DVD of a live performance.  If you are familiar with Beck’s sound, ‘normal’ is not an adjective that first comes to mind.  His new project stretches the concept of normal even further.

His new music isn’t available on a vinyl album or in a digital series of 1’s and 0’s.  It’s in a book.  It’s a book filled with lines and symbols.  He wrote and published the sheet music to his new songs and is asking fans to interpret the written musical notes, perform the songs on their chosen instruments and post the recorded versions online for all to hear.

It’s the ultimate puzzle game.

Centuries ago, this must have been the common approach to distributing new music.  After all, Mozart couldn’t sell concerto singles on iTunes.  He would write the sheet music during his fits of madness and genius, and the transcribed notes would be delivered across the continent for foreign orchestras to perform.  Each orchestra must have interpreted his aural vision in a slightly different way but that made the pieces fresh and original every time.

Isn’t that the way music should be?  

I am a guitar hack.  When I hear a song that I would like to be able to play, I search for the chord progressions from an online site.  If the online sheet music includes an unfamiliar chord (like a G9++ sus or some other gibberish that requires 6 fingers on one hand to play), I fake in my own chord interpretation.  G9++ sus becomes a G9.  I justify the move by telling myself that I need to make the music my own.  I must own it.  I’m not playing Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones.  I’m playing my interpretation of Sympathy for the Devil, originally penned and performed by the Rolling Stones.  There’s a difference, and if you have ever heard me play, you know that’s a fact.  

This is what Beck is doing.  He is forcing his tribe of fans to own his songs in their own personal way.  He is giving them a puzzle to solve and the fans who accept the challenge will be more connected to his songs in the end.  

If you are brave and talented enough, it’s called “Song Reader” and it is retailing for $34.  Pick up a copy for the musician in your circle.  Don’t buy it for me though.  I am certain Beck has a multitude of Am++ with Dmaj ## overtone notes tossed throughout the songs that will serve only to frustrate and discourage me.

One has to wonder where this experiment will go, but it is wildly interesting.  If you find any renditions online, please share.  Beck would approve. 

In case Beck is foreign to you, here's a simple introduction:

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