Following on from yesterday’s post about the anachronistic nature of the term ‘label’, I’ve been having a think about the actual format that music is released in.
It’s amazing how containers can make us lazy about content. The assumptions we make about the nature of music, collections of music, what constitutes a ‘complete work’ etc.
There’s a great thread over on solobasssteve.com about this, where Tom asks about the way that downloads are allowing classical music to be consumed in the way it was intended – in mixed programmes of individual movements, or of complete works without the weird filler stuff that’s used to make up the empty bit on the CD.
In short, music can go back to being as broad and innovative in its programming as it was before recordings put a fence round the way we think about such things.
Imagine being able to download Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle without considering the length of it in terms of the number of CDs – or sides of vinyl – that it occupies. Or conversely, to buy Edgar Varese’s Ionizations (sp?) and not get a load of other stuff bolted on the end because it was ‘too short’ to be an album.
With downloads we can think with a much greater degree of abstraction about what the collections of music that we sell are. We can include other people’s music in with our own if we want to help out with promo, we can offer different compilation albums on themes without the need to press any physical copies. We can release multiple versions or multiple mixes optimised for different kinds of playback, again without the need to fragment our physical production process – just re-encode the MP3s and upload them to your site.
It would also be perfectly possible to release an 8 hour continuous piece of music – no breaks, no track numbers, just one huge chunk of audio that takes 3 days to download, but you’d need to take a sickie from work to be able to experience in its entirety.
Likewise, a collection of songs like Ben Walker’s 12 second songs can be put out as a set, either in a single MP3 (or video) file to be listened to en masse or as individual tracks that you could drop into compilation albums for other people…
And of course, digital files can be MUCH higher quality than CD ever afforded – the initial hype about CD masked us to the reality that it’s not a particularly high res format. It’s certainly good ‘enough’ but the option is there to release true audiophile mixes of things at 24 or 32 bit, at 96 or 192kbps. Way beyond the 16bit/44.1kbps resolution of CD.
When you throw in the option to add a creative commons licence to a work and allow other people to do the mashing up, the potential for creative recontextualization of a bit of music is huge.
Anyone got any other interesting applications of the freedom that digital music affords us?by