Beautiful things

In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?

Questions of aesthetics and notions of beauty surely change from culture to culture, and perception is informed by cultural norms and values. How much culture frames both creation and perception is difficult to ascertain. I imagine it depends on the culture and the creative individual in question.

The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

Has it become increasingly important? I don't have such a finely tuned grasp on cultural trends. I do know that in general there is a tendency to compartmentalise – to define experience in narrow terms. Most of us have the good fortune to be able to experience the world with all five senses, but we often reduce it to the singular in communicating it. If there is a trend towards bringing disparate art forms together, then I applaud it. For myself, I make music, texts, art, photographs and films – not because any single medium is inadequate, but because they all contribute to form the mosaic of experience.

There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?

As a consumer, I'm drawn to beautiful objects. I like tactility, attention to detail, care and refinement in the way something is presented. But I also appreciate the virtues of digital files. Several years ago I had a job with a two-hour commute. Music on my mp3 player was just about the only thing that kept me going.

As a producer of music and artefacts, I've come to realise that adopting only one approach – for me at least – is narrow and restrictive. In 2011 I produced a 20-disc edition of my Sustain-Release catalogue, housed in an ash box with a glass sliding lid. Each disc had a delicate, handmade paper enclosure, and the entire collection was accompanied by a handsewn catalogue. A great deal of care and effort went into it, and although the artefact itself was quite formidable, it felt appropriate – a summation of years of work with nothing extraneous about it. Nevertheless, the material cost was quite high, which necessarily made it an expensive, limited edition 'commodity'. 

It could be argued that any such undertaking is exclusive in nature – but this wasn't my intent. I simply wanted to make something beautiful and appropriate for the CD format. But being aware that the cost might be prohibitive, I began to explore different formats, and subsequently released an edition with a more modest footprint – all 20 albums as digital files on a DVD, accompanied by a book. The same care and attention went into its design, and I'm equally proud of it. 

In the past I have stressed the importance of creating beautiful objects, and of the role of packaging in giving context to the music. When I released handmade editions of music through Sustain-Release, I would frequently include natural ephemera from the landscape that inspired the music. Leaves, bark, grasses, etc. These were things that had fallen – they were in a way detritus – and ultimately bound for decay. I found the idea of saving them quite meaningful, and by including them in the packaging it bound the music to the landscape, acting as a physical link or signifier.

But there comes a point when such gestures are unsustainable. They cannot be scaled-up indefinitely, and I've since altered my approach. This is partly due to an increasing consciousness of my own environmental footprint – for an artist inspired by nature it seems somewhat hypocritical of me to be taking from the landscape. Moreover, producing objects like CDs – which have a limited lifespan and are difficult to recycle – also weighs heavily on my mind.

From this perspective, digital files seem the most ethical format, and they also enable the music to be available beyond the necessarily finite editions of physical releases. I've yet to fully explore the potential of purely digital releases, and feel that there are many ways of making them interesting and valuable – of investing them with the same care and attention as physical editions. For example, there was a label not so long ago that I greatly admired called Fällt, who created really interesting digital editions in a plethora of file formats including pdf, jpg, gif, txt, swf, etc. 

Perhaps an interesting twist is the 'download + artefact' approach – I run Corbel Stone Press with my wife Autumn Richardson, and we've produced a number of these 'hybrid' releases. By removing the need for a CD, the physical aspect of the release is not limited by the functional requirement to be simply 'CD packaging'. It can be a different size and shape. Our first such offering was 'Wolf Notes', a beautifully letter-pressed pamphlet of poetry with the music 'download code' printed on a bookmark. Subsequent releases have included a set of prints, with the download code beautifully printed on heavyweight card. In the latter case, the idea is that the download card becomes a beautiful artefact in its own right – literally a unique artwork, because every download code is different.

In short, I think there is value in each method of presenting the music, from finely crafted special editions to purely digital releases, and for a small press such as ours, we try to build up a relationship with our customers and listen to their requests. I've produced an edition on a memory stick for one customer, simply because it was the most appropriate way for him to access the music.


Previous page:
Hearing the contours  
2 / 3
previous next
Next page:
Precious and grace