A complete experience
It might be something you give no thought to at all. It might, conversely, make all the difference.
The look and sound quality of an album however you may approach it could ultimately contribute far more to your enjoyment of the music at hand however you experience it than you might care to admit. These inputs, even if you don’t yet realise it, could lift something from the ordinary to the realms of the very good, even ultimately to the life-changing.
This all goes back to the question of artefact, not so much format. But the thing itself you have that is the sum of all of the parts, visible and invisible, the assault if you like on your own subjectivity, that’s another matter.
In a digital world when the role of artwork is reduced or at best has gone one step further to transfer itself to the moving image, promotional video the 21st century linernote in effect, you might think this isn’t so important.
Your relationship with music is now more technologically driven than ever particularly as the technology is so much more personal (in your pocket on your phone, at arm’s reach on tablet and laptop).
But paradoxically while the technology might be a case of blandly going where no man has gone before, the way we use it ultimately draws the subject of the art produced closer to us, with music up close and personal in our ears through tiny headphones, our means to curate it (through playlists or on-demand) more democratic and unfiltered. The need to rely on an omniscient cultural godfather has, in a quiet but devastating storm, shrunk to a pale shadow of its formal self.
The question of image (what the artist is about and stands for in cultural terms) is different and probably more important than artefact. Why? Well the artist’s image and artistic profile is enough to presuade you to go to a venue irrespective of whether there is an album out or not. Yet CDs and albums, where artwork and sound quality are more important than the more anonymous world of the mp3 cut adrift from so many signifiers, as any collector will tell you, speak to people on an individual level that transcends the music itself.
“Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?”
Proust Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove
This Madeleine moment, this new sensation, is when you’re moved by something, blown away, and is the ultimate in responding to any record. Art work and sound quality as graphic designers and audiophiles collectively know are something important in themselves. But when they accompany superb musicianship and artistry then all the ducks are in a row, the sort of record that dreams are made of, lives changed. No one listening to a record or obsessing about the minutiae of style over substance or vice versa forgetting about the realm beyond that sends shivers down the spine should forget this. The completeness in experiencing an album like this is surely the ultimate.
The Barbara Wojirsch ECM look, top. The Reid Miles Blue Note look centre as the record plays above