On the dawn of an increasingly digital horizon, once important physical aesthetics are slowly disappearing from popular music culture.
Anyone who had a music collection before the year 2000 had a truly physical connection to their music. Maybe it was a vinyl record, a cassette tape, an eight-track or even a compact disc. Regardless of the format, when you purchased music it came in physical form. In the iTunes and Spotify era, liner notes and album art still exist, but are undoubtedly diminished by a digital existence.
I’d compare it to looking at paintings on the Internet instead of in a gallery. Sure the image will still be the same, but the emotion and the feeling of viewing something the way it was designed to be viewed should still mean something. The ability to approach the art and view it at the right angle should still mean something.
In many ways, I’m reminded of my purchase of Arcade Fire’s album Funeral on vinyl. Inside the record sleeve was the kind of small brochure you’d receive upon attending a funeral. These types of liner notes experiences are being lost with Amazon MP3 sales and file-sharing.
A few weeks ago, IHYEB received a copy of Sarah Fimm’s Barn Sessions EP. A name like “Barn Sessions” really evokes a certain visual aesthetic that Fimm really delivers on. The EP was released exclusively on a wooden USB flash drive containing:
- A video introduction to the album
- The album cover in PDF and JPEG form
- Lyrics and artist information
- MP3s of the songs performed
- HD videos of performances
- Photos from the recording sessions
I can’t really say that I want to start a collection of USB drives with my favorite albums on them, but what Fimm has released is an elegant throwback to what’s been missing from digital music sales for a growing number of years.
In additional to being a musician, Fimm is also an artist who works with physical media. I think it’s a safe bet to say that musicians have an ideal aesthetic in mind when they make their work in the same way that physical artists do. On her website, Fimm has photos from an installation called “Mirrors of Near Infinite Possibility.” While the installation made for some interesting photos, I’m of the belief that a true experience meant seeing it in person. Now, as music lovers we can’t always make the pilgrimage to see our favorite acts live and even when we can it’s not always going to performed the way it was on the album. That’s okay since a live act and an album are different experiences meant to be experienced differently but what can’t be denied is the importance of the ideal experience.
I believe that the best question for any interviewer to ask a musician is, “How should I listen to your music?” The answer hopefully won’t be “on your iPod” or “with your ears” but more to the effect of “listen to this while driving” or “laying on your couch at night” or better yet “with a glass of wine.” Music can be experienced alone in a cold, dark room while lying in the fetal position… but should you?
Music is not an activity for just your ears. If anything, the more senses you can combine the better.
So hats off to Sarah Fimm. Hopefully more artists will follow her model, or at the very least continue to release more great albums on vinyl where quality aesthetics are just one of the necessities of the process.
I hope your ears can appreciate the importance of physical aesthetics. Ω