The problem with MP3’s is that they are so amorphous and disposable. Traditionally when we’ve purchased or stolen music we’ve had something to put on the shelf and ogle while we listen to the sounds, an object to give value to the music. With the rise of digital music this object has been done away with, and thus the value of the music is similarly reduced or erased.
Which is probably why most people feel little to no guilt about downloading an artist’s entire discography off a torrent site for free. Yet deep down there’s some degree of conflict as most people believe that good music, the staple your face to your driveway and ask your neighbour to back his car over it a few times good music shouldn’t be free. The problem is that people just wont pay for computer files…yet.
Music used to be special, even mysterious, and the packaging said as much about the artist as the sounds. Which might explain the increasing popularity of vinyl. Then there’s a newly resurrected cassette culture, offering a long extinct crappy format that no one can play. But that’s not the point. It’s there to bolster the music. A useless object with a download link is much more palatable than just a download link.
But what if the object wasn’t so tokenistic? What if it was, (and I quote from their press release) “something useful like a mining product or a foodstuff?”
The foodstuff is an Anzac biscuit, and together with a download link it’s the latest release from Melbourne art ensemble The Hi God People. The biscuit is tasty, apparently gluten free, though a touch dry, perhaps overcooked. It tastes fresher though than the packeted biscuits you buy in supermarkets and it’s nice to know that you’re supporting local biscuit makers/musicians. The three tracks are experimental electronic digital psychedelia with two of the pieces featuring spoken word, saying things like ‘Some of the things close to us seem unexpectedly large.”
Of course once you eat the biscuit you’re left with computer files, yet if you think about it the HGP have provided so much more. Not only will there undoubtedly be a few crumbs left on you on your lap, but once they’re swept away, there’s still a nice taste in your mouth. If you ate the biscuit while you listened to the music then that’s where Pavlovian conditioning comes in and you’ll always associate HGP music with a full belly and a rush of sugar. It’s genius, a kind of internal cross promotion.
The HGP aren’t the only folks grappling with the object in a rapidly shrinking marketplace.
Sabbatical have gone all out with Knife Culture: Buried Melbourne, a classy double cd box set compiling artists they view as being under represented and under appreciated in Melbourne – even within the underground music and experimental music scene. With 29 artists over two cds, this is a bold, totally uncompromising collection. They refuse to shy away from the sonically challenging, featuring everything from extended cello techniques, a noise piece created solely from recordings of carpet, tracks recorded direct to Dictaphone, a live performance of a drum stool, spliced strands of tape forced through a walkman, and well, you get the picture. Artists include The Bleachboys, Justin Fuller (Zond), Sean Baxter, Rod Cooper, Ebola Disco and all manner of weird and wonderful characters. The fact that it’s in this simultaneously stately and sleazy black box makes the music seem more evil, more underground and the collection more definitive.
Lawrence English’s Room40 are another label offering experimental music in distinctive fetish object packaging. To be fair they’ve been doing this for years, creating distinctive cardboard cases for everything on their label. Their recent releases from Pimmon, and Minamo are both works of art, however Scott Morrison’s Ballad(s) For Quiet Horizons takes it another step entirely as an audio visual experience. The cd/dvd case itself features cardboard inserts of stills of his work, yet it’s the intertwining of the video footage and the sound that is nothing short of incredible. Images often begin abstracted, and slowly come into focus, and the sound tends to operate in a similar manner, glimpses of field recordings, of nearly discernable sounds gradually revealing themselves, often in concert with the images. It’s the kind of work that deserves the loving treatment it’s received, as it’s something quite special, his ability to dance around and alter your perception is really quite unique in Australian video/sound art. Yet the power is the full package. To download it or convert it just to mp3’ would only serve to dilute its power.