In the summer of 1984 my dad told me I could have any cassette tape I
wanted. We were in a grocery store in Burnet, Texas, a town of about
5,000 souls. You used to could buy music in grocery stores.
The cassette tapes were kept in a little cabinet with a plexiglass
front. The plexiglass had holes in it, big enough to fit your hand
through, but too small to pull out the cassettes, which were encased
in these kind of plastic doohickeys about a foot long to keep them
from being stolen. I reached in through the holes, and I pulled
cassettes out a little at a time so I could see the song lists and the
art on the covers.
I picked Around the World in a Day, by Prince, because I had heard "Raspberry Beret" on the radio, and I liked it.
So a guy came with a key and unlocked the cabinet and took the
doohickey-encased cassette out, and we took it to the cashier, who
popped the doohickey off with a gadget once we paid for it. In the
truck, I got the shrink wrap off the case and it smelled powerfully of
new plastic. I popped open the case and pulled out the cassette and
put it in the player, and I unfolded the cassette sleeve which was
about a mile long, and I read the lyrics and looked at the pictures
while the music played, over and over again, all along the fourteen
hour drive back to El Paso.
I held a physical object in my hand, and I listened to the music that
came with it.
This is new. For thousands of years, before the twentieth century, if
you wanted to listen to music, you had to play it yourself, or go find
someone to play it for you. It was only yesterday, really, when Edison
figured out how to trap vibrating air inside hunks of plastic, and all
of a sudden we could take it home with us. We could vibrate the air in
our houses all we liked.
Of course, we didn't get to see the performers in person, but the
packaging became more and more beautiful over the years as a kind of
way to make up for it. It gave you something to hold in your hand and
contemplate while the record turned.
The cardboard sleeve was the container the disk came in, and the disk
was the container the vibrating air came in. We wanted the vibrating
air, and we got all this other stuff to go with it. We got used to it,
and many of us are nostalgic about it, but we don't need the
containers any more.
We have broadband.
Download, import, sync, and go. No vinyl disk. No cardboard sleeve.
Nothing to hold in your hands while you lie on the floor with
headphones on. No pictures of the band. No paintings. No plastic
smell. No shrink wrap. No lyric sheet. No liner notes explaining the
historical significance of whatever the hell concert or session this
recording came from. Not even an ugly, tacky, silver-rainbow compact
disk to scratch, or drop behind the couch, or set your drink on, or
hang from your rear-view mirror.
Gone! And I miss it!
I want to replace the beautiful physicality of the LP with something
else, just as the LP itself was meant to replace the experience of a
live performance. I want to give people something new to hold in their
hands. I think it's important.
I'm not talking about De-Luxe SuperFan Editions of my next CD, where
it comes in a mahogany box and it's signed by me and I will personally
come to your house and hold you until you fall asleep, and when you
wake up there's a new pony in your kitchen. In fact, I don't want to
release albums at all any more. I just want to make songs, and I want
to make cool, beautiful objects inspired by the songs.
I want to make things people can hang on the wall, set on a table,
contemplate, wear, eat, read, sit on, or set fire to. I went out and
bought some India ink and some brushes, and I've been illustrating my
own music, one song at a time. I want to print these things in a
beautiful way and send them to people through the mail, and charge a
little money for it to make up for lost album sales.
|"Pass Away" by Chris Black|
And I don't have to do it by myself: Since moving to Tucson in 2007,
I've met jewelry makers, painters, photographers, woodworkers,
bookbinders, chefs, printers, bartenders, flash developers, and every
conceivable type of artist and artisan. We've been talking. I want to
bring it all together.
How about silver charms inspired by various songs, hung on a bracelet?
How about a drink recipe, illuminated like an old Bible and screen
printed on hand-crafted paper? How about a pop-up book following the
narrative of a thirty-minute suite of continuous music? How about a
Music doesn't have to sit off all by itself anymore. It's not trapped
in plastic and locked up behind plexiglass. It's not limited by
physical format or the dictates of packaging and cost. It can just be
music, and anything can go along with it provided that whatever goes
with it can be sent through the mail.
This is what I'm working on over at www.chrisblackmusic.com. I only
just got started, and I'm making it up as I go along. I have
fifty-something more songs to illustrate, a playlist & shopping cart
system to code, and a community to build. This may take a while.
In the meantime, go out and get yourself a nice set of headphones so
you'll be ready to lie on the floor, listen to the music, and
contemplate the beautiful object I'm going to send to you in the mail.
Chris Black lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is the creator of the Gadjo
Bango sound. His music and art can be found at
(Note: this article originally appeared in the print version of SLIT 2010)