Beck on His New Sheet-Music Album: “Instability Is What Drew Me to This Project”

November 14th, 2012

By Lukasz Bielawski

As we reported in August, Beck Hansen — better known as Beck — will release his next album, Song Reader, December 7 through McSweeney’s.

Song Reader is a collection of 20 new, unrecorded Beck songs in the form of sheet music, intended for fans to learn, play and record on their own. There is nothing to listen to — no disc to insert or MP3s to download.

“Writing the songs, I began to wonder: How do you ask people to take the time to learn to play them?” writes Beck in a blog posted last night on newyorker.com. “Part of the answer involves acknowledging that some people won’t be interested in making that leap. We’ve attempted to make a book that’s able to stand alone as an object, aside from the music.”

“Traditional album releases can have a self-contained value in their physicality; the photos and art and titles can draw you in before you ever hear the songs. This is a book that takes inspiration from that feeling. The art, the ads and the other text hopefully convey something all by themselves,” continues Beck, who is best known for his physical albums Mellow Gold and Odelay.

While Beck acknowledges that some fans will dismiss (or have already dismissed) the project as “a stylistic indulgence, a gimmick,” he writes, “I think there’s something human in sheet music, something that doesn’t depend on technology to facilitate it; it’s a way of opening music up to what someone else is able to bring to it. That instability is what ultimately drew me to this project.”

You can download the sheet music to “Old Shanghai,” one of the songs from the album, at songreader.net. You also can pre-order Song Reader at mcsweeneys.net.

Here’s the staff of The New Yorker presenting their own version of Beck’s “Old Shanghai”:

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