Thursday, 25 September 2014

White Noise: Rutherford Chang's White Albums

And I thought buying two copies of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Urban Bushmen was crazy. Rutherford Chang is an artist (of course!) who collects first-pressings of The Beatles' The White Album. He currently owns 1,034 copies, but the most he's ever paid for one is $20, so that's all right then. 

"I was interested in the different ways that the covers aged. Being an all-white cover, the changes are apparent. The serial numbers made collecting them seem natural, and the more I got, the more interesting it became. As you see, many of them are written on, and each has a story. The accumulation of the stories is part of it. But it’s also about how the physical object - the record - just doesn't exist any more in an age when music is sold through downloaded files."

The albums recently formed an exhibition in Liverpool, where visitors could chose copies to play. Perhaps some of them had never seen an album before. For them it must have been a fascinating experience. Chang's idea highlights several aspects of pop culture, of course, such as obsessive record collecting, album design (Richard Hamilton designed The White Album) and the ageing process of a material object. We feared deterioration (oh no, it's scratched!) back then, whereas today wear and tear strengthens the album's nostalgic appeal. Not that we ever want our treasured albums scratched, unless your name's Christian Marclay.

Chang also recorded 100 copies layered over each other, forming four 20+ minute tracks. The result is trippy, as befits the time of the original recordings. As the sync slips out sounds merge, forming white noise that's all crackle and drone, like a sonic acid flashback (not that I'd know). I wonder what Paul McCartney thinks of it? You can hear it by visiting Music For Maniacs

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