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Musical Space: How Beck Is Getting Us To Rethink Recorded Music

Beck Song Reader.jpg

For two decades now, Beck Hansen has been keeping his music fresh and compelling by never letting it be defined by genre or convention. He gets his listeners to rethink pop formulas by deconstructing, combining and transcending them. Every release by Beck is different from the last one; previous albums have merged and reexamined rock, hip-hop, latin and folk styles. With his latest release, Song Reader, Beck has outdone himself.

Song Reader is a sort of anti-CD, not a recording at all, but a well-packaged collection of songs published in sheet-music form, sold in the same way one would have bought a Tin Pan Alley tune a hundred years ago. It seems that to really listen to Song Reader as intended, you will have to play it for yourself. Beck also invites people to record their own versions of his music and share on his website, songreader.net.


Its an interesting idea, to contribute to the American Songbook by releasing songs the same way George Gershwin and Irving Berlin did. But more importantly, I think that Beck has invented a way to connect with his audience on a profoundly personal level. He is, in effect, asking us to collaborate with him; to step inside the process of making music.

Beck seems to be trying to get people to appreciate his music the same way he himself does, as an active participant. Song Reader is a beautiful deconstruction of the whole process of commercial recording, and also might even get some people to dust off the guitars in their closets

Music: Beck "Jackass" from Odelay

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.