Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fuck That Other Shit-The White Albums

The covers of the 100 White Albums used to make Rutherford Chang's composite 100 White Albums record
The Beatles' White Album is one those special records that creates an entire world of its own, an alternate reality that you can enter anytime you place the needle in the album's grooves, its interiors are vast, varied, and durable and its a stellar example of a group working (together and apart) at the height of their powers, it seems to change and develop new meanings every time you visit its myriad landscapes. I hear new things every time I visit, it's a mind blowingly eclectic collection of songs that are creatively sequenced so that the album hangs together as a whole in way that never ceases to fascinate and move me. Like some kinds of love, the possibilities are endless! I have a similar experience with Blonde on Blonde and Sandinista, a double and triple album respectively which also create unique worlds that the listener can enter, wander around and even get lost in. I've spent months inside of Blonde on Blonde, but that's a story for another day, another post.

So though I'm not much of a fan of conceptual art (not against it, it just doesn't usually ring my bells) I really dig Rutherford Chang's We Buy White Albums project. Earlier this year Rutherford had a storefront exhibit in Soho's Recess Gallery that only stocked original pressings of the Beatle's White Album.  He doesn't sell copies of the White Album he buys them (and files them by their numbered covers, he's got over 800 at this point) the more damaged and worn the condition the better. All of the original pressings of the White Album (over 3 million) were numbered on the front cover so each album was already a unique though mass produced artifact but Chang is more interested in the way the album's stark white cover and the vinyl inside has aged and been shaped through its interaction with its owner over time. And boy he's got some real doozies, I own five or six copies of this record (two of which are original numbered copies) but they are all pristine compared to the numerous weathered, torn, beat up and drawn on copies that Rutherford has acquired. I'm actually surprised now having seen his collection at how rarely I've come across copies in a similarly disheveled condition.

A humorous touch to the exhibit was how the White Albums Rutherford listened to in the store went up on the wall as staff picks! He listens to a copy of the album every day as well as documenting the unique condition of each cover and record as he acquires it. You can find an amusing interview with Chang about his project at this site along with fascinating pictures of some of his collection.



Even more interesting is the composite version of the White Album Chang has created and pressed on vinyl by layering recordings of a 100 different unique copies of the album on top of one another. Things start out roughly in synch for the first song "Back In the USSR" but due to the damage and weathering of the 100 copies used (warps, pops, skips, etc.) the music gradually slips out of synch creating an effect that though chaotic is surprisingly listenable, and at times downright mind altering.

The fact that he's using a record that is among my all time favorites as raw material is certainly part of the reason why I love this project, but it's also worth noting that in doing so Chang has playful re-imagined an immensely popular iconic culture artifact in a manner that would have made both John and Yoko pleased and proud. And with the 100 white albums composite he has created an alternate listening experience for this record that is hauntingly psychedelic, groundbreaking and fresh- and so true to the pioneering and experimental spirit of the original album. You can listen to the first side of the 100 white album composite below and you can see the 100 album composite covers and labels he had printed for the vinyl record by clicking here. I hope to have a copy of this version of the record in my hands before the end of the year.



The composite front cover for Chang's 100 White Albums record
Reading about Chang's project reminded me of Danger Mouse's Grey Album from 2004 which as you probably already know set the acapella raps of Jay Z's Black Album to music that Danger Mouse created using samples from the Beatles' White Album.  If you haven't heard it or don't have a copy I've uploaded it here. I'm not much of a Jay-Z fan, he's alright, but the tracks Danger Mouse created solely with samples from the White Album make for quite a listening experience and is another compelling re-envisioning of the monolithic White Album.
On another tangent the title of this post is inspired by the beginning of "Memory Lane" a track from one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time Nas's Illmatic. Favorite line "I dropped out of Cooley High gassed up by a coke head cutie pie". Cooley High is a must see classic film on yet another tangent. Better quit before we get lost.



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