Saturday, November 13, 2010

Touchable Sound

"Record sleeves were my only version of fine art for the first two-thirds of my life. I'm not taking some postironic, double-take, ha-ha, deconstructionist, anti-art-establishment-bullshit stance. I mean, this was my art - these images moved me, and the great sleeves had as much impact as the music contained within. They gave a glimpse into worlds and ideas that were nowhere near where I lived." - Tom Hazelmyer

While nothing revolutionary, the 7" single medium continues to stick around and remain relevant to the art of music. It's still just 7" across (roughly, give or take), it still usually has just two songs on it, and you still need one of those archaic record players (or phonograph, or turntable, or wheel of steel, or whatever other term you want to call it) to listen to it on, and yet... and yet after the demise of numerous other types of musical delivery (8-tracks, cassettes, MiniDiscs, etc...) it still holds on.

First released in 1949, the 45 presented an alternative method for bands both young and old to release material. For new bands, it was an affordable way to get their music out there, make an impression, and potentially get enough traction to put together a long playing 12" (or LP for those keeping score). Hence the fascination of crate diggers combing the planet in search of songs put out by small-time, local recording companies, or even the bands themselves. The Numero Group is a perfect example of this; they specialize in unearthing old labels' stories and music and compiling it all into a filling package of musical tastiness that feels like a history lesson (one you want to actually learn). For older, established groups it gave the labels another way of making money off of their catalog of hits. And of course, in both cases, it provided the means to listen to a larger array of music in jukeboxes (earlier jukeboxes played a very limited selection of larger, full sized records - usually 8 or 10).

All of this brings me to Touchable Sound: A Collection of 7-inch Records from the USA. In this age of mp3s, one of the quickly dissappearing aspects of music is the art of its packaging. This isn't just lyrics, session musicians' names, and song writers' credit; it's also pictures, cover art, and the artist's conveyance of purpose. An album cover sometimes went beyond being sheer protection for its contents, and instead became an extension of the album, an artistic statement of its own. An example that hopefully all can relate to: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had an iconic cover image on a gatefold as well as cut out inserts. Thankfully, this art form hasn't given up the ghost yet, and pockets of this creative inventiveness can be found if you know where to look for them. Touchable Sound knows where to look.

It's not meant to be read front to back. Rushed through casually nor picked apart like War and Peace. The book itself is a work of art, and as such you'll find yourself approaching it and appreciating it in ways different than you'd a typical tome. It's divided up by regions of the country, with a selection of representative works presented from labels in each region. For each release it shares information about it including the artist, songs, label, year released, designer, and production methods. Sometimes you'll see both the sleeve and the vinyl itself, other times one or the other.

 And as you look through them, you'll be amazed and captivated at the expansive range of creativity some artists bring to what was originally intended to be merely a protective piece of cardboard. Interspersed amonst the image are essays written by some of those whose work graces these pages (including the lead-off quote by Tom Hazelmyer, founder of Amphetamine Reptile Records) about the art of the cover, how they were introduced to it, the various processes they experimented with to achieve the desired effects, etc.

It's a book to spend time with. To look at, appreciate, then come back to again. For those people who music is more than just a collection of notes, this book is right up their alley. It was put together by the creative minds over at Soundscreen Design, and can be ordered HERE, either for yourself, or as a holiday present for someone special on your list.

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