Does the music speak for itself?

In many of the vinyl versus CD discussions us ol’ record store employees used to have, there was never any refutation that artwork and liner notes had a greater impact on the listener in the vinyl format; based purely on size. Paul’s Boutique was a great example, because the panoramic cover photography was like a Beastie Boys version of Where’s Waldo?. The problem? On CD, you could barely make MCA, Adrock and Mike D out, but on vinyl, the puzzle seemed much less like part of a Mensa International exam. The very fact that you don’t have to squint to interact with the artwork on records makes the music exponentially more of an intimate partner, because you see its visual manifestation (at least in one artist’s perception) and the liner notes can be easily read without reaching for an electron microscope. Obviously, liner notes often gain the majority of their bulk by printing the lyrics, which seemed most prevalent in the Golden Era of HipHop (loosely 88-96). This of course, can immediately reduce the amount of liner notes immediately for instrumental musics and there also just seems to be a general advancement toward the minimal in the 21st Century. At least as far as liner notes goes.

Sometimes, you gain some insight to the artist’s impetus, inspiration and who they find as peers. Knowing these things about artists you may never meet still seemed to afford the music geek a further sense of connection to music-makers who’ve touched their lives. I feel, through years of careful attention paid to Kieran Hebden’s music, that I know, at the very minimum, he is a person of considerable thoughtfulness, a touch of melancholy and thoroughly romantic. Four Tet has certainly established this portion of his person and psyche.

Yet, I find listening to There Is Love In You, on vinyl, frustrating in one specific, hugely distancing way. There are NO liner notes. Nothing. Not even a little info about where and when it was recorded. No credits for certain instrumentation, tools or software used. In short, the jacket and its interconnected artwork offer very little to look at while listening to the record. So, this got me to thinking.

The essential question to investigate here is, “Does the music speak for itself? Does it stand for itself?” And can it still lead you to arrival at a place where you feel connected, beyond just the listening experience. Or is that all that really matters and artwork and liner notes and a partial distraction to the  transcendental listening experience just get in the way of truly interacting with the music?

I’d love to pretend that anybody would even entertain this as a discussion, but it seems destined to be one of my little philosophical late night snacks that falls into a dusty corner of an increasingly loud room we call the Internet.

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One thought on “Does the music speak for itself?”

  1. Yes it does. I love it when I listen to an album and do not know the names of the songs, but I know all the lyrics to the songs. I have slacked off buying records in the last few years. I get most of my music online. Zero artwork and nothing to love while listening…except the music. I miss the joy of buying and holding LP’s for sure…..But I have not missed out on the music.

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