Beck's new album is sheet-music only

A collaboration with McSweeney's, "Song Reader," is the new Beck album. It comes as an illustrated folio of sheet-music:

In the wake of Modern Guilt and The Information, Beck’s latest album comes in an almost-forgotten form—twenty songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music, never before released or recorded. Complete with full-color, heyday-of-home-play-inspired art for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case (and, when necessary, ukelele notation), Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012—an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that’s as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together. The songs here are as unfailingly exciting as you’d expect from their author, but if you want to hear “Do We? We Do,” or “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” bringing them to life depends on you.

Song Reader: A new album from Beck Hansen (via Waxy)


  1. Wait… second sentence reads “It comes an illustrated folio of sheet-music:…” comes with? comes as? Do we get recordings Beck’s versions?

  2. Time to get that sheet music OCR program connected to the synth program connected to the torrent uploader. Then the RIAA will have something to work with. 

  3. an elaborate RIAA plot?

    Anyone who plays the songs loud enough for their neighbors to hear is engaging in an illegal public performance. Every video uploaded is 1 strike for the uploader (ISP measured response to piracy).

  4. from what i heard, there is NO RECORDING with this. he will later on cull through people’s interpretations and come out with a recording of his own, based on his favorite take on each song. it’s an interesting way to turn things on their head, for sure. props to him — he’s always been so creative.

    1. The only way to hear Beck’s version might be to see Beck do it live. If there emerged fan favorites, Beck could then cover or quote a fan’s version in any of his live renditions, possibly making them songs that never have had an original “Beck” version.

  5. This might be my classical pianist bias coming through, but I find this development really exciting. I’d love for us to be a nation of active amateur musicians, not just passive listeners. 

  6. Sounds like a great way to audition for a new band – see who plays them the best, then contact them and see if they’d like to record. Brilliant

    1. Or a great way for people to make music for themselves in whatever setting they prefer, with or without an audience to validate the experience.

    1. Because the primary definition of album is “A blank book for the insertion of photographs, stamps, or pictures.” It’s not too much of a stretch to include “…or musical performances.” This isn’t entirely blank of course, but it’s blank as far as sound goes.

      1. Back in the days of 78s, they’d come nicely packaged with the record slip-covers bound into books, the whole thing resembling photo albums.  Which might be a reason why we now call a collection of musical recordings an album.

        1. Yes — the limited play time of the 78 meant that anything resembling an album of today (or a symphony or opera) had to come on multiple discs requiring a book-like format

      2. The primary definition of album is the one you gave, but obviously not the one people intend or think of in the context of a musician’s “new album.”

        Hey, did you hear the new Tori Amos album?
        No, how many stamps are in it and what sounds do they make?  

      3. It isn’t even a stretch at all: before recordings, collections of songs/piano pieces were the main format that the middle-class would buy music in, and they were known as… albums!

        I’ve always assumed that this was what our modern usage of “album” for recordings evolved from, though that’s only a guess.

    1. Why do people keep feeling it’s necessary to drop that trite, obvious piece of snark on any creative act that’s even slightly outside the norm? I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but argh, that’s becoming such a pet peeve. It always sounds so dismissive, and if you didn’t mean it that way, I apologize for reading too much into it.

  7. My guess is that Beck won’t ever perform any of these songs until the end of his career. With infinite possibilities and interpretations over the years that will be continuously recorded by thousands of people, eventually the public consciousness will determine what the definitive versions are…creating a sort of  ‘standard’ for each song…that was never officially recorded by the very artist who composed them.

      If that’s not ENOUGH of a mindf**k, Beck will eventually record  HIS versions of these by-then established songs…in effect performing ‘covers’ of songs HE originally wrote in the first place.

    This is the equivalent of everybody reading the same book, but being able to feel what each ‘person’ experienced’ when they read it. 

    This is more than a ‘stunt’ or even a ‘heady’ idea…this is  FU**ING REVOLUTIONARY.

    1.  I don’t know about revolutionary. All the Young Dudes was written by David Bowie for Mott the Hoople. Bowie later recorded his own version. Same with almost every song on Tapestry by Carol King. The only difference here is that we have to pay Beck (and his publisher) for the ability to play these songs.

      1. In one of the more pleasant corners of my mind, that’s not only true but they also both get a secret thrill out of it.

    1.  Apparently he is a looser who feels you should kill him, but that might be just a song lyric put into my head by forces of evil in a bozo nightmare.

    1. Agreed.  It’s a cool idea and maybe lots of cool stuff will come out of it, but I’m thinking Beck had a bunch of songs he wasn’t that into and he said, “Hey, what if…”

  8. Beck’s new book of unrecorded sheet music is being marketed as if it were an “album.” [Fixed that for you.]

    It’s a nice twist, good on him.

    1.  al bum (noun)

      4.  a printed book containing an anthology of writings, reproductions of photographs or artwork, musical compositions, etc.

    1. I think it is completely reasonable to consider this an album. All albums are legally made up of two portions, the publishing side, and the master side. The master side refers to the actual recordings of the music, the sonics, ect. The publishing refers to the concepts, the notes, the sheet music. These two things are separate. For instance if you recorded a song by the beatles and put it on your “album” you would own the master recording, but the beatles would still own the publishing, the concept of the song. This is an album where the master recordings are absent. I think this is a totally exciting thing. When one reads music there are infinite modes of interpretation possible. The music can be executed with infinite variation and always will be depending on the relative tuning of instruments and understanding of time ect. To not release a master recording of these tracks seems a way to keep the music the most physically free while still keeping it conceptually stable. These songs could sound like anything! Yet they are still song’s by Beck. The advent of recordings is relatively recent, why be elitist about them? it used to be all songs traveled from person to person or through sheet music. It’s a more democratic, almost less capitalistic mode in a way. If people can’t deal with the idea of not being constrained to understand music through a specific structure in some ways made to sell radio adds ect. back in the day, then oh well… but, I’m gonna buy this thing and play the hell out of these songs, and not record them.

      1. There’s no question that it is an album, but for brevity’s sake, it would be easier to call it a song book.

  9. While this is a fun idea, I can see a direct problem with it. I, for one, will not be listening to this album because I can’t read sheet and don’t have the time or energy to devote to learning sheet.

    Also, my playing abilities are likely too subpar to really get a good sound of it.

    A few people who are excellent musicians might get a really nice experience out of this, but otherwise the rest of us are going to have to pass on this.

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