For reviews of the (both respectable and enjoyable) music on each of these releases, I would encourage the reader to head to either Just Outside or Fluid Radio. That said, I should mention that Diatribes’s Augustus in particular comes with the recommendations of Cut And Run. In the interim, read on for some discussions on the releases’ chosen media…
First, an introduction. Opening some promotional material at the radio station the other day, I came across a package from Switzerland. Inside were two cardstock packages notable first for their beautiful screenprintings and second for their odd shape and size. Too large to hold a mini-CD, too small for a 5″, too thin for a cassette, too thick for just an insert. It took me a few minutes of reading and unpacking to realize that they did not, strictly speaking, contain musical media of any kind. Instead, the packages and folded full-colour A3 posters within each direct the potential listener to the label’s website where they may download the release. To purchase them from the site, one is presented with the option of a digital download alone or a download accompanied by this printed edition. This rather odd method of publication was chosen by Laurent Peter and Cyril Bondi for the rebirth of Insubordinations as INSUB.records.
My reaction was, and continues to be, varied. Originally intending to write a review back in early December when the parcel arrived, I’ve thought on the concept of packaging for digital releases for nearly a month now – timely given the subject-cum-object (and packaging extravaganza) that is Christmas. At a glance, it struck me as slightly gimmicky; at second glance, it crassly appealed to my materialism; later I thought it intriguing; and after some time, I’ve found it rather considerate.
Introducing the concept to friends, collectors, artists and none-of-the-above, I’ve found responses as varied. Some attested that the physical medium is precisely the point of publication (particularly in analogue form), others that they never use the download coupons which so often accompany physical releases these days, others that they don’t buy music in any physical fashion anymore if ever they did, still others that they don’t purchase music, period. INSUB.records themselves state that the concept is not meant to be ‘revolutionary’; indeed, it is a small wonder that I haven’t yet stumbled across a similarly assembled process of consumption. Given my music habits and extensive time spent away from home, I fall into a category of listeners who most often play audio in strictly digital form, but for a variety of materialistic, nostalgic, appreciative and fetishistic reasons continue to collect the physical media associated with said audio. It is for precisely this community that this method of publication is most apt. Keep such a bias in mind…
We would be remiss to devolve a listener’s relationship with these releases to strict economics, though it is of course tempting to view such a publication as merely a ‘proof of purchase’ or a promotional tool. An audience’s perogative to have their economic participation in the artistic method made manifest by way of physical publication is, if often justifiably dying away, certainly still important to many communities. Questioning a friend on whether such a method was gimmicky or not, she responded by asking just what precisely the problem was with a gimmick if mutually appealing. There is a tacit and intuitive understanding invoked here between the artists and the audience which appears quite practical. No physical media, especially superfluous in the case of CDs – or objects of easily damaged digital fidelity with a shelf life. The catharsis of a tangible element of and context for the audio medium itself – idealized in the textured appeal of a screenprint. The delayed gratification of engaging the postal system for delivery of the media – itself going slowly extinct, perhaps here in Canada faster than anywhere on the planet. This contrapuntal mix of romanticism and realism is precisely what kept me from putting my thoughts to print here for the last month, and is further precisely why this sort of publication is both timely and welcomed.
These releases also recognize, albeit not uniquely so, that with the massive aggregation of media online, the ease of self-publication and the hugely diverse formats and platforms of consumption, proprietary or otherwise, comes a renewed consequence for the process of curation. I find it unseemly to borrow from the paradigm of marketing, but given such a proliferation of information the resources used to package and promote a work will continue to attest to its merits for some time. Where once audio art was given social (if not artistic) credence by its manifestly complication production by orchestra or cutting-edge tape devices, it is now bestowed primarily through a curatorial approach. Of course these are myriad in form and nature, and while the approach of INSUB.records may not be revolutionary, it occupies a unique space in the music community, one that is thoughtful and worth engaging with.
Remember when it was possible to lose a CD on a bus? When switching albums out on your unwavering Panasonic Shockwave required fumbling with a wallet/binder full of discs which would occasionally become misplaced? At some point during that era, I lost Download’s The Eyes Of Stanley Pain (this provides some indication of my age). To this day, the empty, well-worn, three-panel gatefold cardstock sleeve sits empty in my collection. I doubt I kept it for the tidily neo-gothic artwork or to show off to my friends, and I certainly didn’t keep it in the anticipation of one day using it to repackage a misstep of a CD purchase sold or traded away, a role in which so many 1980s arena rock album covers now find themselves.
Then again, I don’t really have a photo album. Looking at a picture of an old girlfriend, I am of course reminded of what she looked like; if I took the picture myself I can probably recall where we were at the time. But if I hear the first three notes of Six Organs of Admittance’s ‘Elk River’ I can tell you that we were walking on a cold windy night through a small prairie town neither of us had ever been to before and as we made our way to the rail yard she pulled her hood down to put my headphones on and listen to this song as she walked just one step ahead of me in silence and the moon caught her collarbone just so before we turned to sit in a rust-red boxcar at the end of a dead end track to kiss for the first time. I haven’t listened to the album in many years, but when I cross the room and recognize the white edge of the tray of the jewel case in a particular place in my collection I can recall the entire album and the whole of that evening.
Perhaps for some of us, scrolling past an album cover in iTunes or an icon in a file folder or revisiting a music video on YouTube has the same impact. I doubt any of us peruse our listening or browsing history in the hopes of finding some awkward or lovely reminiscence (we leave that to the bots). Posting ascerbic one-liners below photos is amusing, but can’t be mistaken for contemplative reflection. Meanwhile the spiky cohesion of cassettes, vinyl, CDs, packages, press sheets, empty sleeves, broken jewel cases, demos, cables and audio devices has an emotional texture unrivaled by anything on a computer or smartphone. Sometimes these trails of interactions are used against us, sometimes we ignore them, sometimes they help us figure out just how we got here. A few of us still collect stories for the retelling, most still collect photos, and some of us still collect records.