Something I’ve always wanted to write about, ever since I experienced the full force of passion that our first love affairs with music inspire in us when we are young, is what distinguishes the album as an artistic medium.
Rather like film and video recording, any collection of recordings or things recorded together is a record. Early experiments in film did not even necessarily regard video recording as even necessarily relatable to narrative storytelling. What we now recognize as modern filmmaking is a hybrid between literature and film, since storytelling is presumed to be the ultimate point. For more on this subject I suggest you google Tania Modleski and cinematic excess. I don’t need to borrow too much from Modleski except that a created structure implicitly reveals its purpose through its design.
Writing and narrative require conceptual coherence since writing is a linguistic medium. Photography and audio recording do not: for something to be photographed or recorded, it need only be visible or audible. A photograph or an audio recording might be artistic or it might serve some other technical or commercial or any other conceivable function. Filmmaking and audio recording are not meant solely for art any more than writing is meant solely for storytelling.
Bringing audio recording to music creates a hybrid in the same way that bringing video recording to literature does. Like any other constructed object, it makes sense to infer intention behind its’ structure. One of my favorite movies is a horror film from 2002 called May. May has long, drawn out non-verbal parts that rely completely on visual storytelling and involve subject matter that is never frankly discussed in the dialogue of the script (this isn’t anything new and I’m sure we can all think of a ton of examples of this; I’m just using May to make a point). For me as a young teenager, the silent, purely visual scenes in May shifted the perspective and character of the film in a way that the script could not: in fact, as an adult it’s obvious that a script is only written to serve a specific function that works equally with the contributions of the actors, director, cinematographer, editor, etc.
The finished product of a photographed script uses the contribution of the writer in concert with every other force at work in front of and behind the camera. The same is true for an album. All art requires a bit of intimacy and exposure on the part of the artist but with films and albums the separation between conception, embodiment and execution is more obvious than something like a novel, which often comes to us resembling nothing more than a naked and singular work in spite of however much editing and re-writing may have happened before publication. Like all rules there are exceptions: my two favorite writers, Victor Hugo and William S. Burroughs, frequently used their writing as a kind of embodiment that would itself “tell” a story rather than use an impersonal and anonymous narrator. This sort of creative device is necessarily more common in modern film and music, however.
I don’t want to make this seem like some kind of big academic look at the album as an art form. I just don’t feel like doing that and it’s more fun to look at specific albums that exemplify the range of what the medium is capable of. I also wanted to nail down some basic ideas that are going to be used later before I get into what I really want to talk about.
Sequential posts to be linked, soon, at the end of this one