Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Beatles "White Album" Seen Through The Eyes and Ears of Rutherford Chang

"The Beatles: White Album" by Rutherford Chang

About six months ago a friend of mine sent me a link regarding the artist Rutherford Chang and his project of documenting and collecting versions of the album “The Beatles” better known to the world as the “White Album.”   Chang has around 900 copies of the album, and as an exhibition he had a pop-up store of sorts in Soho New York, where he had a record store that only exhibited the “White Album.”   Some may find the concept humorous but I was almost moved to tears when I saw the images of this exhibition.  It made me think of the importance of the record store, and of course The Beatles themselves.  Specifically the importance of the “White Album.”

Chang took the next step and made a vinyl release of “The Beatles” which is the album overlaid 100 times.   Even the famous iconic album cover and packaging is overlaid many times over from previous covers over the years.   But how does this work as a listening experience.  Well, I have the album, and it’s a masterpiece.

First of all the album itself is beautiful.  The cover at first looks like the White Album, but re-done by some lunatic with an ink pen.  But then you realize the overlaid aspect of the cover and this is sort of a Frankenstein monster, where all the parts become something new yet familiar.  The album comes with a glossy poster of 100 White Album covers, which is worth the price alone for this incredible package.

One would think that the sound would be totally chaos, but alas, it is actually a meditative work of superb beauty.   The album works on so many levels.  There is the layer physical aspect of having this album in your hands and admiring the artwork.  It is both a tribute to the original source as well as seeing how art can move on from its source intro something else. That is part one of the enjoyment, the other big part is the sounds itself.

The layering of 100 recordings being roughly played at the same time makes this a dreamy utopia.  The vinyl sound of the needle and the clicks itself are so human and beautiful, then you hear something like Eric Clapton’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and it takes one into a blissful state.  Due to the delay there are no tracks between the songs, it is all one piece and the sheets of sound that comes up time-to-time is amazing.  “Helter Skelter” instead of being this harsh rocker, becomes a sonic wave hitting the beach and returning back to the ocean.  “Bluebird” which has a beautiful melody keeps that intact, but the textural aspect of the song comes out like you are underwater listening to music. 

Right now I have to imagine that this album won’t be around forever, but surely the remaining members of The Beatles as well as the estate surrounding the fab four (especially Yoko) will realize that Chang made an incredible tribute to their music, yet it goes beyond that.   This is the most impressive album I have seen or heard this year — or decade so far.  You can hear side one  on Sound-cloud, but even that, it doesn’t capture the beauty of this vinyl on your turntable producing these incredible sounds for your ears and yes, eyes as well.

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