If there is one common theme in the discussion of New Music projects for CD it is the question of how to present valuable content (New Music) adequately in a cheap and slowly vanishing medium (CD, increasingly replaced by streaming and download).
There is no doubt that very few people actually like CD’s anymore. In contrast to vinyl their content is digital and could be stored on any other medium – your PC, your smartphone, you ipod, etc. There is no difference except the technical quality of the playback, which is in no way connected to the player but is a completely independent issue. The quality of CD packaging is usually crap – the crystal cases are mostly cheap and break if you look at them. The booklets are tiny and uncomfortable to read, and you will most certainly destroy them if you put them back into the case. CD’s are small, but store really badly, because they are quite wide and quickly create huge unwieldy stacks in your cupboards. In short: no wonder that the young generation is increasingly not interested in buying them – for them the digital quality is nothing new (like it was for us older people back in the 80’s) and except that there is little added value in a CD.
Some CD companies counter this with formats like SACD or similar high-end digital formats, but in the end it just means you have to buy more expensive playback systems with only minute quality differences. And the increased file size is not countering the problem of illegal downloads, as the internet is becoming faster daily, keeping up nicely with larger download chunks.
It is no surprise that vinyl has survived and is actually still going quite strong – each copy is an analogue individual copy. It can be destroyed and eroded by playing but there is no doubt each copy is unique. Each copy can be treasured, like a good bottle of wine or whisky its value actually rests in its fragility. A CD can also be destroyed easily (especially by my kids), but its content can easily be copied and stored or shared on endless mediums. I have never felt a pang of regret throwing away superfluous CD’s, to be honest.
One of the more original approaches to address this problem I have seen lately is from the excellent new Berlin label “Testklang” , which is quite young and has so far produced only 3 CD’s .
Their approach is simple: avoiding selling out cheap like some of the major labels they instead produce not only high quality recordings but superior quality editions of each CD. So far they have produced CD’s with music by John Cage, Bunita Marcus and a Pierrot Lunarie themed edition. Each edition is presented in a bigger and well-designed case more akin to a book and contains not only music but videos and various extras as well as a huge booklet. These editions cost more than normal CD’s, but are still affordable. In addition each edition is alternatively presented in a specially designed “artefact” form, which means they are published in a special big case designed and handcrafted by an artist. In this case you’ll find not only the CD but various additional material – an autograph by Bunita Marcus for example, pictures, paraphernalia, collector’s items.
These “artefact” editions are then sold by an ingenious system: the first copies are relatively cheap but then rise in price incrementally – the later you buy them the more expensive they become. This on one hand promotes “early bird” pre-ordering but also makes the editions valuable by simple market mechanics.
There might be people who will call all of this unnecessary “fluff”, but in the end their goal is noble: everything is about creating a product that one really likes to keep, that can be treasured. You will listen to the music in a different way if you own these editions. You might actually sit down and savor them, something that we rarely do in our hectic lifetimes.
The emotional connection to objects is sometimes devaluated in our digital age – as physical representations of intellectual content become rarer again they are also rising in value again. And that is probably the wisdom that can be gained by endeavors like “Testklang”.
The whole company is basically run by a shareholding system similar to crowd funding (which is probably the future for independent record companies and smaller labels). Their hope is to continuously produce lovingly produced high quality editions of music that they like and support, regardless of any commercial considerations. I for my part I have highly enjoyed learning about their work, and wish them lots of success with their future projects!