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rethinking Albums: a short article
album - ae.lbum, n. [Latin - album: a blank tablet]:  1: a blank book in which to store autographs, verse, drawings, photos, stamps etc.
2: a collection of music recordings presented as a single item.
First Forms

When sound recording began, the cylinder, then the gramophone record, offered a single recorded piece. As the record predominated and developed, its double-sidedness was eventually used to present two pieces. For longer material the 78rpm disc was collected and presented as several discs housed in a book-like container - the first appearance of the 'album'.

The 45rpm disc further established the idea of the 2 'A' and a 'B' sides and the 33rpm long player provided the opportunity to assemble more tracks, or tracks of longer duration, than before.

At first, the '33' was presented just as a 'long player' - a collection of disparate material by the same artist. However, the identity of the 33 as an 'album' was established by two phenomena:
1./ the evolution of the record sleeve into an artistic form and 2./ the use of the 33 to present unified material (e.g. 'Kind of Blue'; 'Sgt Pepper' etc.) especially the 'concept album' (e.g. 'Dark Side of the Moon').

Thus, from being a means to an end, 'the album' developed into a much-loved cultural unit, comparable to 'the book' or 'the film'.


Current Forms

The early 80’s heralded the birth of the compact disc or CD which rapidly took over from the gramophone record as the main medium for recorded music distribution. The advantages the CD brought - scratch-free music, greater resilience, smaller storage size etc. were grudgingly thought, by many, to outweigh the more vulnerable qualities of the record.

Some people, however, continue to miss the materiality of the record (its size and texture) and similarly the presence of the record cover (CD covers are just not as substantial).

At the present time we appear to be in a transition stage between the CD and other, even less tangible, digital forms. Many people now choose to download tracks from the internet to a mobile or an mp3 player housing an entire record collection in a single, small box.

This new method challenges the idea of the album and returns us to single recorded pieces which we choose to assemble ourselves. This allows for novel listening situations and the opportunity to create new musical forms - forms that have a dynamic relationship between the content of the music and its representation.


New Forms

We are now in a position where we can reinvent 'the album' while retaining some of its positive qualities. Motile are particularly interested in considering how the form of material can be used to contribute to the content and experience of music.

Here are some current thoughts:

The album as a physical form
Could the objects that contain musical information such as CDs reflect musical content? Also, by extending the idea of 'the cover' as a separate entity, perhaps storage media could be partnered with specially fashioned objects (e.g. you could buy both a collection of sound files and an accompanying physical item designed by an artist.

The album as a discrete collection of pieces
As it is now possible to buy musical tracks singly, perhaps some artists will find other ways to group musical material together - e.g. recommend that a suite of tracks is downloaded. Another possibility is to think of albums as having semi-permeable membranes, so that the release of a new album might influence or commingle with a previous release (this could be achieved digitally e.g. via apps).
You can buy Motile albums as downloads or as CDs by Post (UK only - £9.99)
RMusic: recorded music
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