“We Buy White Albums,” is an installation at Recess devoted to first-edition copies of the White Album. Released in 1968, artist Rutherford Chang is fascinated in equal parts by the unique pressings and audiology, as well as the deconstruction of the physical artifact itself.
In the Sunday New York Times, Mr. Chang explained that he is “interested in the different ways that the covers aged," explaining that "being an all-white cover, the changes are apparent. The serial numbers made collecting them seem natural, and the more I got, the more interesting it became. As you see, many of them are written on, and each has a story. The accumulation of the stories is part of it. But it’s also about how the physical object — the record — just doesn't exist anymore.”
Picking the White Album for this kind of project makes sense. The sleeve was considered conceptual art by Richard Hamilton, a collage artist who spearheaded the design, using serials to create "the ironic situation of a numbered edition," and perhaps most importantly, highlighted the intentional departure from the vivacious cover art on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In step with any re-branding the reviews were famously mixed. Tony Palmer, in The Observer, referred to Lennon and McCartney as "the greatest songwriters since Schubert" were as Nik Cohn's review in The New York Times, called the album “boring beyond belief” and described “more than half the songs” as “ profound mediocrities.”
My sister and I stopped by Tuesday afternoon and talked briefly to Chang. I was particularly interested in the case above which they were nice enough to take off the wall for me to photograph. I am not an artist, musician, or writer, but what truly fascinates me about this project, are the forgotten stories and silhouetted memories that are in some senses worn into these album covers, namely those that are not, as Chang said, "apparent." This looks like a woman's handwriting Who did she write this about? Does she remember? Why this poem? Why this album cover? Maybe it was completely arbitrary. Maybe it wasn't.
The Beatles captured a generation in a way that is probably no longer possible. With infinite options, permutations, compilations and the like, it seems unlikely to streamline the cultural zeitgeist in the same way. Chang plans to continue his collection and with nearly seven hundred copies so far, that is certainly something to take note of.
The penultimate for this project will be a layered recording of several hundred copies of The White Album. Initially I thought this would render a rich hearty recording. In reality, it is more akin to ambient noise.
Adding another, perhaps unnecessary layer to the White Album, I offer a relevant passage from a different White Album: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accident, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be "interesting" to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest's clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience." Joan Didion, The White Album