(Music and Other Media)
Rutherford Chang - We Buy White Albums
According to his website Rutherford Chang currently owns 1,034 copies of The Beatles 1968 self-titled album, known to most as “The White Album.”
His 2014 project We Buy White Albums lies somewhere between a conceptual art piece and an art gallery. It’s a temporary record store that only stocks original LP pressings of The White Album. But don’t bother stopping buy if you want to pick up a copy. As its title implies (or bluntly states) the store only buys copies of the records.
Chang’s inspiration for the piece is derived from his interest in how objects age and how people’s relationships with them can be seen in the objects themselves.
“Each copy has become a unique object because of the physicality of vinyl records. It’s a format that is impossible to keep pristine, unlike digital recordings, so this collection of artifacts, created by the individual journeys of each album, has become a document of an era that will never be replicated again.”
As you can see from the image I linked to above, the albums he’s collected offer intriguing glimpses into the lives of others. While most are simply faded and smudged, others feature doodles, dedications, and customized designs.
But why The White Album? Why not Abbey Road, or Revolver? Hell, why not Thriller or Rumours?
"I’m most interested in the albums as objects and observing how they have aged. So for me, a Beatles album with an all white cover is perfect."
Essentially, his choice is due to several factors. First, of course, is that the albums all-but-blank cover makes any changes readily apparent. But, equally important is how iconic the cover is and how massively popular the Beatles were. After all, it’d be hard to collect 1,034 copies of a record that didn’t sell millions of copies. But, the fact that The Beatles are the biggest musical act in history means that most of this piece’s audience members would have heard the record, and therefore have some relationship of their own with it that the piece could touch upon.
Furthermore, during the time that We Buy White Albums was in exhibition / open for business, Chang constantly played the records he was collecting. He played each copy once, and digitally recorded it as he went along. Then he took all 100 recordings he made and combined them into a single song. You can hear all of those Side A’s here. They all start out fairly close together, but by the time it reaches “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” the track has turned into an unrecognizable drone of noise.
Basically, in this piece Chang highlights how the mediums we use to consume art affect that experience. We think of The White Album as being one single artwork we’ve all experienced, but the means we’ve used to do so (a vinyl record, a cassette tape, an .mp3 file) have a subtle effect on our listening.
We Buy White Albums was most recently in exhibition at the Liverpool International Music Festival from August 15, 2014 to September 14, 2014.