“It all really started when someone handed me the sheet music for one of my earlier songs, it might have been on Odelay or something, and I just thought that it was really interesting…and really funny that someone had put my song into sheet music,” said Beck Hansen, who sported a navy cardigan and wore one of his now-signature hats, in the middle of a Q&A with McSweeney‘s Jordan Bass. “Like there were specific marks for my screams!”
Last Thursday night marked the opening of the Beck Song Reader Exhibition at Sonos Studio–an intimate look at the art and inspiration of Hansen’s album made entirely of sheet music–and brought together sheet music readers, musicians, Beck fans and the creative types from all around the Southland. Within the tiny gallery/concert venue/interactive space, guests were invited to take a look at the designs, sketches and art of each of Song Reader‘s 20 individual compositions, as well as take a glance into Hansen’s personal collection of vintage sheet music.
While the unbelievably packed opening party seemed like it became a night full of playing “spot the celebrity” (John C. Reilly, Agyness Deyn and Giovanni Ribisi just to get you started), it was in the moments between performances and inside Hansen’s incredibly thoughtful Q&A answers that hammered home this project was a labor of love and true talent as opposed to a publicity stunt.
Hansen and Bass discussed the long road that brought Song Reader to fruition as well as what they hope from the future for it as an interactive piece of art. When revealing that the album took almost a decade to complete, Hansen blushed and playfully tried to downplay its significance: “Don’t tell them that it’s been eight years! That puts way too much pressure on this thing!”
Beyond a few crass questions just trying to get a rise out of the artist (How did you lose your virginity?, When was the last time you took acid?), the Q&A seemed more like a conversation between Hansen and the audience who posed questions about the choice of key for the songs (“I tried to find a key that was good for everyone, but that just doesn’t exist, so I guess I did choose a key that was in my range”), as well as his favorite version that he’s heard so far (While the jury is still out, the front-runner was a few old men playing bongos).
The entire audience was here to see a man who expressed more interested in hearing what we thought of the music, or more accurately, our versions of his music: “Recordings have become definitive for songs over the decades, so we really associate a song with whether Tom Petty did it, or Black Sabbath. I thought there was something interesting about the period before recorded music where there was nobody telling you how to play it, how to hear it or how to feel it.”
After fielding questions from the young and old (as well as a few from moderator Jason Bentley from KCRW), fellow musicians who took the time to figure out Song Reader literally brought the words, chords and notes to life. Performances by Adam Green and Binki Shapiro, Nick and Tim (Tim Heidecker and Nick Thorburn), Amy Reagan and End of America gorgeously put their spin on their own personal favorites including “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” “Please Leave the Light on When You Go” and “America, Here’s My Boy.”
In the end, Hansen didn’t come back to the stage to give us his takes on these meticulously crafted songs (as Bentley wrongly promised), but it was better that way–we can continue to create and put our own versions of the album to the test, which is of course how he intended it. F
Taken from FILTER Magazine. Published February 25, 2013.