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Lost in the ether

Iconic cover designs will soon be history. But there’s something I will miss even more in a world of digital music distribution.

Author: Johannes Schardt
Date: 8. August 2008
taken from sonicyouth.com

Taken from sonicyouth.com

I’m sure there will be a niche for physical music storage mediums for a couple of years to come, but the summer hit of 2015 will not be pressed on CDs and shipped all around the world.

Music is dematerilizing. And with the death of the Compact Disc, the packaging design will persish as well (it has been already suffering for almost two decades, when those tiny CDs replaced the 12 x 12 inch canvas of vinyl LPs).

Designing record sleeves is probably considered the most exciting and fun job among graphic designers. It has become an “art form” of its own. Lots of books about record sleeve design have been published. I’ve got about 10 of those and I like flicking through the pages full of beautiful photography, colourful illustrations and interesting typography. When I browse through my vinyl shelf, there are lots of records whose design I adore. But as much as I enjoy looking at an Autechre sleeve by tDR, I could do without. What I will miss in a world without CD/LP/DVDs isn’t so much the work of graphic designer or visual artists.

Taken from sonicyouth.com

Taken from sonicyouth.com

What I will miss are credits, thank-you-lists and liner notes. And cryptic messages etched into the vinyl. I will also miss stuff like the handwriting which consistently occured on many Sonic Youth records during the last 20 years. Or blurred photos a band took in their rehearsal room.

Because what I love about record sleeves and booklets – more than just the design – is the documentary character of it. What I hold in my hand is preserved information. It’s a cultural document. It’s been printed at one point in history and it can’t be altered, it stays with me (and even future generations) and I can access it every time I want to.

Of course you can put the credits on a website, you can have your handwritten lyrics in a PDF and instead of etching a witty text into dead wax, you could use the comments field in the ID3 tags. You can also blog about the recording and post your pictures on flickr.

But will all of this still be available in 10 or 20 years? What happens if a musician decides to delete documents from his past? What if the band calls it quits and shuts down their website? And will there be any software in 2030 that reads PDF-files from 2008?

When thinking about the demise of physical recordings, I don’t worry about the cover design. There will be new areas to create imagery for music. I’m more concerned about loosing information. Which is kind of paradoxal, because the digital world seems to be full of it.

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Oh, there are 2 comments so far

  1. We are headed towards a day when the music packaging industry is no longer going to exist, thats if we haven’t already reached that day. With itunes and the like, music only lives on the hard drive, and theres less and less of a need to go to the store and purchase it. As for CDs, I can’t recall the last time I even held a music CD in my hand. Its a demise reminiscent of a similar vanishing act of the good old cassettes and and Walkmans.

    armeen on 19. August 2008
  2. I’d like to pay attention to one sentence in this article – “I’m more concerned about loosing information. Which is kind of paradoxal, because the digital world seems to be full of it.” Actually, the digital worls if full of data – it’s overwhelmed with data – but at the same time it’s really poor when it comes to information. Why? Because information is meaningful data. And meaningful is such which serves the user to enrich his or her knowledge about the world. In order to become an information, a piece of data must be found, understood and interpreted – which is extremely difficult when we have an access to so much data that we don’t even know, where to look for what and how to separate this one particular piece of data we need from the data chaos in the digital universe. Hence the future in the Big Data Analysis conducted by professional researchers helping ordinary people to navigate in the digital space. Helping but also… having a huge power because of the ability to select what people should know and what should be hidden from public. So, for me the danger is not in loosing information but rather in loosing the last semi-illusion of control over what I get to know.

    Natalia Weimann on 13. July 2012

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