For some music fans, digital MP3 files aren't a patch on old-fashioned vinyl. But now the singer-songwriter Beck is delving further into the past by releasing an album that will be published entirely as individual pieces of sheet music.
Song Reader will contain 20 individual song booklets, housing lyrics and musical notation for instruments including the ukulele. The songs themselves, contained within the 108 pages of sheet music, have not previously been released by Beck Hansen, or even recorded. How are Beck's fans expected to hear songs such as "Do We? We Do" and "Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard"?
"Bringing them to life depends on you," the singer says. His latest release will be presented in an elaborate hardcover carrying case and illustrated with designs by a dozen artists. Published by McSweeney's, a San Francisco house noted for its lavishly packaged books and support for new writers, Beck's Song Reader "is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012", according to a post on the Los Angeles-based musician's website announcing the project.
Beck's album is "an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that's as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together". Renditions of the songs by fans and "select musicians" will be featured online. Instead of a traditional record company, Song Reader will be released in Britain in December by Faber and Faber and sold for £18.99. The music industry was dominated by sheet-music publishers in the 19th century. The development of the phonograph gramophone in the 1920s and the rise of recorded music led to the sheet music chart being replaced by physical record sales.
Lee Brackstone, publishing director at Faber, believes Beck is offering a new future for the traditional album. He said: "Tracks are leaked – intentionally, legally and unintentionally – and the idea of an album as a unifying statement about a band's style, future direction and present gnostic preoccupations are long consigned to the dustbin of history. There are multiple ironies about a pre-analogue project arriving in digital form."
Beck's real name is Bek David Campbell. He made his breakthrough with the album Odelay in 1996. He is married to Marissa Ribisi who is the twin sister of Giovanni Ribisi.