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Beck's open-source challenge to freetards: play it yourself!

Album as sheet music is a brilliant gambit

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Fans of the artist Beck must wait until December for his new album - and if they want to hear it, they can play it themselves. As you may have heard, Beck has said he'll issue his next album Song Reader as sheet music, rather than as a performed and produced sound recording.

"The songs here are as unfailingly exciting as you’d expect from their author, but if you want to hear Do We? We Do or Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard bringing them to life depends on you," according to the official blurb.

It'll actually come in quite a lavish package, made in association with Dave Eggar's cult publishing imprint McSweeney's. Twenty song booklets add up to 108 pages with original "home-play-inspired art" leaving little doubt what's required from the buyer. And it's not passive consumption.

There are a couple of other nice aspects to this manoeuvre. The McSweeney's site will host fan-contributed interpretations of the songs - for which (we trust) they'll receive a performance royalty. Share the wealth. And remember that unless (or until) Beck releases his own interpretation, there is no canonical original. So the fan versions won't be "covers"- they'll be interpretations.

Beck doesn't explicitly say that the sheet music release is a response to piracy, or even the instant reproduction of digital goods. However his UK publisher is happy if you were to draw that inference. According to Lee Brackstone, Faber's publishing director, it "makes a radical statement about the value and importance of performed and recorded music at a time when these very things are under threat".

Not all Grauniad readers are impressed.

"What an asshole," complains one, perhaps dreading the prospect of leaving the garden shed. "Maybe someone will transcribe a tab version sort of a more lo-fi version of illegal downloading," ponders another on the newspaper's website.

Which perhaps makes the argument more eloquently than a diatribe from Beck would.

Whatever the motivation, it's a brilliant marketing move - it's got people talking about Beck - and an artistic statement. Here's the source code, make the record. ®

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