Avant-garde musician Beck Hansen recently produced a new “album,” Song Reader, that was not released in stores or via mp3 files. Instead, he released the score and asked his fans and other musicians to upload their interpretations of the score for others to hear. The tagline on the website says, “Only you can bring Beck Hansen’s Song Reader to life.”
The idea is quite intriguing for our pop music era: The composer trusts his audience to be true to the score he has provided, allowing them the liberty to interpret his notations in ways that seem interesting or apt to them. Of course, this is the way new music used to be disseminated in the days before Mr. Edison imposed the new authority of the recorded product through the phonograph. There is, as the Preacher once noted, little that is new under the sun.
The uploaded versions of the songs to-date run the gamut of quality and texture. It is an interesting experiment in artistry, to be sure, refusing to dictate every jot and tittle of the sounds and instrumentation and allowing the fans to fill in the blanks, so to speak.
I suspect that Beck intended this move to be an ironic statement about postmodern sensibilities and the vacuum of authority that is left in the wake of irony and subjectivism. Instead, however, he has produced something that is really more of a metaphor about the authority of the author. What unites the products of the project is the shared score that he has provided; if the product has no relationship to the score, it is not a part of the wiki-album.
Indeed, this is something of a metaphor for what God did for us with his revelation of himself through the Scriptures. The notes are there for us to follow but there is a wide allowance for cultural differences. Unlike Islam, for example, where only Arabic is used in the purest pursuits of the language and cultural assimilation is expected on a significantly prescribed level, Christianity has always allowed for a diversity of cultural and interpretive expressions. Sure, we have some difficult passages that we must navigate in terms of history and culture, but to be Christian is not, per se, to be Western or African or Eastern. We have the foundations and circumscriptions of Scripture, Creed, and so forth, but when we tour the world, we find these commonalities articulated in many different ways. And this seems to reflect the timeless truths that we serve a faith that has been sent forth for all peoples in all ages until he returns to gather us home.