December 29, 2013
by Jasper Willems
It’s a common ploy in the music industry: the album listening party. Industry suits invite a flock of salivating journalists to hear the new widely anticipated album release *cough*Daft Punk*cough* for the very first time, albeit slapping them with a hefty embargo to deter them from writing about it prematurely. The proverbial carrot dangling on a stick that keeps the buzz buzzing.
After all, nothing generates more ballyhoo than exclusivity (more like, the illusion of exclusivity, which I’ll elaborate on further down). Especially when processing a record, a far more elusive undertaking than assessing a physical piece of art. With nothing but your initial impressions to draw from and no one to share it with on some public platform, it’s only logical to spell your ruminations inward. Indeed, from a music execs perspective, the listening party is a proven – and extremely clever – stratagem.
However, what would a listening party entail for the artists themselves? To Stefan Breuer (The Subhuman, I Am Oak, Lost Bear), for instance, it emphasizes something completely different. Something more intrinsic, for one. With Snowstar Records’s ten year anniversary soiree at Tivoli Oudegracht providing favorable wind in the sails, Breuer has set up a listening party to showcase his project The World of Dust, a wonderfully collage of celestial space rock splendor. Upstairs, seventeen individuals will hear the album Bhava from start to finish, not necessarily for the sake of promoting this particular LP, but to share a candid listening experience in roughly forty minutes.
Obviously, is this a departure from the usual live album presentation. Yet ultimately, this might actually be a more fair dialogue between consumer and artist: by volunteering, the listener subjects him or herself to the artist’s cause. Vice versa, the listener will be enriched by a more personal interaction, instilling substance and purpose to the overall listening experience. It might be the closest thing to a trustworthy, non-partisan exchange we get in this modern era of music consumerism. It seems to work too, because a large chunk of the participants lined up to buy a copy of Bhava, complete with lavish artwork booklet consisting of vibrant collages by Breuer’s hand (rendered in cool outlandish sci-fi and theological imagery). On a side note, Breuer’s MO parallels the snippets of artwork both aesthetically and methodically, making Bhava a cogent personal document.
A couple of minutes after the first session, Luifabriek spoke with Breuer to unearth his intent behind this somewhat uncoventional album presentation. Amidst our conversation Mr. Snowstar himself, Cedric Muyres, comes over to get the skinny on the aforementioned session. “Heart warming”, Stefan tells Muyres. The whole thing went down better than he had hoped, much to his own surprise. However, he admits to being worried the whole listening party-concept might backfire.
“What if people would find it boring or become anxious. I mean, spending a good forty minutes just listening to an album, who the hell does that nowadays?”, he muses.
To album purists among thee, it probably sounds preposterous to hear such a question…from a musician no less. Breuer’s a devious one nevertheless, harbored by an equally devious record label, fully embracing a luxury to devise his own circumstances with often idiosyncratic side projects (very much like his hero, the drunken kung fu master of lo-fi rock himself, Robert Pollard, with whom he shares a penchant for assembling wacky collages). Unlike former Snowstar-inbreds Kensington or up-and-comers Town of Saints, Breuer acknowledges his projects have more of a niche market-appeal.
“As far as I can see, you have two options when it comes to releasing a record in The Netherlands”, Breuer explains. “You either do a live album presentation or you just sit tight. To me,The World of Dust represents a finished project, as opposed to the start of a campaign to flog the music further. I already follow this kind of trajectory with some of my other bands, for instance I Am Oak. Second of all, I’m very pleased with the way the record has turned out, as well as the artwork and packaging. The means of recording the music on Bhava was done very deliberately, you see. I understand that if I were to perform it live, it would have to become something “different” altogether. You need to beguile people to listen to your record. I understand it’s part of the whole circus. But in this particular case I simply did not deem it necessary.”
Some albums are meant to just exist in their own universe, created to be listened to and nothing more. The World of Dust’s Bhava was recorded with this disposition in mind. By Breuer’s logic, reinterpreting this album in a live setting would ‘compromise’ the music in a sense. And not just on stage: Breuer is extremely vigilant about streaming the album online. “I definitely think it would take away from the overall experience. There is an almost infinite supply of music at our fingertips, so obviously, my record wouldn’t woo people as easily. I already operate in a relatively small market, I just don’t see it making noise, anyway you slice it.”
Breuer’s refusal to submit the album to Spotify, Deezer or SoundCloud may sound naïve, maybe even pompous. After all, in the digital age, bands and artists have gotten free reign to release music at their own desired pace and exposing it to all who wish to hear it. But given the notion that the record is very much a personal document, it merits a more personal MO. “I consider myself very much an album person. And evidently. there are still plenty of people who have sufficient attention span to listen to albums from start to finish. In any case, eventually that will cease to be.”
Breuer believes the comprehensive ubiquity of the traditional album release will shrink within the ever-expanding assortment of releases besieged upon us. “That’s exactly why I have chosen not to release Bhava on the internet. This album is meant to be perceived as a whole, not a sum of its parts. I do admit, I occasionally use Spotify with the sole intent of discovering music to buy down the road, but I do realize most people use it as prerequisite. That’s why I have no qualms with circumventing the usual guidelines, to have people listen to an album on my own terms.”
Hypothetically speaking, exclusivity might be fool’s gold when you’re unable to share it with someone else, especially in an era where the compulsion to share every dull meal you concoct with the rest of world. Like any musical product, whether its an album, EP or single, the choice always remains the same: you can lend your ear or leave the damn thing in the dust. In any case, having a musician like Breuer catalyze his own candid listening showcase might be an interesting blueprint for other musicians willing to present their art to amenable adherents in a more profound manner. I guess we’ll see who wants to follow suit.
You can order The World of Dust – Bhava here.