Rutherford Chang’s The White Album

Front cover.
Front cover.
Back cover.
Back cover.

I own my share of peculiar records: The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead (read by Timothy Leary); Natural Childbirth (an early 1950s record that documents the live birth of a baby); a record that is only frog sounds; a yodeling record; and to my growing vinyl oddities, I can now add Rutherford Chang’s The White Album. Rutherford Chang has been getting a lot of press for his art project, “We Buy White Albums,” where he only purchases copies of The Beatles’ White Album, displayed at a gallery (set up like a record shop) that only carries the iconic double album. All of the albums are first-pressings and Rutherford Chang’s website now lists the total number of copies at 918. At some point during the exhibit (here’s an interview on the process), Rutherford thought, “I wonder what it sounds like if you play 100 copies of The White Album at once?” And that’s exactly what Chang’s The White Album does: 100 (45 year-old) first-pressings of The White Album are synced up in a bizarre sound collage that moves in and out of the familiar and into the choral and cacophonous. Each copy of the record is unique, and given the slight sound variations in pressings, and the natural and scratched wear of vinyl, the listening experience captures the distinct history of each record. We start off with a familiar, but muddier version of “Back in the U.S.S.R,” and then move into uncontrollably new territory as the records slowly coast out of sync over the course of each side. Chang even layered the gatefold cover and disc labels with the worn and hand-drawn originals to create a visual collage that reworks the featureless original and highlights the individual history of each copy.

Poster of the 100 albums.
The poster of the 100 albums.

Pressed in a very limited run—which sold out quick—I am happy to add Chang’s The White Album to my vinyl collection. Of course, some purists might disavow the album, while others will welcome this innovative project as being in line with the experimental spirit of late-period Beatles. Have a listen for yourself.

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