Tweet Share Share Email WhatsAppShares 0Kanye West has certainly been raising eyebrows as of late. And no, I’m not talking about the naked celebrities in his music video or his crazed rant on The Ellen DeGeneres Show a month or so back. While, yes, those things were strange to say the least, I frankly don’t give a rat’s ass about Kanye’s public persona. No, I’m talking about Kanye strictly as a musician. Yeezy’s been attracting attention and controversy regarding the release of his seventh studio album. Or should I say releases? Since The Life of Pablo originally dropped in February, Kanye has revised and rereleased the album thrice. So, in total, there are four different versions of The Life of Pablo. But what’s the big deal, right? Hasn’t music always been subject to change? Of course it has. The earliest forms of music were created in similar revisionist fashion. Before audio recordings, live performance was the only way to consume music. And no two performances of the same song were identical. Sure, even if these pieces were notated, musical notes on a page could be interpreted in different ways and played with different inflections. No single piece of music was static, but instead subject to variation each time it was played. Music was created, changed, and left behind all in a single moment, unable to be reproduced in exact form. In this way, live performance allowed each piece to grow and evolve as a living, breathing organism. The only problem with this method of music consumption was accessibility. In order to be able to hear certain pieces of music, people had to have the time and money necessary to attend concerts, which many did not. This all began to change with the invention of Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877, allowing a single performance to be captured, sold, immortalized. Innovations such as the gramophone disc and magnetic tape followed, the latter making techniques like overdubbing and multitrack recording possible. Music was being made in a more meticulous, calculated way. When The Beatles retired from touring in 1966 in order to focus on their studio efforts, live performance as a creative platform of music effectively died. The most famous, most critically acclaimed music act in the world at the time demonstrated, through timeless albums like Abbey Road (1969) and Revolver (1967), that live performance was not necessary to have a successful music career. This is not to say that music became any less enjoyable or evocative. It just became more static. Sonic experimentation could now be performed exclusively in the studio. Some are likely to criticize my above assertions. And rightfully so. Live performance still remains an extremely important facet of the music world. It still seems to evoke something that recorded music just can’t. Otherwise, Deadheads wouldn’t assert that the Dead’s live recordings and their accompanying long-winded jams are significantly better than the group’s studio albums. Otherwise, radio stations wouldn’t consistently play the fourteen minute live recording of Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like I Do” instead of the six minute studio version. Live recordings still clearly hold a great deal of prominence and longevity in today’s popular culture. However, it’s important to acknowledge what the above examples truly are: recordings. Sure, recordings of live performances. But they’re recordings nonetheless. In the forty years since the release of the live version of “Do You Feel Like I Do”, the song hasn’t changed; we have been celebrating that same live take for four decades, and will most likely continue to celebrate that same version for years to come. It’s not that live music has become less powerful. It’s just that audio recording has allowed us to capture a single live performance and mass reproduce it, effectively immortalizing music for long-term mass consumption, but also binding songs with certain musical choices and sonic flavors. Perhaps this is why we enjoy concerts so much, because we are afforded the opportunity to experience music-making in real-time. However, at these concerts, our favorite artists rarely seem to be reinventing the sounds on their records. When you go to a Weezer concert to hear them play “Say It Ain’t So”, you want to hear the angsty, guitar power pop version of the song that was recorded in early 90s rather than an experimental art funk interpretation of that same song. And the artists know this, which perhaps discourages them from engaging in too much onstage experimentation. In this way, recorded music has to be looked at as both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, certain interpretations of songs that we love can be captured and reproduced for further enjoyment. On the other hand, the amount of alternate versions of these songs is limited because of our love for the familiar interpretations. Now, this doesn’t mean that recorded music can’t be repurposed. Musicians do it all the time. Rap producers sample old soul songs, new bands cover older cuts, artists release box sets with alternate takes, electronic producers remix tracks, old albums are remastered with increased crispness and clarity. Still, in the recorded age there seemed to be no way to capture the constantly-evolving, revisionist qualities of the music’s old days. Until now. Enter Kanye West. A man who popularized soul-based hip hop, synth electropop, grand orchestral pop rap, and glitch industrial beats. A man who kick-started the careers of John Legend, Big Sean, Travis Scott, Desiigner, and others. A man who is constantly pushing the boundaries of what should and shouldn’t be done in the view of the public eye. Even with this successful track record, it seems he still has more to give the music world. I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Life of Pablo itself, but Kanye’s method of releasing and re-releasing revised versions of the album on JayZ’s Tidal astounded me. Through these constant revisions, The Life of Pablo is not a static piece of music, but one that is continuously evolving as Kanye’s creative vision shifts ever so slightly. This process is potentially even better than the live platform, in that all people of moderate income have instant access to Kanye’s latest interpretations of his latest record. While these revisions didn’t change my opinion on The Life of Pablo a whole lot, Kanye West has taken the first steps toward reverting music-making to the fluid, organic process that it once was. Of course, Kanye’s innovation won’t be adopted overnight. Maybe it will never be adopted. As human beings, we crave sameness and certainty, especially when it comes to music. Maybe the music listening community isn’t quite ready for the sonic chaos that might ensue when artists begin to revise their works willy-nilly. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m ready for it. But Kanye West is, and he doesn’t give a crap if you’re ready or not.