If you’re heading out into the wilderness to find a record store, why not actually head out into the wilderness – the one with trees – and find music there?

Today, a you’ve no doubt heard, is Record Store Day. The official site is a useful resource, today and around the year. Today brings a number of special physical releases, favoring vinyl but also including CDs. A mobile app download will help you locate record stores in your city, both in the US and other countries around the world.

All of this does raise some deeper issues. Record stores can be terrific places, supporting artists with in-store events and introducing listeners to their music. But, more generally, is it meaningful to find ways of making music physical, and then finding a place to go hear it?

That question was asked compellingly this year by Really. Really itself is more than a conventional record label; it’s an inter-media arts collective (design, coding, visual arts, and the like included). Its charter sets out the goal between releases “to focus on the live aspect of music, on the fact that it is made first to be interpreted, by the musician and the audience.”

In a project called “Out of the Woods,” Really took a music release and made it truly locative in the physical sense. Playing with the digital intervention of placing physical USB drops in locations, the artists sent would-be listeners into the woods of the Grunewald. (I’m reminded of my dear friend Dave Karpf, with whom I worked at the Sierra Club, whose favorite motto was “get the f*** outdoors.”)

You need GPS to find the spot, and then, espionage-style, you pick up music from a log. Instructions read, charmingly, like this:

You will find Verspätete Erinnerung close to a path crossing almost the whole forest.
The dead tree, laying on the ground, is burnt from the inside, but blossoms on the outside. Have a look at its heart, we tried to bring our own kind of life there as well!

GPS: 52.486442,13.243954

look carefully for a black cable
inside the tree

We’ve seen other locative works, of course – most recently, a virtual piece employed GPS in locations like Central Park. But here, much like that expedition to your record store, you travel to a location on a quest to get music that you can’t find via other means. You acquire, hunter-gatherer style.

It’s worth considering that the recording itself is an anomaly in the history of music. “Old-timers” talk about recordings as though these strange objects are music, and as such, the perceived assault on their physical distribution and attack on the value of music itself. Yet, travel back in time just a couple of centuries in the millennia-long saga of human music making, and the recorded music object would seem like some dark art, a captured moment in time freezing something that is normally live, in-person, and human.

Time and performance, frozen in place, made into an object, and then gathered from a specific location. Well, why not? Photo (CC-BY-SA) Peter Organisciak.

This is not to say that these strange inventions we’ve created that store frozen time are a bad thing. But, then, maybe that explains the record store: it treats them as something sacred, and restores the sense of place. It requires that you experience music with other human beings.

And while I admire Record Store Day, there is a certain throwback quality to the entire event – Android and iPhone apps notwithstanding. Even the graphic design of the site, complete with retro records, and the contests, with historically-styled record players and commemorative Queen drums, seems tinged with nostalgia.

Nostalgia is one of the things that music can make us feel, but music can also send us out into the wilderness. And if the record industry grew out of absurd ideas – Edison and his imagined technology for recording business memos – maybe music can take on more absurd and wonderful ideas yet.

It’s enough to make you want to wander out in the woods, and off the beaten path. Record store today, wilderness tomorrow.

Really used a collaborative team to make their project (below). How will you figure out how to distribute your next album? Will you try to get it in the hands of lots of people – or make just one, and give it to someone you love?

— Lorenzo Cercelletta – organization, installation, design process & video editing
— Valentina Ciarapica – video shooting & editing
— Katrin Dathe – installation support
— Wiley Hoard – photographs
— Matthieu Pons – organization, installation, design process & coding
— Gino Ruggeri – backstage video shooting & editing
— Juliane Teitge – organization, drawings & installation


Music in the woods, as seen on The Creators Project and Sugarhigh

Record Store Day, as seen many places, including our friends at Synthtopia