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One Hundred White Albums Layered on Top of Each Other

Anti-iconography leaning against the pristine obsessions of collection culture.
Someone playing a White Album (YouTube)

One of the most famous albums in the world was initially going to be called A Doll's House. It was the British Pop artist Richard Hamilton who proposed to the Beatles that they use their own name as the title, and for the artwork, opt for a minimalist blank sleeve as a follow up to the colorful chaos of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The name would be embossed along with a serial number on the front of the sleeve, and The White Album (it had "Piggies," "I'm So Tired," "Blackbird") would go on to become the band's most famous album.

Forty years after it was released, the artist Rutherford Chang began collecting hundreds of rare first pressings, asking friends, searching yard sales, trawling eBay (he's never spent more than $20 on one), relishing how each of these iconic mass-produced discs has evolved in its own way. As he said earlier this year,


“I was interested in the different ways that the covers aged. Being an all-white cover, the changes are apparent. The serial numbers made collecting them seem natural, and the more I got, the more interesting it became. As you see, many of them are written on, and each has a story. The accumulation of the stories is part of it. But it’s also about how the physical object — the record — just doesn’t exist anymore.”

His newest project: layering one hundred copies of the album on top of each other to create a new record that includes every scratch and imperfection. The result is a sonic testament to age, as each layer gradually drifts out of sync over the course of each side. The artwork has been layered too, so that the gatefold cover and disc labels are composites of the weathered and graffitied originals. You can see them here (click for a larger image):

The cover
The 100 covers on their own

Even as it cherishes the vinyl, Chang's anti-iconographic project tickles the pristine obsessions of collection culture, which will be on full display this week in England: an American 1968 first pressing of the album, autographed by all four Beatles, is expected to fetch over 100,000 pounds at auction on Friday. The only signs of damage on that disc are a few names scrawled on the inner gatefold.

Chang says he has no plans to release any digital copies of the record (that would sort of defeat the point) but he will be selling some at the WFMU Record Fair, November 22 - 24, and at the website.