We love music at The History Factory.

Maybe it’s our theory that a good creative team should work like a jazz ensemble or jam band, creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Or maybe it’s because our Founder/CEO’s earliest business venture was the Music Box, a series of record stores he owned and operated in the Quad Cities during the early 1970s.

Bruce Weindruch’s passion for collecting, organizing and distributing LPs isn’t far from The History Factory’s early and evolving role as an archival partner for businesses. Like business history, music history is one exciting way to contextualize the human experience. There’s a reason why archives and albums are both called “records.” Our past must be played—remembered, repeated, remixed, remastered—rather than merely collect dust on a shelf. In the heritage management world, this is the difference between archival preservation versus use and repurposing.

My earliest music experience was with vinyl. The CD was the first format to offer easy “shuffle” play, taking the heretofore linear format of albums and mixing things up a bit, but those old 33- and 45-rpm LP collections were synonymous with cover art and liner notes, a visual/tactile experience that has largely fallen prey to the digital age of music. This week in history offers up plenty of related touchpoints.

On July 15, 1995, a German think tank—the Fraunhofer Society—developed the innovative audio compression algorithm (a fantastic origin story of the MP3 can be found here). As the latest (though certainly not the last) word in a lineage of musical formats, we can trace back to the days of Thomas Edison cutting grooves into wax cylinders, the MP3 gave rise to Napster, the iPod and an unparalleled era of music sharing and consumption.

On July 19, 1999, They Might Be Giants released Long Tall Weekend, the world’s first major full-length album offered exclusively online via MP3. This milestone effectively ushered in a new period of digital-only albums.

And on July 19, 2011—yes, exactly 12 years later—Icelandic sensation Bjork released Biophilia, the world’s first “app album,” described on iTunes as a “suite of original music and interactive, educational artworks and musical artifacts exploring music, nature and technology.” Yup.

Check this out:

Biophilia is heady, and won’t be for everyone (the first in-app experience, “Crystalline,” is an interactive game that, according to the app, “reflects Bjork’s spatial experience of verse-chorus form…as a tool for learning about song structure”). But it does herald a return to the days of visual/tactile music experiences, as well as an evolution on that concept—something more interactive, immersive and educational pointing to the use and repurposing of music, rather than merely preservation.

As a final celebration of musical “use and repurposing” here are a few links I love right now.

  • COUNTRY CLASSICS – Sponsored by Dust-to-Digital, this weekly radio show allows Joe Bussard to unearth his extremely rare 78rpm records and treat us to roots music from string bands, country blues, jazz, bluegrass, gospel and even Hawaiian music. It’s the best of deep music archives made accessible through digital technology.
  • THE DIARY – From “self-appointed mixtape champion of the world” Chris Read, The Diary is a “chronological mix of hip-hop’s landmark recordings by order of release from 1979-2007.” There have been countless mashups before and since, but for the uninitiated, this is a perfect example of how a storehouse of old content can be put to new use, educating and delighting us at the same time.
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