Staff WriterThe Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, will come housed in an intricately engraved handmade silver-and-nickel box created over a three month period by world-renowned artisan Yahya. The one-of-a-kind creation is expected to have an asking price in the multi-million dollar range. Wu-Tang’s RZA told FORBES, “We’re about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” Wu-Tang fans without millions should not lament too greatly. The ultra-exclusive release will not be the only way to actually hear the music it contains. The group plans to take the piece on an exhibition tour for viewing and listening opportunities for the masses before putting it up for sale. Like a painting, sculpture, or artifact, the group plans to bring the piece to museums, festivals, and galleries where the curious (after going through a security check for recording devices) can pay $30-$50 to hear the music and view the box. While the project certainly has a money making and marketing dimension, RZA also contends that the unconventional release has a greater purpose of increasing the perceived value of music as art. limited run art exhibit with pieces that would be auctioned off at the end of the run. Jarre decided the music should be among those pieces and pressed only one copy, destroyed the master tapes, and auctioned off the lone recording for charity. Pioneering German Electronic band Kraftwerk also took their music to museums in 2012 with a live residency at the Museum of Modern Art. The performances included content exclusive to the shows and any recording was strictly prohibited. In 2013 and 2014 the band also created a 3-D multi-media installation that toured through Europe. In a reaction to the amorphous and fleeting nature of downloads, streaming, and file sharing, other musicians have also been making moves to bring more weight and substance back to the music experience. The physical music format, particularly vinyl, is making a comeback, and musicians are answering the demands of diehard music fans willing to spend the extra money for releases that give them more of a tangible, interactive relationship with the music. Deluxe collector offerings in creative packaging may include exclusive songs, artist autographs, posters, DVDs, USB sticks, and T-shirts. Many major artists like Kanye West, Korn, Justin Timberlake, and Smashing Pumpkins have put out limited edition packages, but it may be Indie artists who benefit the most. With some collector sets selling for $300 or more, even the small quantities available have noticeable money-making potential for Indie acts. Flaming Lips and Perfect Pussy both received shock-value media exposure with their limited edition vinyl albums that were made with band member blood. It is also no surprise that Wu-Tang will put out a separate traditional commercial release, a 20th anniversary album, this summer around the same time the Once Upon A Time In Shaolin art piece should be making its gallery rounds. Other artists also echo RZA’s sentiment that limited edition releases may restore the artistic value of music in terms of public perception. Norwegian Electro-Rock band, Apoptygma Berzerk, recently released a limited-edition vinyl-only “art project” EP called Stop Feeding the Beast as a conscious protest against the dispassionate, ephemeral attitudes of music consumption in the modern age. The band’s leader, Stephan Groth, explained, “I think the way everyone is consuming music at the moment – with their MP3 players and their iPhones or Spotify… I’m not too crazy about it. It’s taking away some of the art. It’s kind of like a McDonald’s way to consume music. [Our release] is about having a piece of art in your hands and spending time and energy and really enjoying it, not just skipping though some songs on your iPhone.” Musician and producer Per Aksel Lundgreen (Cronos Titan, Shatoo, Angst Pop) stated, “Music is art, but the audience today learns consumption and volume via their computers, tablets and phones, and we need to take back the ‘artwork plus physical format’ part of the art in music. If what Wu-Tang is doing is the right way, I don't know, but I most certainly applaud their attempt at taking back something that was ‘stolen’ from musicians a decade or two ago, the ownership of our own art.” Others in the industry are more skeptical. Bernard Van Isacker, owner of Side-Line Magazine and Alfa Matrix Records, called the Wu-Tang project, “an action which has no impact or message.” Van Isacker went on to explain, “Basically this idea is just an expensive arty-farty way of looking at art or a very keened out PR ploy to push their upcoming album which will be released in a commercial way anyhow. Art should be consumed by many and preferably in large amounts. Considering Wu-Tang are not in danger as far as music consumption is concerned, their action means zilch politically speaking.”
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