LISTS Merch That Goes the Extra Mile By George Grella · Illustration by Josie Keefe · March 14, 2024

The vast amount of the music on Bandcamp is a testament to the creativity of musicians. Whatever style you can imagine, it’s probably here—along with stuff that almost no one has ever imagined before.

That also goes for format. Music is available on more than just vinyl, CD, cassette, and as digital downloads. A recording may come with evocative non-musical accessories as part of its aesthetic story; maybe the music you’re getting comes printed on paper; or you get a device that’s almost a musical toy, both the recording and method of playing it in one. It’s less that the medium is the message but more that form follows function.

Like the music they contain, the formats are bespoke and are, in some cases, handcrafted and produced only in limited numbers—digital files remain, but the availability of creative packages is always in flux.

Below is a selection of the wonderful forms recordings can come in, available as of mid-February.

Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio
Northwoods Sleep Baseball

Merch for this release:

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the minor league baseball season was canceled. That was a loss for baseball fans, and a deeper one for the certain subset that relishes the ASMR experience of listening to games at night on the radio, like an extended lullaby. Into the breach came, a place to stream dramatized radio broadcasts of imaginary games, complete with laconic announcers, the background murmur of the crowd, and ads for fake local businesses. The Worried Songs label has issued one of the “games,” between the Big Rapids Timbers and the Tomah Tigers on two cassettes that come in a wooden box (with or without a pennant for the release) with hand drawn baseball cards, including one for Tigers starting pitcher Hiroki Nomo. As the station tag goes, “You’re drifting off with WSLP-AM, Big Rapids.”

Giuseppe Cordaro & Marco Giambrone

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

The label Facture produces ambient music on CD in limited-edition packages that tell a story in conjunction with the sounds. This recent release could be a soundtrack to a cyberpunk tale with its plangent hums and spiking glitches, like signals crossing a vast network. But as they do with all their releases, Facture adds multiple dimensions. It’s not just the vintage book cover that is reassembled to hold the CD, but the snapshots, written ephemera, 35mm slide, the library card and bookmark: pieces of a story the listener can assemble and rearrange, items left over from the world that produced this music.

Danny Clay, Mabel Kwan

Merch for this release:

The clavichord is a keyboard instrument invented before the Renaissance that went out of favor in the early classical era, replaced, like the harpsichord, by the piano. One of its features is a quiet, almost ghostly sound; it’s also possible to stretch the strings and alter their pitch, which is what composer Danny Clay and keyboardist Mabel Kwan do on this fascinating album. In fact, they manipulate the instrument in pretty much every way one can with their hands. Augmenting this revival of a compelling ancient instrument is the cassette case, which has delicate pieces of wood carefully glued around the plastic to imitate the shape of the instrument itself. Prop open the lid and listen to what’s inside.

Sarah Davachi
Two Sisters

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Sheet Music

Composer Sarah Davachi makes music that explores the possibilities of sustained tones, often layering microtonal intervals on top of each other in a sound that’s lean and dry and full of intimate spaces that are deeply expansive. Her recordings are available via the usual mediums, but this 2022 album offers an alternative: a spiral-bound, 52-page book that has the scores and performance notes for six of the pieces on the album. Subtitled “Chamber music for consorts in yellow, green, and bronze,” anyone who can read a score can listen to her music and follow her writing, and it’s an extra pleasure to see how she creates her alchemy.

Deidre Huckabay
Words For The Dead/Words From The Dead

Merch for this release:

Parlour Tapes has some of the most creative packaging on Bandcamp. There’s the tiny clavichord of Inventions (see above), USB drives, and even music on floppy disk. This album of luminous and emotionally complex statements on loss comes on a cassette, but there’s a unique angle also available: Huckabay will insert the cassette into a thrifted “plush teddy bear, dolly, dog, dolphin, or other creature.” To play the music, one has to cut open the stuffed animal and retrieve the cassette. Something has to be damaged and lost for the music to be heard.

Tristan Perich
1-Bit Symphony

Merch for this release:

Composer and sound artist Tristan Perich doesn’t just make sounds, he makes devices that make sound. That means that getting one of his recordings often means getting the device itself—in this case, the medium and the message collapse into one. 1-Bit Symphony is one of his core pieces. It’s made with 1-bit electronic sounds that follow the simple binary method of being either on or off (he publishes some of the code bound into printed volumes; that means 695 pages for the first 0.01 seconds of this piece.) The symphony comes in a plastic jewel case that has a headphone jack, an on-off switch, a battery, and a microchip that holds all the commands that produce the music. Plug and play.

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