‘Microphones in 2020‘ is a 2020 album from alt-folk band “Microphones” (now known as “Mount Eerie”). Microphones in 2020, though, is a collection of 761 photographs that sorta follow the music; it’s a photobook, sure, and also a sort of stop-motion music video. tl;dr: it’s maybe the most interesting and inspirational thing I’ve pulled off the “to review” shelf in many many months.
Whoever it was that alerted me to Microphones in 2020, THANK YOU. Was it you, @swerdnaekalb? I suspect so: Phil Elverum (the musician behind “Microphones” and photographer) resides in the Pacific Northwest up there near you, but maybe it was someone else. In any case, the whole package—photobook + album—is a masterwork and I feel weirdly energized by it all.
According to his statements about the book, Elverum made the pictures before 2004 on expired film with a Universal Mercury II half frame camera. I’d never heard of this camera before, and am strongly tempted to buy one… they have a unique rotary shutter and look pretty cool… But I don’t need one. Not at all. The Lomo LC-W works great as a half frame camera… still. I’ve spent the last two hours looking at half frame cameras on eBay, and that despite not having shot a single frame of film in 2023 thus far. SMH.
Anyway. This book sat on one of the to-review shelves for a couple of years. I thought it was a book by a Japanese photographer (I bought a bunch of Japanese photobooks in 2020-21). I’m so glad I pulled it off the shelf last week and figured out what it was.
After a trip or two through the book, I bought the album on Bandcamp and listened to it while flipping through the book. 761 pictures, and the album—made up of one single —runs 44:44… maths and that comes to roughly 3.5 seconds per image. Lyrics show up about 1/5th of the way into the book (and the song) and depending on how quickly or slowly Elverum sings, some images are give maybe 2 seconds, while others get 4 or 5. I’m not complaining here at all: it’s amazing how well it all works. Really. This thing is great.
The images are largely vernacular in nature, snapshot-type things that anyone could make, and they have a lovely softness and character owing to the half-frame size, the expired film, and drugstore print quality, and they work with the sorta lo-fi sound of the album. The book feels heavy, dense, and its size and shape (small, square, and thick) make it easy to sit and flip through. The images are reproduced at actual 4×6 drugstore print size, and many have a drop shadow added, which, with the sorta parchment-printed paper stock, makes the whole thing feel like a sort of scrapbook, almost. It might almost feel a bit cheesy, but it works, and I forgot about the artifice quickly, especially with the music playing in time with my viewing.
I won’t apologize for being a total fanboy of this book… I can’t really be objective about this given 1) my history with, and current return to, music and 2) my current photo holdings, which contain 10 years of film from me, about 5 years worth from my grandfather, and about 20 years from my dad, and my desire to do something with this archive. Apologies, I guess? And I give Microphones in 2020 a rare 5 stars.
At time of writing, Elverum has copies available, and for a remarkably cheap price. $30 for the book, plus $9 for the record on Bandcamp, and trust me, you’re in for at least 44 minutes of a rather unique experience, well worth $40. Even if you don’t like Microphones music, the book works on its own, though it works better with the music. I don’t know first hand, but expect the music works fine, if you like the music, but it too works better with the book, I think.
This is perhaps my worst, most slapdash “review.” Apologies to Elverum, in particular, and you who made it this far. I may revisit and clean this thing up at some point. Work has been crazy lately, and I’m tempted to let my 1 review per week schedule go… but I know if I do, I’m unlikely to get back to it, so I’m putting this schlock out there knowingly. Shame on me, I guess.