Society of Sound is Bowers & Wilkins’ subscription service, offering a mix of contemporary and classical music to its members in incredible high definition. This month we celebrate the 100th album on Society of Sound with the special release of Passion by Peter Gabriel.
We invited Jane Cornwell to talk about Society of Sound, and reflect on what we’ve done so far.
Passion. Bowers & Wilkins have it. So does Peter Gabriel’s Real World. So, indeed, does Peter Gabriel. And passion – for exceptional music, couched in the highest-quality sound – is at the heart of a subscription-only club that was established in 2008 and continues to thrive today. Salubrious yet accessible; surprising, often awe-inspiring and always fabulously diverse, Society of Sound is this month celebrating its 100th release with an extra special gift for members.
Gabriel’s 1989 masterwork set precedents, won accolades, opened doors and ears. Created as an extension of Gabriel’s score for the Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ, widely hailed for its mould-shattering vision, it’s an evocative soundscape that fuses ancient sounds and studio recordings with the then cutting-edge technology offered by the new Real World Studios in Box, Wiltshire. Passion was the debut release on Gabriel’s record label, Real World. It sounded incredible then. It will blow your mind now.
How fitting, then, that Society of Sound’s 100th release has been crafted by one of its curators, the iconic Peter Gabriel, a man who shares the Society’s commitment to sound quality. The pairing of Real World and Bowers & Wilkins has always made brilliant sense: for a small annual subscription, Society of Sound members receive two new albums per month and access to the previous 12 months releases, all as stunning lossless audio downloads. One album is in partnership with Real World Records, it might be world music. It might be jazz, rap, rock or pop. Surprise is key. As is trust. Whatever arrives, you know it’s going to be attention grabbing, probably extraordinary and always beautifully produced. The second album each month is released in partnership with London Symphony Orchestra.
Twenty-four albums, delivered complete with downloadable album covers, production notes and interviews with artists – from big names to new discoveries – in packages that tell stories. Laura Mvula, say, fulfilling a personal dream by re-recording her successful debut Sing to the Moon, live, with the multiple-Grammy-winning Metropole Orchestra.
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, electro-boffins and purveyors of the Doctor Who theme tune, recording their debut album after 40 years. Leftfield gems including the Boddie Recording Company, a husband-and-wife team who spent decades manufacturing vinyl records of Ohio’s gospel, funk and soul bands; and Particals of Dawn by American ecologist and TED talk favourite Bernie Krause, a work that features some of the most exquisite field recordings ever made.
As well as affording artists opportunities to explore their creative, non-commercial sides – both as Society exclusives and first-peep previews that are then released commercially – so too does the club give struggling geniuses a leg-up. British jazz-rockers Roller Trio might not have made a follow up to their Mercury-nominated debut were it not for Society of Sound; Ethio-jazz collective Dub Colossus, featuring the exceptional talents of pianist Samuel Yirga, got to complete their acclaimed debut A Town Called Addis, and Yirga his lauded solo debut, both later released on Real World.
Sidestepper, The Breath, 9Bach, The Gloaming … There’s more. Much more. Society of Sound’s catalogue pulses with musical tales as unconventional as they are remarkable, stories buoyed by the passion of two organisations committed to a patronage of the arts that, in today’s climate, feels life affirming.
Little wonder, really, why – 100 releases on – Society of Sound has become the place to be, to hear. One listen to Gabriel’s Passion, now in sparkling definition, and you’ll be finding new details, and with each new listen, finding more.