Digital music doesn't have to have static album art. With advances in technology, there are some who will take it even further, beyond the art.These days, one of the main selling points of physical media is the possibility of highly-detailed packaging. Graf Orlock's Doombox, which can be transformed into a cardboard boombox, is only the pinnacle of examples. Most of them have album art that unfolds in unusual ways, plus detailed liner notes. But there's no reason similar attention to detail can't go into a digital package.
I've noted before, that's not really the case. There are plenty of reasons it's not true, such as the resurgence of vinyl as a collector's item, the fact merch sales aren't going anywhere, and the abundance of attention given to art in the blogging community. I mean, you can't really have a blog post about an album without any pictures, right?
I've somewhat considered the possibilities of album art in digital media, but South Africa's The Ocean Doesn't Want Me is the first band I've known to begin to take advantage of the possibilities. (Despite their douchy name that screams metalcore, they're clearly not a metalcore band--more Intronaut meets Russian Circles, which ends up being too hopeful-sounding for my tastes.) As the Dust Settles has a true album cover, but after the first song, each track has its own art, a photograph of some natural scene. I hope that this is only one of many.
Dwellings, the image is enormously tall. There's no reason that each song could not bring up a separate section of the art, in descending order. Similarly, Triptykon could release a three-song EP with a really cool triptych. The Nativity in Black Black Sabbath tribute compilations had tarot cards in the booklets, which would have been perfectly adaptable to this concept. Or, successive pictures could tell a story. Some disturbing blackened noise band like Sutekh Hexen will undoubtedly take photographs over the course of a dead animal's bloat and decay.
It's my understanding that some albums sold in iTunes come with an interactive booklet. I haven't seen these myself, but it sounds like a really cool idea. This could just be the first step, and it doesn't have to stop at the art. Either through upgrades to media players or through the release of an app, some noise weirdos like Merzbow or Locrian could program interactive music. Perhaps by touching the screen, you could change the image, or even the music. Through the use of the accelerometer, the music could change if you're moving around, or the location services could change your music and art based on where you are in the world. An app could store some elements of the music, but stream others, so that an album could change over time at the will of its creator, or it could open it up to new collaborations. Maybe it could detect when you're near someone else who has the app, and bring extreme music fans together even when they're not wearing a black T-shirt.
If you couple this with the new Google Goggles, or the already-in-the-works contact lenses expanding on that technology, or perhaps through the technology that can detect when you are entering REM sleep, you could be in for some very trippy experiences in the next five to ten years.
I can't honestly say that I would necessarily be in favor of some of these larger ideas, but someone will be doing it. At its most base form, it's little removed from Guitar Hero. Someone will deconstruct AC/DC tunes to make a video game that pairs hard rock with armed combat in new and disgusting ways, selling millions of copies. But someone could do this very artfully. Iannis Xenakis lent credibility to electronic music and explored the possibilities of architectural music, while someone else made house music and elevator music.
In the end, though, you can't package a usable deck of tarot cards, a King Diamond action figure, or Lemmy's wart shavings into a digital album. But there is still a lot that could be done.