Friday, October 23, 2009

If Music Be The Food Of Love - I Am In Danger Of Getting Obese



Does anyone else have problems with music these days? I am not referring to the calibre of music : enough of a back-catalogue has been built up over the last 80 years to get over any temporary crisis of quality. Nor am I, per se, referring to the vehicle by which music is delivered : I take no specific stand in the shellac versus vinyl versus CD versus MP3 debate. I have always been comfortable running with the crowd and therefore these days I get my musical fix via i pods and MP3 files. But the delivery mechanism does impact on both what we listen to and the way we listen to it - and that is what I am having trouble with.
When I was young the records I was familiar with were a limited collection of 78's kept within the Formica confines of an old radiogram. Records had two sides and, in most cases, that meant two tunes by one artist. Usually the record would have been bought for the "A" side but the limited availability of records meant that you would also become fairly familiar with the "B" side. Even when I started buying records the choices and options tended to be the same although the two tracks were now delivered via a 45 RPM vinyl disc. If you were a keen music fan you might buy a record a week and - rather like the animals entering the ark - your record collection would grow two-by-two.
I only started buying LP's when I was working - in those days expenditure on a Long Playing record represented a considerable investment of disposable income - but with the acquisition of LPs came the idea of a greater range of songs from a particular artist. Listening habits changed and the range of tracks available meant that you had to become more discriminating. Nevertheless, if you liked a particular artist and they had produced a good record you would, over time, become familiar with all the tracks on it. CD's didn't in themselves bring any major changes other than quality and convenience - you still bought musical lumps of twelve or fifteen tunes. It is with the development of downloadable digital media that the sea-change has come. For the first time since the pre-shellac recorded cylinders, music is available in individual tunes or songs and this, I think, challenges the way in which we tend to listen to music.
Although I have always tended to download my music in CD collections I never listen to it in this way any more - I will either listen to a playlist I have constructed myself or use the shuffle setting on my MP3 player. But just downloading individual tracks seems somehow too haphazard and the scale of choice available is enough to stimulate a form of musical paralysis. The need for adventure and discovery is partly addressed by blogging : the range of types of music and new performers I have become acquainted with because of the recommendations of fellow-bloggers is considerable. But I am the kind of person who also needs some structure and form to my listening and therefore I fiund myself yearning after a new approach to listening.
And so I have started an experiment. With the excellent Billie Holiday Discography as my companion I have started working my way through the 330 studio recordings and 229 live performances of one of my favourite performers of all time. With over 550 distinct tracks to sample (and that is with no duplications) and limiting myself to a digestible two or three tracks a day, it will take me most of a year to work my way through the lot. Just occasionally (and starting tomorrow) I might use the blog to focus on a particular recording. It should be fun and it will make a pleasant change to postcards, surreal art and moaning.

17 comments:

  1. My problem is that I have around a thousand tracks, which I want to keep together, but separate into moods. I tried playlists, but I can mever find them again once created.

    I need a software-based catalog system to which I can add tracks as I download them.

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  2. Moaning? I don't ever remember you moaning! ha-ha! Your posts are always very interesting, Alan! 550 tracks will certainly keep you busy, but with them being your favorite artists and performances, it should be a delightful adventure!

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  3. I so agree with you. I have been on the look out for such software for ages - something like an old-fashioned database but which can handle, manipulate and collect together MP3 files in a variety of different ways. If you find one - or if someone else knows of one - let me know.

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  4. Betsy : How kind. I am looking forward to the adventure.

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  5. To explain a bit more - what I want is to allocate track to playlists from the track, rather than going into each playlist it belongs to, thus making the track the top level entity and not the play-list. It would be a one-to-many entity relationship, to use IT jargon.

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  6. I particularly like Blues, Jazz and Country, with a little folk as well, but I have to keep mixing them. I don't think I could concentrate on one performer or genre like you will be attempting. Different strokes for different folks ....

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  7. John : I don't intend to stick exclusively to Billie H - I will still sample all sorts of music at the same time. And I'm always open to recommendations from whatever genre.

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  8. You lost me on this music tech. As a visual person, I never moved into the music tech area. I have a very early ipod. I need to fatten up on my music as I do need the enhancement.
    As a footnote, I was going through my basement stuff and found from my late wife's family an very old album full of children's phonograph records. Cardboard with some sort of plastic coating on them to burn the grooves. Also children songs that I have never heard.

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  9. In a way I think the downloading phenomenon hearkens back more to radio than to the other forms, except that with mp3s you have control over what you select. An interesting write up, & I certainly will look forward to your music writing!

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  10. "a pleasant change to postcards, surreal art and moaning"

    You silly Alan. We love your intriguing posts. Have fun sampling the tracks, and be sure to share a few with us now and then!

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  11. That's a lot of music to get through. These days I'm a downloader, my CD player doesn't work too well except on the PC and I like the variety I get through the iPod Shuffle. Having fairly eclectic taste in music, I'd love to hear some of your choices.

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  12. Rediscovered Nick Drake after hearing Last Words yesterday afternoon on R4.

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  13. It sounds like a huge project, Alan, but an enjoyable one. I love my music and have various ways of playing it but I prefer selecting the various pieces of play equipment as and where I happen to be at the time I want to listen.

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  14. Sounds like fun... I am a member of the L.A. Writer's Lab and I met a young woman who is writing a screenplay about Billie Holiday's life... so interesting...

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  15. Your posting is usually wonderful, AB, so no worries. Have you finished the series on art in which we are to guess the piece created at your kitchen table??? I hope I've not missed that.

    This sounds like a fun project.

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  16. Holy cow, that's a task.

    I just sorta listen to music as it comes these days. I used to be a stickler for "buy the album" since (according to the artists) "the album tells a story," but so many are one-hit wonders these days, I've been devolved into single downloads.

    Ah, well.

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  17. Anonymous1:39 AM

    Logically

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