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.