~ a reprint of my monthly column from Inpress ~
Flashback five years: it’s April 2004, and I’m standing outside Cisco Techno in Shibuya (RIP), trying to send an email on my phone while juggling an unwieldy shoulder bag, an umbrella, and another record bag heavy with my latest EP purchases – if I recall, it was the lion’s share of the early Musik Krause back-catalog, and one or two EPs by James Din A4. My bag was unwieldy because of what it contained: I was toting my recently bought G4 Powerbook and a USB hard drive, which I’d been invited to bring over to my friend’s place in order to ‘get some music’.
And boy did he give me some: in one night, he transferred nearly 100 GB of music from the collection stored on his USB hard drive. I watched, gobsmacked, while album after album of classic music transferred in seconds between my spanking new super smooth laptop and his even more frighteningly powerful watercooled G5 Power Mac. When I made to leave, my hard drive was so hot I could barely touch it – and yet it weighed a little less than the seven or so vinyl EPs I was also about to carry home on the train with me. In hindsight, it was a pivotal moment for me – but what was truly pivotal was that I was only one of tens of millions of people all around the world who were starting to do just the same thing.
In April 2009, sharing entire music collections in this way is a commonplace. Ironically, the vintage of my G4 Powerbook – still lumbering on as I write this like some desk-living Chevrolet in Havana – means it doesn’t support unpowered USB drives, a periodic problem when interstate friends arrive toting card-size drives and demanding their 'rightful copy' of the collection.
…which I’ve become a bit ‘thing’ about giving over, actually. ‘Cos there’s an icky aftertaste that follows the initial exhilaration of acquiring music in this way, and it affects you even if you don’t taste it. Let’s be clear, I like the sharing bit: music’s becoming common certainly de-commodifies and de-fetishises what was once the purview of the febrile trainspotter, whose manic passions for dusty crates of records, combined with her equally peculiar passion for particular artists, produced a collection that was idiosyncratic, irreducible, flammable, dust-gathering, cumbersome, and almost impossible to ‘share’.
But the ickiness sets in when you give things away without their due, without filtration, to be anonymously filed on some stupid magneto-optical device (that gets ‘all hot’ when you load it), unloved, unnoticed, un-curated. Despite (and indeed because of) all that quantity, it’s actually a very shitty way to ‘get’ music: podcasts, radio, playlists, mixtapes – much better, for the common reason that there’s someone applying their peculiar ‘plastic passions’ to your earspace.
For my own part, I decided to stop letting the pace of releases dictate the pace of listening-digestion. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ll take all the promos as they come, but I’m just going to get through them at my own pace.’ Well, shucks, let’s count ‘em – it’s April 2009, and I have eighty-seven unlistened to long recordings (albums and mixes), and 37 EPs sitting in a ‘clearing folder’ on my desktop, a folder I created in December 2008. It’s not even necessary for me to engage in piracy: I have a hard enough time getting through a fraction of what I legitimately receive and should be listening to in my capacity as a professional peddler of interpretations on recorded music.
‘We’ve come a long way’ in five years… but what kind of progress is this? Anecdotally, this is how almost all of my friends acquire new music now: only two still regularly buy CDs, and fewer and fewer are buying records, while those like me who still do are buying them more selectively/retrospectively, in fewer numbers… and soon much of it will all be deterritorialised, uploaded onto the common cloud… it’s a funny old world, what’s materially left of it.
...fellow SSG readers... how does this accord with your experience?
NB: this is not a 'format war' post, and no correspondence on the superiority of any given format will be entered into.