Thursday, 9 February 2006

Some musical rambling

Happy new year! January was a non-existent blogging month for me, so it's time to get the momentum going again. Rather than write a coherent post, I'm going to unload a few musical thoughts I've had lately into a blog post. Hopefully we'll be back to well thought-out postings in the not-so-distant future.

Hearing an album you like in a record store

I went to Queen Victoria Market last night (they have this Wednesday night craft thing during summer). This was the first time I've been, and I couldn't give up the opportunity to pop into the JB Hi Fi in Elizabeth Street while I was in the area.

Upon entering the store, the eerie intro to Dirt in the ground by Tom Waits (from his superb Bone machine album) was playing. Now this is not a well-known track by Mr Waits, so it was unlikely that they were playing a compilation or soundtrack. I was hoping that they were playing Bone machine proper, and when Such a scream followed it my prayers were answered.

Listening to an album in your own time (whether on CD, iPod, insert device here) is all good and well but there's something quite special about hearing an album that you love in a store.

Here are some reasons why it's so good:

The sheer exhibitionism of it all. I feel like I'm inflicting my tastes on the other customers even though I didn't have anything to do with the choice of music. It gives you a pretty reliable indication that whoever decided to put the CD on either has fantastic taste in music or was a bit curious and wanted to hear something new. Either way, it's a win-win situation (assuming they end up loving the CD after hearing it for the first time).

I feel like I'm getting something for free. Time is money, and it's a true act of multitasking listening to a CD I like while shopping for other CDs. Sure I could just take my iPod into the store and listen to it while in there, but that's a bit anti-social isn't it? And I could end up in a freak CD store accident if an ambulance officer headbutts me while trying to pass me because I didn't hear him while bopping along to All stripped down.

Appreciating music on a different level. I've said many times in the past that appreciation of music depends on many factors: mood, location, etc. Well I hadn't been to this JB for a long time, I was out and about, I'd just had a decent Indian meal at Queen Victoria Market. All the mood and location factors where there. And I gotta say, Bone machine sounded awesome in that store.

Hearing a CD again. I've become such an iPod person lately that I honestly can't remember the last time I listened to a CD. When I heard that fantastic segue between Such a scream and All stripped down, I knew that CDs will always hold a special place in my heart. You just don't get the same effect on an iPod.

iPod: 3 months on

It's been almost 3 months since I got my iPod, so I figure it's time to look back on how it's changed my appreciation of music. Here's the pros and cons as I see them:

Pros of the iPod
  • I can listen to what I want when I want.
  • If I can't sleep I can listen to some tunes on the 'pod until I can sleep. I've done this a few times lately, and it's great giving a spin to Trout mask replica and Roman candle on those sleepless nights. It's amazing how great these albums, different as they are, sound at 2am in a darkened room. [Sure I can do this on CD, but it's less convenient and I'd need to lie fairly close to the stereo.]
  • I can get some interesting stats on my listening habits through the iTunes program.
  • Playlists are kind've cool, especially if you want to make a good mix for a party or something.
  • Smart playlists have a certain novelty factor to them, and they are kinda useful as well.
Cons of the iPod
  • The segue issue still pisses me off. Yeah, I know it's anal. Some albums will just sound shit without proper segues between tracks - SMiLE for one. And it's deterring me from listening to them on the 'pod.
  • The sound quality of listening to music in the car with the iTrip is less than impressive.
  • I kinda miss the ritual of taking the CD out of the case and playing it. I can't even remember what a lot of the discs actually look like for the albums I have purchased recently as it has pretty much been a rip it and shelve it routine.
  • I feel that my CD collection doesn't really have value anymore. Since I'm listening to practically everything off the 'pod, what's the point of the CD? Don't get me wrong, I'm still buying them, but it seems less necessary to buy them.
All in all, I'm happy with the purchase. It means I don't have to take 2 CDs out of my case each time I buy 2 more, which was the case before I got the iPod. It means any CD can get a chance to be heard, even those singles that had a really cool B-side which would never get any room in my CD case.

But has it changed my musical habits overall? Yes and no. It's a great device, it's great to have all my music on me, but I don't think it's quite the revolution that Steve Jobs would like me to believe it is. But it's still early days.

CD retrenchments

I recently culled (or listed on eBay) 12 CDs from my collection. They were all relatively recent purchases, and most of them were purchased for under $10 each. Some of them I'd given only one or two listens to, and decided they weren't for me. Some of them I gave more listens to in the hope that they would grow on me, but they never got to the stage where I was really enjoying them.

Why? I simply have too much music to listen to, and having these CDs in my collection (or on the iPod) were detracting me from music I did want to listen to. I felt that I had to give them a fair go, and the time was not right to give them a fair go because there's too much other stuff I want to listen to.

If circa-1999 Jiggy could read this now, he'd be shocked. My attitude back then was - if I'm erring on the side of considering the album a potential grower, I should NOT sell it. Thesedays, it's changed a little bit. If I feel that it's an album I can't be bothered with, I will sell it. It could be based on genre, it could be based on experimentalism, it could be based on the effort required to appreciate it. Most of the 12 albums I culled I simply couldn't be bothered with. My attitude is that one day in the future, the time may be right for that album. And if that happens, I can always buy it again. Not the end of the world really.

[There are other factors at play, like the critical acclaim for a particular album. I'm a sucker for a good review. If an album I purchased is unanimously praised by critics then I will definitely give it more listens than one which has had negative or impartial reviews.]

The untouchables

There's certain CDs that I hardly ever listen to anymore. I may have only listened to them 5-10 times in the > 10 years I have owned them. Pump by Aerosmith is one such CD. So why won't I cull it?

In business, they don't cull the dead wood because the redundancy package would simply be too much. It would send the company broke. Instead, they let them hang around until they retire. They get their gold watch, the company keeps the money they would have normally given to them in a package. Everyone wins.

So what does this have to do with CDs? Well, not much really. I just can't make myself part with Pump, because it has memories associated with it. It's got Janie's got a gun on it. Each time I hear that song it reminds me of being in my early teens. And What it takes is just a fantastic power ballad and a killer closer. So while I can't see myself in a situation where I will want to listen to Pump from start the finish, I can't bear to part with it.

It's interesting to note that I bought Pump on the same day that I bought OK computer. One CD is hanging around because it's an untouchable. The other album is hanging around because it's one of the greatest albums of all time, and it opened up so many musical avenues for me.

When I bought both of those CDs, who was to know what they would mean to me in the future? Who is to know that what I buy today won't mean anything to me within the space of 5 years?

What percentage of your CD/MP3 collection will really mean something to you in 50 years time, and what will simply be dead wood that you're too afraid to retrench?

It's an impossible question to answer, but it really makes you think.

This is rambling Jiggy, signing off.

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