Brief Ruminations on Sharing
October 24, 2008
A nice post over at Diagonal Thoughts (in which you’ll find some familiar names) introduced me to an excellent series of articles in the latest print edition of The Wire titled “Unofficial Channels.” It’s a series of short essays on non-traditional methods of sharing and spreading music. Among others, there are pieces on mix tapes, online mixes and compilations, hiphop battle tapes, bootlegs, and “sharity” blogs.
The latter of course interests me greatly. Author Simon Reynolds’ piece mainly focuses on “whole-album blogs” and is basically positive, but he brings up some philosophical criticism of the practice of sharity blogging in general, and its “exhibitionistic quality”:
“The impetus used to be: I have something that no one else has. But with the advent of sharity blogging that’s shifted to: I’ve just got hold of something no one else’s got, so I’m immediately going to make it available to EVERYBODY. While definitely a giant evolutionary step in terms of emotional health, on the level of subcultural capital and the gamesmanship of hip, it’s kinda self-subverting. Or perhaps not, since there is still an element of ego involved, a kind of competative generosity contest between the blogs.”
“Perhaps the real danger represented by the sharing scene is actually to music fans. The whole-album blogs – like the web in general, with its vast array of net radio stations, DJ mixes, official giveaways, etc – drastically exacerbates the condition known as collector-itis, whose symptoms were recently identified by Johan Kugelberg as “constipation, indigestion, flatulence.” Writing in Old Rare New, an anthology of elegiac paeans to the record shop, he described how the music fan succombs to “Falstaffian gluttony…””
I am, in fact, in partial agreement with Reynolds’ & Kugelberg’s criticism regarding “Falstaffian gluttony” – and this is coming from someone who is steeped in the memory institution. There is simply no way to process all available online musical data that one might be interested in. For this website, it has been my premise from the beginning to only post one 78rpm record at a time, in an order that is more or less unexplained yet somehow logical to me, and with corresponding text that hopefully pertains to the experience of listening to those three-to-six minutes. This, with the hope that someone out there – somebody – will respond to that music and go “AH!” as I did, and maybe see that as respite from the “download everything” philosophy. I think – I hope – the experiment continues to be successful.
There is more at work, however, than Reynolds’ assumption that music bloggers use their medium to simply brag about their rare finds and then immediately make them available to the entire world. I’m sure it’s true in many cases (like Mutant Sounds, which is the subject of that paragraph), but I am absolutely resolute in the fact that I use this medium as an exorcism for my own peculiar obsessions. There is no good goddamn reason to be a music collector – they’re a dime a dozen these days. Because being a music collector means that you’ve transcended simply being a lover of music, and moved on to a person who accumulates and obsesses. I am under no allusions that providing music here is some kind of noble act. No way, Ray. But in order to continue to justify this obsession, I must actually do something with it that rewards me somehow – and obviously that is sharing something personal with a listener/viewer.
There are different ways to deal with this obsession. Some collectors I know are musicians and learn from the music on their records, studying it. This has to be extremely rewarding. Other collectors I know produce CDs from their collections with fine transfers and beautiful artwork. Again – another personal triumph in a way, with lots of hard work. Others move online. Right now, I am trying this method – for some reason I believe in it, and the idea that less is sometimes more. It doesn’t come close to being in the same room as the record spins around, but it will have to do until I get a very large house and can invite you all over.
A new post in a couple of days, on schedule, and in musical servitude…