Brief Ruminations on Sharing

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.”

Then, later:

“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…

12 thoughts on “Brief Ruminations on Sharing

  1. For me, one of the great strengths of Excavated Shellac, and what distinguishes it from many other “sharity” blogs/websites, its very sharp focus. A single track, with text that is both informed and thoughtful, offers an opportunity to stop and take notice of something, to enjoy it, and if you’re so inclined (I am) to think about it and its place in the world. The fact that, editorially, it is brilliantly conceived, with the result that the content is unfailingly outstanding, is – of course – its main strength (I go “AH!” week after week), but I make no apologies for being interested in old records as things, as well as in their capacity as carriers of great music, so the label photographs, as well as incidental joys like the feature on stamps and stickers, are another great part of the appeal.

    I’m a click away from blogs where I can download dozens of whole albums, and sometimes I do, when I can justify it (the principal criterion being that the music is otherwise unavailable), but I was pulled up short when I saw one particular blog offering a box-set – one that probably took a fair bit of fiscal courage to release, not to mention many, many hours of loving care and attention to produce – free to download, within a short time of its release. The sheer thoughtless arrogance of that, together with the dismissive remarks in the comments section when somebody complained, stuck in my throat. “Falstaffian gluttony” is one way of looking at it – the phrase “pigs at a trough” is the one that came to my mind.

  2. I’ve spent the last thirty years searching out music – and as I lived somewhat nomadically and with limited financial resources – eschewing the ‘object’ for the music. ie. a K7 instead of a record collection, culled from travels far and wide including the local music library, university ethno collections, collector/specialist friends on a few continents, etc, etc. I KNOW my music whether ’30’s rembetica, ’40’s cuban, ’70’s Indonesian Jaipong, ’60’s british free improv, etc. I always felt that it would be difficult to learn anything more except from the odd person (read fellow fanatic/specialist) I had to seek out or be introduced to, befriend, exchange with, etc.

    Since 2006 though I have gulped approx. 6000 carefully chosen albums from the blogs/online communities and expanded my knowledge exponentially. I’ve learned as much or more in the last two years as I have in the last ten.

    I can now listen to an infinite itunes shuffle where I am THRILLED two out of three songs though and hear new music all the time. Yes, I love x or y style from this or that period and now don’t have to listen to some precious single album which represents it but can drift through twenty hours of it – perhaps much like someone who actually lived that style themselves.

    This is a new period in listening equivalent to the leap from the house concert of 1890 to the LP’s of 1970. And fuck almost every record company out there – even the ‘labour of love’ of the collector/fetishist who goes to africa and licenses 15 songs for some hit release of the funky best of the wah wah hausa. What of the other 1000 cuts he or she listened to and passed on?

    And besides this at least benevolent collector/business person what of every other company? How many artists touch royalties on the comps released years after their initial successes? And how many saw any $$ from their brightest period of record sales? Now three companies in the world control close to 90% of sales. Capitalism or National Socialism?

    And again re. the small labels, yes I’ll support a fave artist and try and find the $$ to buy an album or two yearly from them but when an artist I love will release 200 CDs over a career, isn’t it support enough that I buy five and see them live every chance I get and turn on twenty friends over my own lifetime to their work?

    Perhaps the esoteric knowledge we all worked to aquire, cherished and aggrandized ourselves with will be so ‘diluted’ that the situation we all claimed we once longed for – the appreciation of ‘real’ music by the masses is here and a little unsettling to some.

    etc, etc, etc.

  3. Thank you for the comments and thoughts, both of you – it’s a discussion that can go on quite a while (and feel free to do so).

  4. I believe that record collecting is a debilitating disease. I, as you well know, am an acute sufferer. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, albeit with a purpose. And some choose to put it to good use.

    But, I think it’s more than just that “AH!” moment. I believe that the information is important, too. There is more than just the music. And learning more helps lead the listen to other artists / records that they may enjoy that they would not have known about.

    There is also the process of discovery. This is, at least for me, the best part. When you find something that really blows your mind, it is unlike anything else. It wasn’t spoon fed to you – It makes the music “yours”. Then, you have to share it. Music was meant to be heard – Not to sit on a shelf in alphabetical order.

    Your site is one of the most well written ones that I have found. Thanks.

  5. Thanks, Radiodiffusion.

    I trust many of you have seen Alan Zweig’s “Vinyl”? If not, this excerpt should get you interested…or make you run screaming, perhaps:

  6. JW, RadioDiffussion,

    Your blogs are my favorite hands down on the web.

    Their main advantage is the sense that they have a curator who posts things due to quality rather than rarity. Since you both have excellent taste, I feel sure that even if a particular post is not to my taste, it will be worth a listen and be a quality example of whatever genre it comes from.

    Keep up the good work and “don’t go changing.”

  7. I’ve never seen the term “sharity” before but it sure sounds like one of those pukey internet words, like “podcast” or “blog” (especially when used as a verb). Can we stop making these?

    It’s interesting to relate this to the world of film & TV collecting, with which I’ve interacted in my own research. Youtube and Ioffer has indeed made a lot of the old horde-mentality asshats irrelevant … but there’s still a world of old-school collectors out there, clutching obsessively (and sometimes malevolently) onto stuff nobody else can see. Because of the differences in copyrights (and who polices them), you don’t see this stuff selling on Ebay for $1500, or gathered in legit short-run DVD-pressings. Instead, it’s a world of making the acquaintance, and earning the trust, of folks who are often as … fascinating as the artifacts they’ve collected. Here’s where the content of the Zweig movie comes in (thanks, or perhaps I should say no thanks, for turning me onto that years ago, Jon).

    Personally, I don’t offer any media on my blog or website, aside from some crude screen grabs (which do nevertheless get slurped up and redistributed across the net). But I did consciously construct it as a space where I could publish original research that nobody would pay me to write (at least not without more hustling that it was worth). That’s not a “noble act,” but every writer needs a reader (as music needs a listener), so it means the internet has conveyed value on work that would have none if it just collected dust in my bottom drawer or my withering brain cells.

  8. very interesting. I have been concerned by the fact of acumulating. But you forgot something… Not all the music fans that are collectors do not have the financial means to acumulate that much. Although they can not acumulate they feel allright.
    Well like radiodiffusion said there is the discovery process. For me the reason to be of this process is not the “Wahou” when you discover a rare LP, but all the relation with the others you create thanks to music (I often spend more time talking to the seller and other clients than really searching). I often use the search and exhange of music just like a bridge to access to a lot of information about countries and people I work in.

  9. canalh –

    I’m not just speaking about the accumulation of actual records. I’m also referring to the accumulation of music in the form of mp3. One can easily download an absolutely gigantic “record collection” for free, that can fill up terabyte hard drives.

    We agree on your other point.

  10. I have a slightly different perspective perhaps on this whole business of collecting. I am primarily a performing musician and a teacher. I play Irish traditional music, mostly on the fiddle. My passion for early recordings began some 30 years ago when a piper friend of mine sent me a cassette of cylinder recordings by Irish pipers, most of them one of a kind recorded privately around 1900. The first time I listened to it was like a mystical experience, as if a door had been opened to the past and I was hearing my “ancestors.” The first 78s I ever bought were of Irish musicians, but I acquired them because I was mostly curious to see if I might hear on them a reel or a jig I had not heard before.

    However, as a listener, my tastes were never limited to Irish music, quite the contrary, and when a few years later I met Dick Spottswood, who happened to live in my area, and began contributing to the Irish section of his discography, he in turn introduced me to some of the many gems from his fabulous collection of world music. Eventually, I began accumulating 78s of various origins myself, and keeping some which were not always musically satisfying to me, but which I felt were a part of the big picture. Rather than a collector or a hoarder, though, I have often felt like a rescuer of sorts, giving a home to these amazing pieces of the human experience, and waiting to pass them on to the next like-minded person who would preserve them for the next generation.

    Needless to say, even if the experience of listening to Jonathan’s recordings on line is not quite the same as that of putting myself a 78 on the turntable and spinning it, I must state how absolutely amazed I am by the quality of the music and precious background information he has made available with this blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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