My Alibis #2
--Paul Morley, Words And Music.
"LIKE MANY AUTODIDACTS, HE IS PRONE TO MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HIS SUBJECTS, BUT AS THERE IS NO-ONE OVERSEE HIM HIS POSITION IS RELATIVELY SECURE"
Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington, on the nature of the album - what most amuses me is the ambiguity of his scholarly tone, balanced on the edge between irony and brilliant earnestness (and does he really smoke a pipe? Notice also that he doesn't actually attempt to persuade the viewer that the album is worth saving, which was the original purpose of the broadcast.)
I personally have never really bought anything but albums (excepting a few 7"s, and a couple of legally downloaded EPs), and almost all on CD. I have about 200 - astronomically small, no doubt, compared to most people's collections, but I've only been buying them for the last 4 years or so (and I had, for most of that time, next to no money.) The question of format has intrigued me since I began buying vinyl (a small stack of charity shop LPs - including a vintage copy of Crass' Penis Envy - has built up, despite my having no record player to speak of), and it seems to me to be the best approach. The MP3 player is not so much, as far as I see it, a filtering tool, allowing you to gather together the best of your collection and push out filler, so much as a dessicater: everything becomes a 'best of' the artist, when really you want to listen to it yourself and find out what's 'best'; I'm a non-systematic hoarder of music, buying from my enormous List Of All The Albums I Want, which currently runs to over 700, whenever the money or interest strikes me, and I'm more interested in getting all of the things within a certain category I want from an artist (for example, all of the LPs John Coltrane recorded with the Miles Davis Quintet, or the whole of Glenn Gould's recordings of the Goldberg Variations) than getting a selection of the supposed best. I'm really just a musical (and literary) glutton, wanting the whole of the turkey, when record companies are increasingly just offering plates of sliced breast, in accordance with the demands of a generation which has often eaten nothing else, and, in fact, probably never even seen a live turkey (where exactly is this metaphor going?)
For convenience' sake, I should theoretically get an MP3 player - not least so I can listen to my podcasts outside the fucking house, or take walks listening to music without having a bulge the size of a Walkman in my jeans - but it just feels impossible. It sounds stupid to say that we've lost something by going from CD to MP3, but it seems true: notwithstanding the transformation of hard, fetishised objects (pun intended) into a collection of immaterial ones and zeroes, or the simultaneous reduction in sound quality (which, having grown up with CDs, I can pretty much tolerate), the reduction of music from the album to the pick-and-mixable track, is exactly that - a reduction. And I don't simply mean that it's a Violation Of The Artist's Intent, or of the vinyl LP as constructed aesthetic experience; it's that, instead of whittling down the world of music (much of it populated by crap) to a goodly core, to which you can then give love and attention, you're demeaning it. It becomes literally, well, not a simple commodity - Soulseek and Limewire have put an end to such fetishism - but wallpaper, background noise. And whilst it's probably not a good idea to import too much importance to music (a state of affairs giving a much higher chance of developing Malachi Ritscher Syndrome) it's still a change in use-value that wrecks one of the best things in life. The most fascinating thing about Richard Meltzer's 'Vinyl Reckoning' - quite possibly the most important thing he ever wrote - is the way that, despite being the distant forefather of Frank Kogan-trivial poptimism, he imports an importance to the music itself that's heartbreaking. Vinyl can be seen as the literal manifestation of that weird, immaterial thing some of us give so much to, or get given so much by - a literal codification of music, residing in the grooves like an archaeological tale in geography and landscape. He writes "that the very idea of the single is rather amazing, and in retrospect almost preposterous. Two sides, one song per. One!--what forcible focus on the unit sonic offering!" - and whilst that's, theoretically, what MP3s allow you to do, take records one-dose-at-a-time without the dilution of the other dozen tracks on an album, it in fact makes them less important. If the single is the central currency/totem of Pop fandom, an object charged with the complex electricity, the magickal will-power of fan-lust, something even more "queer... [and] abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties" (Marx) than your average commodity, then format-destruction turns it to, um, just the music - sound to be picked-and-chosen (I don't want to use the word 'dilettante-ism', but it's going to appear, I think), consumed (in the sense of buying), rather than consumed (in the sense of 'taken wholesale into the body/mind.)
Beautiful beyond measure. Of course Marxists have all the best music. (Except for punk pathetique, but work with me here. In 100 years, Garry Bushell will be forgotten, and Robert Wyatt will be canonised (or whatever the atheist equivalent is).)