Saturday, July 9, 2011

On Music

This blog wasn't meant to only be book reviews, but that seems to be what it has become. I've got other places for my intermittent personal blather (Facebook), professional blather (Twitter), and pointing at shiny things people show me on the internet (Tumblr), which leaves little left to say here. I think I reserve this space for the more contemplative and long-form thoughts - my more self-indulgent ramblings. Talking about books I've read kind of falls under that banner, but this is something a little different.

I've always loved music, but never really knew where and how to find it. I've traditionally relied on radio for the bulk of my music discovery process. In my foolish youth I oscillated between stations. 2Day FM as I was entering my teens, Triple M in my mid teens, and Triple J once I actually developed a bit of taste in music. But I always felt there was a world of music out there that I was missing out on - the song Triple J would only play once or twice, late at night or early in the morning, and I would have missed it except I happened to be near a radio. I'd find myself loving a song I heard in a department store, or played as background music in a TV show or even an advertisement. Of course, radio provided the bulk of the songs that became my favourites, but I knew that if a song didn't meet whatever Triple J's standards were, I'd likely miss out on it.

P2P File sharing was always an unreliable way to get at good music. Sure, it's an easy way to get music that you know - when I buy a CD, downloading a copy is easier these days than ripping it directly from the CD. But for finding new music, it's basically useless. You're relying on guessing whether a song is any good by looking at the names of the songs and the artist. At one point I ended up with a tidy pile of rubbish music. Napster and Soulseek at least let you look at the collections of people who have similar tastes to you (by search for a song you love, and browsing the collections of people who also had the same song), but even that's like trying to thread a needle by throwing a spool of thread at it across a dark room. As with the traditional method of walking into a shop, getting music is the easy part. Finding the good stuff is what's hard.

The iPod never really suited me either (and similarly, the iPod app on my iPhone). It wasn't just the isolating nature of walking around wearing headphones which you'd have to remove in order to communicate with humans, or that you'd miss out on the vibrant, insistent rumble of the city (though that was certainly a part of it). It was that picking a subset of my music collection to put on the device meant that odds were the song I had a sudden hankering to listen to wouldn't be on there, and also that repeated listening would dull my passion for particular songs. Keeping track of what was on there and adding and removing stuff was too much work, and I would come to despise the music in the device for simply not being an ever-changing array of my whichever were my Favourite Songs Ever at that particular point in time.

But recently I feel I've had a bit of a personal musical renaissance. I'm somehow finding a wider range of music that suits my tastes better. I'm finding music that I love, and then hearing it come to the radio a week or two later. Despite the distance from anything resembling modern culture that comes from being a parent of three kids who works full time and studies part time, I feel like I have my finger at least a little bit on the pulse of contemporary music. It feels good, and I'm finding songs that really speak to me.

This is mostly down to a few websites. The second one I found, but the one that really got me feeling that I was on the edge of a world of new music was Yes Yes Y'all, which is basically a blog of stunning music videos (it's amazing; nearly every one of them is breathtaking to behold), with great music attached. Some of the music doesn't suit my tastes (though the videos still are often worth watching - in my opinion the music video is one of the most visually powerful modern art forms, and deserves more intelligent attention), but some of them have become instant favourites. Spoek Mathambo's cover of Control blew me away. Tumblr is now a source of an interesting and frequently odd range of music, ever since Anna Vs Culture inspired me to join up. And lastly, the Hype Machine is absolutely brilliant. It aggregates about 35 bazillion music blogs, and has the MP3s ready to play in the browser. Go there now, and listen to music people are blogging about. It's amazing, and a fine example of how the internet is and will keep changing the way we relate to art, music, literature, and culture as a whole.

I don't know where this journey of musical discovery is going to take me. It might be a brief flirtation before I return to the old tried and true method of relying on a radio station; on the other hand it might be the start of a full conversion to a new mode of finding and consuming music, one that doesn't rely on a single source, but on keeping tabs on the thousands of people out there on the web who are closer to the sources of new music than I'll ever be. A few years ago I pretty much completely stopped watching the television broadcast in this country, and found better ways to find and watch quality TV that didn't tie me to the couch at inconvenient times of the evening, or leave me sitting through boring tripe because that is all that on after 11pm. It feels like I'm at an inflection point, and am about to step into how music works in the 21st century.

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