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The aesthetics of record collecting - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:06 am
The aesthetics of record collecting

I scrolled through an I Love Music thread recently entitled Take a picture of your record collection and post it on ilm -- a sort of cut-price, homebrew, Anglo-styled version of an older, prettier ILM thread about German DJs and their living rooms. It got me thinking about the aesthetics of record collection. Mostly, to be honest, about how ugly record collections now look. It wasn't always this way; take a look at this clip from the 1998 film Tokyo Eyes:



Ten years ago this scene -- in which choosing the right record assumes almost mystical importance, and dancing to minimal techno stands in for sex -- seemed as cool as anything in early Godard or early Carax. Now it just looks naff. Something has changed; 90s Retro Vital has turned into 00s Retro Necro. Rather than minting it by re-releasing everything ever recorded, record labels are now laying off staff, record retailers closing down branches. Nobody wants these bits of plastic any more.



The difference between the two I Love Music threads is striking -- there's still some glamour in the German DJs' magisterial collections, whereas the homebrew Anglo collections are unremittingly ugly; I couldn't helping thinking of them as repositories for something dead. The difference is something to do with the way Berlin acts as an ice box for the cool subcultures of the past, and the peculiar job these DJs have; while the rest of the recorded music industry may be collapsing around them, their job is to enact the playing of records in public places. They are, in other words, part of (and earning their evident cash from) a form -- a weird hieratic, shamanic profession -- which has survived the cull of the rest of the music industry, a performative artform of social encounter.

Musicians have weathered the same storm by switching their focus to live shows and giving their music away free online. It's very telling, I think, that the new Apple Air Mac has no CD drive. That's not just to save space, and not just because Apple wants everyone to buy everything through iTunes (though naturally that helps). It's a gesture very much like the one Jobs made in 1998 when he introduced the iMac without a floppy disk drive. Music on plastic, now, is as dead as data on plastic was then. It's all up in the air.



Which leaves us with these unsightly shelves stacked with plastic. Those of us who aren't André Galluzzi can't look at our record collections in the age of mp3 without seeing a drain on our resources and our time -- a storage curse. What might, in the days when John Peel still had black hair and could squeeze into tight shorts, have looked like a dizzyingly diverse and contemporary world of future listening possibilities now looks like some kind of enormous obligation imposed on us by the past, an obligation we will never begin to fulfill (by acts of listening which would devour the rest of our lives) and don't have any intention of even trying to.



I have a recurring nightmare these days. I'm staying in some exotic place, living out of a suitcase. The time comes to go home, but -- with mere hours before my flight -- I discover a whole shelf, a whole cupboard, a whole room of stuff I've forgotten to pack. There's no way it'll all fit into my case, but there's no way I want to leave it behind either. My anxiety mounts, and I wake up with a start. Thank God, it was just a dream! Or was it?

I can still get a thrill looking at the reggae sleeves at Hard Wax in Kreuzberg. I like living in Berlin, a city which preserves with immaculate style the memory of a time when an enormous and eclectic record collection really was something to base all your subcultural capital on. But let's not kid ourselves -- most of this plastic was incredibly ugly. Even if it didn't look that way then, it does now. Space is tight, and life is short. Let's ditch the junk -- as ecologically as possible, naturally. And yes, that includes the Momus CDs.

59CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)
Faster, Guy Hands, Kill Kill!

Noo, why is the future always anal? Smoother lines, minimal. Nothingness is always new. Bloat! Bloatism is the new Bling. Silly Stuffism is the new digital. Otherwise people just pump what they save into 'investments' like the property ladder. Let's waste! Guy Hands, EMI hedge fund uber-master is pleasing share-holders with his sacking of staff (while they spend about 2.5 million just pulping unsold plastic). But will it really mean that the quality improves?

Employ people just to cough, Guy. Bloat like a big fat Pharaoh of musical lunacy.


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 01:36 am (UTC)
Albatross

We're on a bit of a purge at our household and I see Yoko viewing my record collection as wasted space. It has been many years since someone has helped me cart all these crates to my next abode. Somehow I think of them as some kind of inheritance for my children, that they will think their dad was incredibly cool for having all these records. Then I think of my friends dad whose whole house was lined with records, complete collections of Elvis from the 50's. He would spend hours cataloging them in the early days of the computer, only for his wife to tell him she would burn them all when he was gone.
I went to Japan in the early 90s with a handful of Captain Beefheart CDs that I was determined to understand without having ever had a cd player. I came back with a trunk load of Brazilian imports that I think you can only get in Japan and maybe Brazil. When I moved back to Toronto I was burglarized twice, losing my complete cd collection. This is when I began to see the pointlessness of collecting music. I still have the records but now most of what I listen to is on the hard drive. Will I have to move those crates again? I don't think so, my next move will be in a pine box but it is getting to be more difficult to convince the people around me that I should hold on to them.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:09 am (UTC)
Re: Albatross

nice :)

I was digging through my old records last week and came upon this Nona Hendryx lp. Still sounds ahead of her time 25 years on. Transformation (still a stunning looking woman and commanding stage presence in her 60's too)


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ganatronic
loderunning in circles
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)

I don't know, but I do think that vinyl collections are less unsightly than DVD collections. Those are nearly always situated in plain sight next to televisions, often in living rooms. And I just think they are tacky and ugly. DVDs are too wide and covered in distinct colors and logos; too loud and readable from long distances. Vinyl has a softer appearance.

And I remember threads of "post your computer space!" Those always depress me. Wires and off-white plastic, coasters and jewel cases. These bogs where people spend so much time. I try to keep my workspace to a chair and my lap.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:17 am (UTC)

I know a man here in Berlin who has thrown away all his DVD boxes and replaced them with neutral, grey, uniform plastic boxes with the titles neatly printed on the spine. I'm not sure if it's better; the decontextualization strips too much meaning away from the objects, ugly though they may be.


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)

For me, nothing can ever replace the ritual of putting on a record (or even a cd at a push). I remember when I was when I bought pretty much each single or LP album and cd, (can't say the same for each mp3 I downloaded, nowhere near the same attachment there!) and I have thousands! for me it's like a diary of my past. And I still buy 'em. Vinyl sounds great, as do cds, more so than lossy formats such as mp3.

There are still people who like to own 'the original' of things, however irrational it may seem - the packaging of cds and Lps in your hand to peruse while listening to music. Zappa called this the 'Fondlement & Fetishism Potential [F.F.P.]' in his prototypical 1980s idea of abolishing record distributionltogether and replacing it with music downloads (see http://www.brendastardom.com/arch.asp?ArchID=719 )

without music collecting in physical form we wouldn't have the joys of crate digging - or the shared musical discoveries and experiences from travels in all parts of the world (instead of browsing e-mule )- notably vinyl vulture /verygoodplus, or LJ forgottenalbums ( http://www.vinylvulture.co.uk/pages/carboot1.htm http://forgottenalbums.livejournal.com/ )

Personally i don't think there's much to be gained by this rush to have a million tracks on an ipod or hard disk just to save some space in the living room. And of course you lose the lot when the appliance breaks or is stolen. I don't find collections of culture , be it books or music formats, in any way ugly. Sounds like some 'lifestyle' nonsense to me!


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:09 am (UTC)

oops - "I remember when i was " = WHERE I was...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)

The cult of the DJ is a relic of the 90s

Wir sind 100% d'accord sur ce point, mein freund!


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:39 am (UTC)

Does this mean that there will be no more Momus CDs?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 03:08 am (UTC)

I'm actually pondering that right now. In theory there'll be a new album in Septemberish, but it could be released in various different ways -- including wrapped with the book -- and I'm trying to figure out what does and doesn't make sense.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)

I used to make fun of vinyl fetishism as being a sort of misplaced nostalgia, of people in love with a hobby, rather than in love with music. I embraced CDs as being far more democratic. (While you can arguably get superior sound from a pristine LP, you certainly couldn't with any equipment I could afford.)

Nowadays when I haven't had a physical music collection for about 5 years, I kind of yearn for the return of the aestheticized elitism of vinyl. A big shelf of half shiny half scratched bland CD jewel cases looks tacky. A wall of endless vinyl has the aura of a medieval library. The same romance that bookshelves still have for me.

(On a related note, computers and piracy have also killed much of the aura around collecting comic books and vintage console games. I still occasionally see people trying to unload their massive collections of NES cartridges on ebay. It's rather hard to justify owning such a collection when it's fairly straightforward locate a torrent that while give you ROM dumps of every game that has ever been made, with the option of playing the games on superior modern hardware.)


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)

Collecting old consoles and games is something I can understand, because when it comes to games, the tactile experience is so important. Not the actual insertion of the game (which can be compared to the experience of playing a vinyl record) but the feel of the controller in your hands, the actual act of playing the game.


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kiplet
kiplet
Kip Manley
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)

I feel oddly in tune: just last week we pulled down the shelves of CDs and DVDs and videos from the living room and replaced them with shelves of comics.


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peacelovgranola
-
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)

pens are getting tiring, too. i'm thinking of returning strictly to quills.

super authentic! :-P



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(Anonymous)
Sun, Oct. 4th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
Quill

Hi I am doing research on quills for a stone carving can you let me know that type of quill this is?

Thanks for your help
Eorann
email: eorannkavanagh@hotmail.com


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flying_squid
flying_squid
flying_squid
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 05:59 am (UTC)

A couple of months ago, your former employer predicted that the CD is going to go away and I agree with this. I was literally just at a punk show with a bunch of high-schoolers and and freshman college students - and sure enough, the band at the top of the bill was selling their latest release on vinyl. Despite the fact that my city of Cleveland, Ohio isn't the most impressive economically, there's a very healthy amount of stores (I can name six off the top of my head) that sell vinyl in the greater area and these people obviously wouldn't be in business if people thought vinyl was ugly. That and music, when it's done right anyway, does sound better on vinyl - and people are starting to take notice of this, and ergo, are dumping most of their CDs in favour of vinyl for the home and mp3s for when they're on the go.

Vinyl collectors who dream of being DJs in the meantime, are idiots. I tried playing that game and just ended selling most of it. It's an expensive game of elitism that's dying fast in lieu of loseless audio formats like FLAC being sold at websites like Bleep, the digital audio store started by Warp Records. The only thing I see keeping it alive in that regard is that in the dubstep scene, DJs press their tracks on dub plates (that have the playback speed of 45 RPM) and play them out when they do their club nights (apparently, it gives more bump in the low-end and such) - and then very limited release of it later down the road for those who think they're going to be DJs when they grow up, or something.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)

I'm trying to digitize all my old vinyl but I can't find the record button on my scanner.

puppet show


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 08:43 am (UTC)

Your ears are connected to your brain , your main form of perception . From that perspective the message is the medium , how unfortunate for you .


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 09:09 am (UTC)
PROVING YOU WRONG

Nobody wants these bits of plastic any more.


Look how happy I am that I have that bit of plastic! I took these pictures 10 minutes ago to prove to you how happy I am! See? HAPPY!

AND MANIACAL!


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 09:17 am (UTC)
Re: PROVING YOU WRONG

ALSO PLZ EXCUSE MY DISHEVELED LOOK, I CAUGHT MY BROTHER'S STOMACH FLU AND IT'S 1 AM AND I CAN'T SLEEP

THIS IS HOW DEDICATED I AM


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC)
Sleeve Head-ing


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Sleeve Head-ing

Oh wow, a copy of Hippopotamomus! Lucky you!


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)

Physical media will never die for two reasons:

1. Some people like to have things in a hard copy so they can digitally copy it for everyday use and archive the original.

2. Pretentious fuckwits will always need something to hate ("I'm ALL digital/vinyl/elephant shit/influenza/whatever") or something to collect when well past its prime ("I have the ENTIRE The Cure collection on MINIDISC!")


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)

Hello. I am Rib Dinner.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)

In my experience, vinyl records are making something of a resurgence. Many people I know are ridding themselves of the bulk of their cds and trading in digital files and vinyl records in their place as much as such a thing is possible. Right now, Kmart is selling turntables!

I believe the reasoning behind the resurgence stems from the fact that compact discs are obsolete. They never sounded as good as vinyl records (records have a much higher resolution than cds - or even dvds - are capable of) and with an lp, the artwork is large and lovely (in the case of nice-looking covers). Cds defeated vinyl in the 80's because cds were much more convenient than vinyl as they take up less space and cost less for manufacturers to produce (though this savings rarely translated to the consumer saving any money). Mp3s failed to defeat the cd in the 90's because mp3s lacked artwork and because mp3s simply didn't sound very good. These days, mp3s sound almost as good as a cd (though still miles away from the great sound of vinyl) and video file formats are consumer-friendly enough to effectively provide the artwork and so much more.

In effect, the ideal situation is to have vinyl records for beloved releases - those that look incredible and sound too good to be restricted to a still-inferior-sounding digital format. For everything else there are mp3/file players, laptops and pocket secretaries - all of which should connect neatly to one's audio system of choice (should it not be self-contained).

I see the vinyl record surviving - and possibly thriving - simply because of it's continued superiority over the available digital options. I just cannot see the compact disc surviving, however.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jan. 19th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)

spooky ka buki gave me an orgasm and i didn't even touch mysel f

you are a spooky shaman - a *narwhal


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