Peter M Howard ::

On Music

06Oct2010 [myth]

In which I explore music, memory, the physical, the performative

Of Music And Memory

Walking home, looping Mos Def’s ‘The Beggar’, from The New Danger, I suddenly realised just how inextricably linked that song is with my memories of walking through Reims and Paris. That was years ago, and I’ve listed to the song, even looped in, numerous times since then. But somehow that’s the one that sinks in. It’s now nearly five years since I left France, I’m finally planning to go back, and I’m looping that same song and it’s making me homesick. There are a few other songs that trigger memories of France, and again, they’re ’cause I looped them while walking those streets: a few from Craig Armstrong’s The Space Between Us, The Roots’ ‘The ’Notic’ (which I hold responsible for getting me to France in the first place).

Half of me is looking forward to getting to France and looping those same songs all over again. The other half wants to find a whole new set of songs to loop, and create a new set of memories to go along with them.

The Last Physical Discs I’ll Ever Buy

The Last CDs

Featuring Thievery Corporation’s Versions (great chillout music), Big Boi's Sir Lucious Left Foot (mostly dumb lyrics but incredible beats), Horrorshow's Inside Story (more), Florence and the Machine's Lungs (one I'd borrowed, but was so good I paid for it), Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me (odd, but sometimes I'm in the mood for odd).

They're a weird mix to go out on, and it's stranger because I had no sense of the significance when I last wandered into the store and grabbed those five discs. I've been buying music in sets of a few discs every few weeks for a few years now, and I've been buying music on CD for as long as I've been buying music: my first discs were the soundtracks to Space Jam and Men In Black (still music I listen to, the latter featuring The Roots’ ‘The ’Notic’), way back in ’97.

For as long as I've been downloading tracks illegally, I've always kept buying music regularly: I tell myself there's something about having the physical artefact. But that argument's become increasingly absurd: I get those discs, rip them straight to my Mac, down-sample them so I can carry them around on the iPhone. I still love albums: the arc of a well-constructed series of songs beats individual tracks any day. But since iTunes went DRM-free, I've known there'd reach an inevitable point when I'd abandon the physical.

So all of a sudden, I felt my next purchase rolling around, but with the pressing sense that anything I now buy is something I have to store somewhere when I head overseas in a few months, I decided to buy a full album from iTunes. The Roots' & John Legend's Wake Up took the honour.

It feels incredibly liberating, not having the physical artefact to have to carry around. I suspect that, with this discovered, it won't be long until I make the same shift with books and/or movies (though the digital versions of both those media are still generally crippled by DRM, which is off-putting). I'm telling myself that movies and books are different, that there's something special or magical about the physical artefact, but I know that as soon as someone has a compelling digital ecosystem, I'll be diving into it.

The Value Of Performance

I have a curious relationship with musical genre. I've enjoyed hip hop forever, discovered various alternative jazz and rock sounds over the years, experimented with electronica. But continuously, I find the music I love the most is performative — whether it's hip hop with live bands (The Roots), rock that favours acoustic sounds, electronic music that fuses live performance or physical glitches, I'm always impressed by the sounds produced in the real world more than those simulated by a computer.

And then there's classical. Throughout my childhood, I hated classical music. I still don't actually listen to it, in the sense that there's any significant amount of classical on my iPhone. But I've discovered it performed live, and I'm entranced! Over the last few months I've seen the Sydney Symphony perform various pieces. I'm rapidly learning that there's much more to classical than just "classical". I've bought subscription tickets to attend another dozen of their concerts next year. And yet I've tried, and I still can't listen to the music at home. It still all sounds the same to me. But there's something about being there and watching the musicians perform — all focussed completely on the production of the music. The very mechanics of an orchestra are incredible; I get lost just watching one musician within the orchestra, the music flowing around them.

The sidebar is that music is actually different to movies and books. Music naturally lends itself to live performance. So the falling sales of albums can, perhaps, be somewhat offset if the industry shifts itself around the act of performance. But movies and books don't have that option: when the studios can't fund interesting movies ’cause they're pirated too quickly, and publishers can't advance on risky novels ’cause manuscripts are shared before they're even final, they're not going to be able to shift to performance. And as someone who wants to make movies and books, that's a daunting prospect.

« Neil Young’s Love and War :: On the Failure of Microbudgets »

Related [myth]