09 January 2009

Metarock: On Organization - What is an Artist?

Hi. This is the first post from me, the up-to-this-point-merely-nominal second blogger here. Call me Lin. You can see two bylines at the bottom of each post: one will tell you who wrote it.

I am going to admit that I'm at a bit of a loss about where I want to go with my writing here. I did a Christmas post that was delayed and then forgotten about due to airline incompetence. It's still out there, and might eventually go up, but I make no promises. I was hoping it would be like a Doctor Who Christmas special in that it whets your appetite for the upcoming season and introduce you to the world. Alas. The problem is compounded by the excellent -- is it improper for me to so brazenly praise my co-blogger? -- writing that's already appeared on Whoopee. So instead of trying to pretend I know what I'm talking about, I'm going to...well, pretend I know what I'm talking about, but on something less than objective. It's not about music per se, but about the way we think about thinking about music. This may not actually be interesting.

(some of my physical media, Fall 2007)

Over the last few months I have transferred the majority of my music from physical discs to digital copies. This isn't just a few discs, a few tracks, or a few artists. It's a massive undertaking: at the time of writing, I have over 33000 tracks on nearly 2000 "albums" indexed on my machine (does not include un-ripped or un-indexed albums). This has forced me to organize as I go, or it would be a mess.

The "first-cut" organization is fairly simple. The goal is a clean, easy to navigate and understand system. One thing that annoys me most about sorting digital music is the way compilations are handled. If you sort things by artist -- the obvious and reasonable first sort -- then multi-artist albums are split up. A related problem is artists who release songs under different aliases; Will Oldham uses 8 different names (Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, etc.) -- shouldn't they be filed with each other? Or solo albums by an artist associated strongly with a particular band? To solve this, I use the "album artist" tag that, I believe, all the popular players include. So, all Will Oldham pieces are filed under "Will Oldham," Roger Waters's solo albums are still grouped with "Pink Floyd," and the American Graffiti soundtrack is in a big grouping called "SOUNDTRACKS." This allows, say, "I Only Have Eyes For You" to still have The Flamingos listed as the artist without needless convolution of the organizational system. I can still easily see all the songs I have by The Flamingos by searching the "artist" field: and, yup, I have four more from The Doo-Wop Box.

(partial view of my digital organization)

Let me back up and elaborate on this, even though I can understand that only other neurotic geeks would shy away from asking "who care?" A parsimonious organizational system is only one issue. The second is: the way we organize music influences the way we think about music. (This is a theme Whoopee in Hell will be attempting to elucidate implicitly and explicitly in the future.) A simple example: earlier, my co-blogger mentioned Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. This album is, in my opinion, the most perfect album ever made. As such, I don't like to listen to a track here or a track there -- I only put it on when I know I can devote 48 minutes and hear every track. "Madame George" isn't really "Madame George" in isolation. It needs to be set up by "Cyprus Avenue" and by "The Way Young Lovers Do." It's not the same if these tracks don't proceed it.

So, that I have Jason Isbell's solo album filed under "Drive-By Truckers" gives me some pause because, you know, he's no longer a member. I think once he makes a name for himself as a solo artist I'll change the designation; I have Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, and Son Volt all separate for this reason. And let's go back to Roger Waters and Pink Floyd. I have two solo Waters: The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking (1984) and Amused to Death (1992). The former was released before Waters quit the band, the latter after. The last "Pink Floyd" album with Waters was 1983's The Final Cut. The back of the album includes this inscription:
"The Final Cut – A requiem for the post-war dream by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd: Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason."

Of these three albums, two are from "Roger Waters" and one is from "Pink Floyd" -- officially. But is the official designation the best way to organize these albums? It comes down to: does the way I approach an album like The Final Cut differ if I consider it a "Roger Waters" album versus a "Pink Floyd" album?

I'm curious how you attempt to organize your music collection. And I'm curious if anyone else considers these "philosophical" issues and how you deal with them.

Roger Waters - What God Wants, Pt. 1 [FROM Amused to Death]
Roger Waters - 4:50am (Go Fishing) [FROM Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking]
Pink Floyd - The Gunners Dream [FROM The Final Cut]
Van Morrison - Madame George [FROM Astral Weeks]

Posted by Lin

1 comment:

brandon said...

I'm far less concerned with sorting by artist, and far more with creating a limited number of meaningful genre names that encompass everything (my collection is about 24,000 songs--1450 albums, and I use iTunes, out of inertia, I suppose). I want to use the computer, and the fact that all my music is available for the first time at the push of a button, to challenge me to listen to all of it (in its good and bad glory), and that means coming up with categories that easily encompass a lot of different music, so that I can just select a category, and then bask in the warm digital glow of it all.

But I don't want to say too much, we'll probably make a series of this, and I don't want to blow my wad in the comments section. Good first post, chief!