11 February 2009

Metarock: Value of Digital

(You can view this an extension of Brandon's post here, since it touches on many of the same things. You should note, as well, that I only have 250 tracks of Orthodox singing, which is more than enough for almost anybody.)

I've spent the last two weeks acclimating to my new place, new city, new time zone. This trip moved me a thousand miles. I left with a backpack and two bags: everything else was given away, sold, or stored.

This includes my music. The vinyl, the CDs, even that one cassette I own (Robert Johnson's Complete Recordings)...most are in a storage unit in the middle of the midwest. The rest, hopefully, are being given a good (temporary) home with a friend. I have 12 albums with me, 5 I brought, 7 I bought once I arrived here.

This is just physical media. I did rip most of the music to an external hard drive before I left, so I'm not in danger of running out of exciting music or having a listening itch that I can't scratch. (If I really find myself begging to hear, say, Billy Joel's Millennium Concert or the second Finger Eleven album, then I have bigger issues.)

Is this not a glorious time we are living in? I have over 40,000 tracks two clicks away and they physically take up as much space as my left hand. Thirty years ago I'd have crates of AC/DC, Sabbath, Springsteen, Cheap Trick, and the Damned to lug around, plus a turntable ('cause why would I buy a new one when I'd have a perfectly great one already?).

Eight years ago, when I moved 1500 miles for college, I had 224 CDs. I bought a case that allowed me to take the entire lot but not the jewel cases or booklets. I felt it was a bit of a loss not having the package, but the music is what's important, right? The subsequent 11 moves in 4 years between dorm rooms convinced me that the lack of extra bulk was virtuous.

But still, when I got my own place and it seemed I was relatively settled, I once again brought out all those empty cases and added them to those I'd picked up in the intervening time. And when I finally got the whole thing set up, I was happy and impressed. Here's the picture, initially from a previous post:

Yeah, I'm a little sad that all I have now are 1s and 0s and code to show me what I got. I like having the booklet, I like having the case, I like seeing the CD sitting on the shelf. I like being persuaded to listen to an album because exposed end is garish yellow. I like the artwork. I like to read the essays included with compilations of old blues. This is all lost with a switch to a solely or mostly digital interface.

But...I have 1800 albums I can listen to right now that I couldn't otherwise.

I wonder: it'll be at least three months, but more like six or nine, before I get the physical copies back. In that time, will I feel the same way? Could I bring myself to sell all those discs at the local used store? Will I stay completely digital?

Well, no. Because, for me, it's not just about the music. I'm a collector. I like the aesthetic, the way rows of music look on the shelf. I like re-arranging my albums by things like spine color or how they fit into my personal narrative. And that's something you can't do with a digital copy. Not easily, anyway.

But I imagine 95% of what I'll play will be the digital versions.

Robert Johnson - Ramblin' On My Mind (take 1) [sounds almost as good on the cassette]
Cheap Trick - Stiff Competition [a very specific time in my personal narrative]
Gogol Bordello - Oh No [from that garish yellow album]

(Having difficulty uploading the files...will try again in the morning. Sorry.)

Posted by Lin.


Anonymous said...

So, good to hear from you. I hooked you up on the uploads. And say, is that Robert Johnson cassette the one we pulled out the the dumpster in front of my (our, really) first apartment in Madison, down by the lake?

Lin said...

Thanks -- the internet in the new place is a little dodgy.

The cassette is one and the same. I'm not entirely certain that it even plays, since I haven't owned a cassette player in so long.