Jan 03 2014

Reclaiming Sonic Space

Published by at 10:46 pm under Musick

An excursion to an actual record store the other day has put me in a reflective mood.

I am a music hoarder. I don’t know how else to describe it.  At various times in my life, I’ve worked music retail, done college radio, and managed to amass music collections the size of the Library of Congress.

When I moved to California, I brought close to 2000 CDs with me. I left behind about 400 cassettes, and several hundred LPs.   There’s only so much room in a ’97 Nissan Sentra.  It was packed to the point where I felt like John Glenn in the Mercury capsule, as it was.

I have since gone predominantly digital.  It takes less space.  I own a handful of CDs, even less vinyl, and about 2-3 TB of music.  Everything from Johnny Cash, to Coil, to Black Sabbath, to Martin Denny, to 101 Strings sex albums.  Surf music from Pakistan?  I’ve got some. 70s funk from Poland?  You betcha.

As much as I love having literally just about anything I can think of at my fingertips (listening to Selected Memories from the Haunted Ballroom by The Caretaker at the moment), visiting the record store the other day has made me realize how much I miss the tangibility of recording media.  This isn’t some sort of hipster (or even audiophile) revelation of how “cool” records are.  I’ve never stopped thinking they’re cool.  My decisions to go digital were purely practical.

Love's Secret DomainBut as I purchased Love’s Secret Domain by Coil on vinyl the other day, I became immediately smitten with the idea of privacy, and temporality and ritual that comes with playing music from physical media.

If I am listening to music on my computer, or my iPhone, or my iPad (Lossless vs .mp3 debate aside), chances are, my device is connected to the Internet. Whether I choose to disclose what I am listening to at any given moment on social media (see my mention of The Caretaker, above), the device through which I am listening to it is connected to various other devices, and there is still the feeling of interaction (even if it is in the background), and my listening to music feels as if it loses just a little bit of its privacy.

Opening up iTunes and playing a song, while a deliberate conscious act, becomes one of many within the framework of how we use our devices. It’s meaning becomes diluted. The intention inherent in playing a piece of music gets lost in multitasking, either by the machine, or its user.

On the other hand, playing a record now means I need to interact more directly with a physical object – the recorded media.  I need to engage in the ritual of selecting the LP, removing it from its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, and starting the machine – the machine solely dedicated to playing back this piece of music.

I can play this piece of music for myself, or for a small group of people.  Additionally, should I use the piece of music in a ritual setting, there is privacy.  Spotify isn’t broadcasting my music choices across Facebook. iTunes isn’t calculating how many times I’ve played a track. This musical moment is between myself, and the turntable, and whoever else might be in the room with me.  It almost becomes a sonic Temporary Autonomous Zone. Like the ritual burning of incense, the musical moment is strictly in the present, and witnessed only by those who need to know.

In this age of the Internet, and social media, reclaiming this privacy feels not only refreshing, but is also a subversive act.

Try it. I’d be curious to hear how this works for you.

Or, as with anything, I could be making a mountain out of a molehill.



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