Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Realer Than Real

Artist: Han Bennink
Albums: The Laughing Owl; Nerve Beats
Source: Promos

After many weeks (months?) of wandering in the wilderness of packing, moving, unpacking and all the attendant stresses and difficulties, I'm unfurling The Beast in its new lair. Our suburban home has a finished attic, which has been dubbed The Man Room. The Beast will live there, complete with some sort of customized storage. All music things are being moved to a place that will be a) out of Eileen's regular lines of sight, and b) under my total supervision.

One of the curious side effects of this whole process is that I've been without complete and absolute access to my record collection for as long as I can remember. I recently unpacked some of it (early sections of the alphabet, which went into a small cabinet--enough room to get up to the early Gs), but as the mood has struck me to listen to, say, Varnaline or Sonny Rollins, it was no dice. They were too deep into the alphabet, which meant they were too far gone.

Well, not entirely. I have listened to Sonny recently, because I've got a bunch of his stuff ripped onto my iPod. In fact, the last few months have shown me just how thoroughly I've adapted my listening habits to the digital age. Previous moves have forced me to cull a small selection of CDs that I'd make do with until the top-priority unpacking The Beast always received. This time, I had a broad and deep cross-section of stuff on my home and work hard drives, and even kept grabbing new stuff off of my delightful eMusic subscription.

I'd kept away from the downloading for a long, long time, feeling that somehow I wasn't "really" getting the music. But now I see that it's a totally different music buying/listening experience. No liner notes, minimal cover art, no real visual or physical aesthetic to go with the aural package. It's all sound, no vision. Not better or worse, necessarily, but patently different.

At this point, it's fair to say that I've gotten a few dozen albums and EPs this way. But the weird part is I don't feel like they're a "real" part of The Beast. Heck, I've already written about some artists (Arcade Fire; Nels Cline) where I've got more of their catalogue in MP3 format (all legal, mind you!), but I didn't write up those albums because I don't really have them. Nope, all I did was pay for them and listen to them at will, just like...well, like my real CDs, tapes and LPs.

In fact, if pressed I'd probably say that these Han Bennink discs are real, and the download of Neko Case's The Tigers Have Spoken isn't. Nevermind that I pretty much hate the Bennink albums; he's a European very-free-jazz percussionist who blurts out formless noise that's too much even for me to take. The reissue of his 1973 Nerve Beats is long tracks of solo nonsense (punctuated by an occasional scream), and The Laughing Owl is a more recent set of improvised guitar/drum duets with an axe-abuser from The Ex. I abhor these albums, much to the same degree that I adore Neko's live disc, but I still can't help but feel that Han is mine and Neko is not (oh Neko, you will be mine one day...).

Part of me expects to eventually evolve further on this issue, but more of me suspects (and, to be honest, hopes) that I'll remain somewhat luddite-ish on this. There's still something great about the object--something real--that simply gets lost when everything gets broken down into an invisible flow of zeros and ones.

SISOSIG? Two clunkers, for sure. When enough time goes by, I will usually put one of these in to try again, and it never gets any better; it just gets worse. I don't want to listen to this noise, some fairly artful calamity though it may be. Time's too short to waste on music that gives me no rewards; I'd rather listen to some of my "unreal" downloads.


  • Hey B
    Glad to see you're back and blogging. I grabbed the latest Arcade Fire on your recommendation and it hasn't blown me away, per se. I think it's gonna be a slow burn the same way The Postal Service was. I'll enjoy Neon Bible now, and let it wow me later. -H

    By Blogger Heather, at 3:50 PM  

  • Glad to see that you are back at it. If anything has to go, these 2 can be on the list. But, with all the room you now command, you can keep each and every thing that suits your fancy.

    By Anonymous gil hodges, at 6:19 PM  

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