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Sat, 060722
material culture and music, or boy how i miss record covers.
Filed under: Technology -v- Culture — syncretist @ 183933CDT

(cross-posted from

a few years ago – basically, within about 3 days of getting one of the first iPods – I decided to put my whole cd collection into a digital jukebox. I’m no dj shadow when it comes to record collecting, but even a fellow who’s just moderately interested in music can come up with a few thousand cds and records over the years without trying too hard. I made a project out of it, took a stack of cds in to work with me every day for like 6 weeks, and had my laptop convert them while I did my job. Don’t miss your chance to play on the site casino gratis tragamonedas 5 tambores. You will be satisfied!

That allowed me to file the actual disks away – such a relief, as in a crowded new york city apartment, every inch is valuable. No more time spent wondering how this disk got in that one’s sleeve, or buying another copy of something because you kicked that 22$ import across the floor and scratched it all to hell. The juke ran on an iMac(blue) I purchased on ebay solely for that purpose, and basically worked really well. Before my most recent move, I carted all the CDs up to a friend’s basement…people who have entire houses don’t mind that sort of thing, it turns out. At the new place, not having to fill a whole bookcase with music is completely liberating.

The thing is….initally the record collection all fit on a 40 gig hard drive. Eventually, that filled up…and I swapped it for a 80 gig drive. You can’t delete the stuff from the forty, though, because of course it would take forever to reload everything, so it stays in the closet as a back up. Most recently I bought a 250gig drive, and amazingly that’s close to filled up now; the iTunes store and my video iPod (which I love, and use all the time) have left me with the ‘need’ to archive ever larger amounts of data. I started the damn jukebox project so I wouldn’t have to worry about the ever-increasing space demands of my library, and of course that problem never really goes away – it just gets transferred from one medium to another. As far as I can tell, there are really on two ways of dealing with the issue. First, make it someone else’s problem – and that means probably paying some sort of subscription fee forever, not a great option. Second, leapfrog the situation by getting a truly gigantic amount of storage, which is in fact another temporary solution, but hopefully more longer temporary. That’s what I’m leaning towards right now.

Mary asked me to give her some CDs to listen to in the office she’s working at right now. It took me back for a minute, because I sort of assume that if you’ve got a space where you can listen to tunes at work (not like me, a video editor), you just plug the ipod in and go. But this magazine has a stereo and CD player, so very quaint. Of course, I didn’t actually have any to give her, so I picked a few things out of the jukebox, burned the CDs and used the iTunes print feature to make the cd covers. As I held the finished products in my hands, I got kind of sad. I really miss CDs…I don’t think it’s the CDs exactly – I know it isn’t, they sucked from day one – but I definitely miss having a physical component to the music. Something to hold, and to stare at. I loved minidiscs for that reason; there were so many types, and colors, it made a record collection literally look like a bunch of candy. I buy almost all of my music online now – eMusic, Bleep (god bless you warp records) and the iTunes store all make a pretty excellent range of stuff available. But I do miss the liner notes, the variations in the cd packaging, the double colored vinyl of a stereolab LP. And it’s not just music that seems to benefit from this physical accompaniment to the cultural product being disbursed. People collect movie tickets, save the program from an orchestra concert, buy a t-shirt at a rock show. It’s ingrained pretty deeply into our system to have a physical object which can contain all our associations with the artwork in question. It doesn’t really seem like something we can get past…I doubt I’m gonna start going to record stores twice a week again, the downloads really fit my lifestyle a bit better. But I might carry a few CDs around, just for grins, instead of my iPod.

Of course, I’ll need to clear out a shelf for them.

One Response to “material culture and music, or boy how i miss record covers.”

  1. Rick Says:

    I think you’re expressing two key ideas about the “music becomes portable files” moment.

    First, that the primary value of those beautiful 12-inch PVC discs, the dust-attracting cassettes, and the apt-to-be-kicked-across-the-floor CDs lies in the data that are written on them. (I wont talk about MD because I think it’s a bunk format.) More concisely, music is just information. That insight was merely interesting until consumer electronics caught up with its implied throughput, storage, and computing requirements. Now those requirements are trivial, and we’re enjoying the benefits of the original insight as implemented by technology. And that prompts us to search for new ways of relating to that data, and more specifically in this case to its preservation.

    The second idea is more interesting to me: “Metadata” is important. Liner notes and album art and so on were never necessary components of mass-market music media, i.e. phonograph records, prerecorded tapes, and compact discs. A lot of releases lacked anything more than the most basic metadata, like copyright notices and product numbers. But for certain parts of the music-media-buying public (how’s that for generic?), metadata added value to the physical product. Some of us think it’s fun to learn who played what on which track.

    Now that there’s no physical medium associated with the data representing the recording itself, music buyers and sellers are trying to find suitable ways of presenting metadata. Certainly there’s a lot online; fans are generating more metadata then ever, and I think that’s pretty cool. But online sites don’t travel well. As you point out, decent metadata require a fair amount of storage space, as well. I honestly don’t know which of two forces will provide solution:

    Moore’s law and the associated trend towards larger storage capacities


    Ubiquitous wireless connectivity

    Sure as shootin’ one of them will, though.

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