Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Some thoughts on music media

I am listening to an MP3 of Supertramp's "Classics" and remembering their concert up at Alpine Valley in the late 70s with Jessie and my brother Roger. One vivid memory is when the giant screen behind the band projected this image of a commuter train embarking out of its station and onto its route, sped up to match perfectly with the band vamping in the closing three minutes of "Crime of the Century." Of course, I'm aging myself. It was a simpler time: the vinyl album was like a photo taken to remind you of the vacation you'd gone on. It wasn't going to last forever. But neither does the memory unless you have something to prompt it out of the unkempt storage of infrequently exercised brain cells.

While I cannot claim the breadth of experience that my mother has, I have been through a lot of transitions in the technology of the artistic efforts of the musicians of the past century and more. We were at a few stores this weekend and couldn't find a CD of classical music let alone any selections from Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music. Why were we even in a store considering buying such outdated media as CDs? you may well ask. We didn't miss the train, folks, we hesitate for good reasons. How many times should we buy this particular piece of music? we ask in reply.

I jumped on the technology train and began recording my vinyl albums onto cassette tapes. (Yeah, I pretty much dodged 8-track after experiencing Roger's adaptation. He didn't invest too much in cartridges but it was the player in his car that really made him kick himself. My bad choice in failed technology avenues was Quadraphonic Recordings. And I really started with my 8th grade graduation gift of a small reel-to-reel tape recorder with a patch cord for a transistor radio!) I went after that practice with gusto, transcribing at least 200 albums to that format. And just like the way businesses adapt to the dukes and jabs of technology, I found stores that sold and traded "like new" albums, so I had a way to recycle my vinyl collection and build up a formidable collection of tapes.

Well, a fire in our apartment building did a pretty nasty job on the classic vinyls I had stored in the water-logged basement, while my cassettes survived. At least until it became clear that the CD was the Next Big Thing. (Let's not discuss the whole idea of it being an incorruptible or indestructible medium as originally pitched, nor about the pros and cons of the quality of the performance.) When it became clear that cassette players were joining reel-to-reel and 8-track players in museums, I jumped ship. I bought a converter plug for my computer and fully intended on transferring the tapes to CD. But that "spare time" in which I converted vinyl to cassette seemed to have disappeared. (Sure, I'll name names: Zach and Alex.) I deemed my time to be of sufficient worth that I would proceed to purchase CDs to replace the "classics" in my cassette collection.

The first problem in this transition: some of my favorite bands--Ozark Mountain Daredevils, for instance--were pre-CD and obscure. Procrastination, however, became my friend. Diligent searching discovered that the Daredevils had bought back their tapes and released their albums on CD. If all you can think of is "Jackie Blue," in regard to this wonderful country rock band, go to Spotify and look up "Beauty in the River," "Country Girl," and "Gypsy Forest" for the true, haunting melodies of an All-Time Under-Appreciated Band. Even more obscure than OMD, was a Chicago-based band called Wilderness Road, whose first of only two albums was "Wilderness Road," a western opera about a bounty man. You can find some of the songs in digital format but not all of them. I found the website of one of the band leaders and was able to get a limited edition CD that could be my most valued musical possession besides my guitars. What's particularly special about this is my cassette recording ends abruptly because the vinyl album had become so worn that it skipped at the end and the needle would lift off.

The second problem in this transition is cost: simply buying "Best of" albums handled a fair amount of purchasing songs for the second or third time around. "Jackie Blue," which I loathe, but is considered the peak of OMD's creativity would be on a Best of. I was very disappointed, for instance, in having "Let's Get Drunk and Screw" on a collection of Jimmie Buffet's best, while not seeing "It's My Job" or "Incommunicado." Obviously, I was not consulted when the compilation was made. Bruce Springsteen has a song similar to "It's My Job" that I have on a bootleg cassette that I cannot find on Spotify. (As far as that goes, look on the Blue Oyster Cult lists for songs from their "Imaginos" album, no longer in print in the US and the only BOC album not on CD. I made a special order of a Euro version of it, since I consider it among their best albums--the Bouchard brothers left the band, and I assume there's an Issue about rights to the songs. I've never heard them perform songs from "Imaginos" in concert.)

The fact that I've built up a sizable collection of CDs, enough so that I recycled the cases and put them all in large, unwieldy leather CD albums, I am up the creek in terms of doing some kind of recycling at Half-Price Books or the CD Recycle store. It so happens that spare time is opening up and I can ponder ripping the CDs ... for "archive purposes" and dispensing them to all of my mobile platforms. Now the problem becomes one of tracking down those outlier songs in MP3 format and adding them to the collection. Do I pay $1.29 each for the three songs not among those considered the Best from a particular band, and go ahead with $6.99 for the album and deal with redundancy or songs for which I don't particularly care?
It's an interesting dilemma.

At this stage in life, why bother? I've already mentioned Spotify, although my knowledge regarding the depth of the Spotify library grew from a year's subscription, the lowest fee-based setting. (It's the one that doesn't share out to mobile platforms or allow any downloading.) I have also found Pandora an excellent choice for listening on my tablet and when I want to explore the wild blue yonder of new music, I like Slacker's stations. All free and much like listening to radio, even with repetitious ads. When I can get fairly focused playlists for free, or very specific focus for a fee, why bother with the labor of ripping CD archives?

That gets into philosophy and that's a topic for my other personal journal as opposed to this, my professional journal, which looks at how I use tools. It's my blog; I make the distinctions.

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