Maybe I'm not modern enough.
Last month, according to some of my more 'up to date' acquaintances, I finally joined the modern world and got broadband, or ADSL, or whatever it is. This means, apparently, that my computer can be left on all the time, and can update me at all hours of the day with such advantageous things as new information, offers, and all the other snippets of modern life that I cannot do without.
Now, I may be becoming slightly paranoid here, but I do feel as if I've replaced my trusty old walking stick with a fully loaded MK3 assault rifle. The bloody thing has just taken on a much more insidious role in my house, that of a militant squatter. I may not like it much, I may find its presence questionable, but getting rid of it would cause a lot of trouble and maybe even a feeling of guilt.
Maybe I'm not modern enough.
Purveyors of modern life do keep harping on about being pro-active; eliminating the negative and accentuating the positive in your life. All that sort of happy-clappy stuff. And, you know, sometimes it is better to stop whingeing on about one's lot in life. Just get on with getting on and all that. So, I decided to stop nervously staring at my new comp and do what an increasing number of my friends are doing. I decided to download music from the internet. You can make great compilations, so I'm told.
And you know what? For a little while it was a great deal of fun.I was able to tap in a few names of the artists that I was able to download, and lo! A long list of tracks, albums, live bootlegs, sessions and videos would suddenly materialize. Marvellous, I thought, I've not got this session of so-and-so, playing in 1983. I've often looked for it and at last, here it is, finally, in a digital format.
So I downloaded it onto my computer.
And there it sits, unlistened to in a folder on my computer, amongst the reams and reams of other stuff I got. There can be few more boring - no hang on, not boring, for there is still a tiny crumb of interest – rather, there can be few things more dispiriting than listening to music on the computer. It's a soulless experience.
It's too easy to do for one thing. You sit there, tapping away, doing something else (like writing this up, for instance) listening to some ultra rare Peel session or live bootleg, fully hooked up to the Shiny New Modern Age, apparently In Total Command of all around you. Or, if you don't want to do anything in particular, there you sit; (once you've checked your e-mails), downloading some more music to your file, promising yourself that you'll listen to it soon. Music is, to all intents and purposes, being straight-jacketed into a new role; that of an accessory, digitalised and sanitised for such a listening experience as the one that I've just described.
You may call me fuddy duddy at this point. But.
Where is the human interaction that was once part of listening to pop music? Not many people care to look in detail at the stuff they've downloaded, or to pick up and fondle or cradle, or to smell the cds they've burnt.(And yes, I did say smell cds. I defy anyone to deny that they've not smelt records or even on rare occasions, cds)... The thing is that these exploratory, elementary actions are directly linked to the things our Neolithic ancestors did when they checked out berries on a strange tree, or looked for the right wood to make a boat. Exploratory actions with hands nose and mouth. And more than that, these actions, were, in some way, linked in with the human capacity to dream and explore, whether mentally or physically.
Downloading removes the human, physical element that we once had with music. We are dressing it up in the anonymous, anaesthetised clothes of the new century. And fair enough, you might say, it's not an important link. And it's the new century after all. Anyway, you might say, I can get all the Guided by Voices tracks I need on almost any P2P network I can think of...
We are sated with over choice. That's our pay-off. Talking of Guided By Voices, there's a track of theirs called "Lord of Overstock" a rant about too much choice and the consequence of that, too much stuff. We are given so much stuff; info, music, games, opinions, detailed weather maps, etc etc, that we are becoming incapable of responding in the way that we were once able. We're shutting off (or at least it feels like we are). It's all too much. Actually, didn't some band write a song called "It's All too Much?" Hang on I'll look it up on that P2P network...
Before I get accused of becoming a Savonarola of the Modern Age, let me again repeat the ridiculous inconsistency of my position. I am the co-editor of an on-line pop music magazine, who has spent a considerable amount of his time today typing this up whilst listening to on-line digi radio. There you are. I'm ready for the village stocks. There are some benefits you know to all this new technology (or else you wouldn't be reading Incendiary). However, let me leave you with a salutary tale. In my first flush of enthusiasm, I saw that I could download the new Julian Cope lp, "Citizen Cain'd". Normally, a new release by the Copester is a big event with me. I adore Cope. But even my adoration did not extend to listening to the download; for one thing, I reasoned that I wouldn't find it amongst the pile of newly burnt cds I had (and that's another thing, they're not that bloody easy to annotate, unlike the piles of carefully described tapes I now, in my Modernity, never listen to.) Anyway, with one thing and another, I forgot about that LP (can it be called that when it's a download?) for a while.
Until I walked into a record shop and saw it.
I immediately bought it, played it over and over again, reviewed it, paid ridiculous amounts of attention to the cover and sleeve notes (you know, all those Neolithic things), and had a marvelous afternoon.
I expect someone will provide a moral to this story.
Oh, and don't sue, is it really worth it?
Words: Richard Foster