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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Music For Growing Up and Old
I put on a recording of Richard Goode playing Beethoven piano sonatas around 5:30pm. It has been on auto repeat ever since, through the cooking and eating of dinner, various computer-related tasks, and Skylar's post-prandial play. Whenever I listen to something over and over like that, I find myself periodically thinking about the sort of awareness that accompanies such repetition. For the most part, it remains in the background of my consciousness. Each go round, though, I find myself momentarily made aware of the music in a fuller sense. As I type this, for example, I'm paying closer attention than I was a half hour ago, though I am unable to write when I'm totally focused on the music. I wonder what the effects of this kind of aesthetic experience are. Is Skylar, sitting close to the right speaker, also letting the music slide back and forth between something taken for granted and a subject of scrutiny? Wait, I'll ask her. "I know it's there, in the background," she reports. "It's incorporated into what I'm playing, like the music in a movie. You know how there are different kinds of music for different scenes or stories?"

Presumably, it would be harder for her to incorporate Black Sabbath or the Elders of Zion into her play in this manner. But her capacity for concentration when she is completely focused on an activity are immense. So is mine, come to think of it, though I have spent far too much of my time in recent years mired in distractions. The other day, though, I spent three hours listening to the first Babyshambles album while sorting through sheaf after sheaf of papers, which suggests that I could get back into the groove with the right sort of push. I remember when Skylar was a baby, at home with me while her mother worked. Music was an important part of our environment. When I had a deadline, I would sometimes put on Stereolab or The Notwist for the better part of the day in order to lay a foundation for our respective activities. Maybe that's why she is so used to having music serve that function. I'm sure there are plenty of serious devotees of classical and popular music alike who would take issue with such instrumentalization. Adorno is assuredly tossing and turning in the afterlife. Nevertheless, I don't regret making her take the presence of music for granted. Someday that familiarity might even help her to conjure the illusion of home in a place where she is in danger of being overwhelmed by the absence of comfort and security.

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e_compass_rosa From: e_compass_rosa Date: July 30th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
When I was growing up, the easy-listening station in DC was the "soundtrack" to my life. My mother insisted on having it on 24 hours a day. Perhaps somehow she thought that the supposed soothingness of the music would cancel out the very real difficulties in our home life. I hated it.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 30th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I can understand that. I sure hope Skylar never feels that way about the music that she has been exposed to in the auto repeat mode. With any luck, quality will win out. My father often had classical music on at home or in the car. I wasn't that into it when I was in elementary school. But it still made me feel secure in my immediate environment. Still does, come to think of it.
From: marcegoodman Date: July 30th, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
What I want to show now, though, in advance of an answer to this question, is that popular music is a refrain. Like the tick, the refrain is composed of three functions. It comforts us by providing a rough sketch of a calming and stabilising, calm and stable, centre in the heart of chaos. (6) It is the song the lost child, scared of the dark, sings to find his or her way home. The tune also creates the very home we return to when our foray into the world grows wearisome. Home is the product of a very particular gesture: one must draw a circle around that uncertain and fragile centre one is accustomed to calling home in order to delimit it.

A housewife might sing to herself as she washes the dishes, or else have the radio playing in the background, and by so doing build a wall of sound around her to shelter a precious interiority, her self-created reserve of inner strength. A song also enables us to launch forth from the home it helped us to build. One ventures from home on the thread of a tune. With a song in our hearts we are able to extend indefinitely the secure interiority of the home; it is as though we take home with us wherever we go. The song is our future, a future of our own dreaming. To put it differently, we need not venture into the dark, chaotic world of the unhomely again so long as we have a song. The refrain is these three things at once, not in succession: it is a block of sound that is at once a way home, the very source of home, and the home in our hearts. But, Deleuze and Guattari insist, the refrain is not music, it is rather the block of content proper to music.

6. Deleuze G & F Guattari 1987 A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Trans B. Massumi, University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis

Ian Buchanan, "Deleuze and Pop Music", Australian Humanities Review, no.5,
(October 1997)

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 30th, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, that's amazing! So perfect. I am even deeper in debt to your uncanny ability to reference just the right thing.

From: marcegoodman Date: July 30th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I apologize for the block quote. It deepened and extended my own meager thoughts on this theme so dear to me. Just the other day, I wrote to a friend, "I often feel that no matter where I am music is my true home. All my LPs and CDs could vanish tomorrow and I would not in the least bit be sad because there will always be music."
From: marcegoodman Date: July 30th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My pleasure! I'm guessing our replies crossed paths somewhere above River and Campbell!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 30th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, I'm on campus today. In the library. :-)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 30th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I agree with that sentiment. Up to a point, at least. I do think that the advent of digital media has made the loss of one' music collection far easier to contemplate than was the case when you or I were growing up.
From: marcegoodman Date: July 30th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Of course, that's true, but I wasn't thinking about the possibility of recreating one's music collection should that ever be necessary. I had in mind the sheer availability of music on offer even in the traditional (!?!) ways - on the radio, at live performances, trips to the thrift store revealing records you've never crossed paths with before. Not to mention the oft-remarked-upon music-everywhere quality of everyday life at the present conjuncture.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 30th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Absolutely. Still, the reverse phenomenon, in which a particular copy of a record or a particular show are fetishized, seems to be on the rise. The resurgence of vinyl is bound up with that, though there are other reasons for it as well.
From: marcegoodman Date: July 30th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, yes. As an occasional dealer in such objects, I can attest to that up close and personally. (If I recall correctly, Joel and I met over a Barry Goldwater LP.) I should have specified that I was referring to my own experience. The often arcane rules which dictated my collecting mercifully have lost their grip. This may simply mean that I have successfully globalized my music-collecting fetish!
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: July 31st, 2008 09:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's such a cool quote about refrain that you posted above. And (sorry to jump in) I find the sentiment here in this comment really fascinating. I've had so much trouble getting myself past the missing object when cds of mine have gone awol (lost in the move, lifted by former roommates, etc) even though I still have electronic copies of most of the music. But then it's when I hear the song in a different environment (from a car radio etc) or when it comes into my head out of nowhere that I remember the lost object doesn't matter so much. I don't know that I get to the point of "not the least bit sad" but I get closer.
From: marcegoodman Date: August 1st, 2008 12:09 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I was amazed myself at just how beautifully this passage complemented what Charlie had written. It maps remarkably close to my own experience too. My friends have delighted in pointing out my tendency to sing little bits of songs over and over again.

As for being "not the least bit sad", I can say some more about this. In brief, it had finally occurred me that I might not be able to collect every record made that was worth hearing. I needed another kind of relationship to the astonishing array of music available to any given person over a lifetime. So I began to value contingency and serendipity as sorting processes. As a consequence, my attachment to any given piece of music (past, present, or future) became markedly less strong because I had confidence that something else worthwhile would present itself in due course. As you suggest in your comment, the experience of surprise ("hear(ing) the song in a different environment") is an excellent reminder that music is both "out there" and "in here."
From: marcegoodman Date: August 3rd, 2008 04:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I was much too blithe in my other reply. Here's a few quotes from the other side of things which I suspect are near to CB's heart too.

"The true, greatly misunderstood collector is always anarchistic, destructive. For this is its dialectics: to combine with loyalty to an object, to individual items, to things sheltered in his care, a stubborn subversive protest against the typical, the classifiable"

Walter Benjamin, "Lob der Puppe" (cited in Hannah Arendt's introduction to Illuminations)

"For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector—and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be—ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting."

From Walter Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting"

(collected in Illuminations but available in its entirety here:

elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: August 5th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Sorry I didn't reply sooner--I've been away camping--but I love the _Illuminations_ collection--and _Reflections_ too. But _Illuminations_ and the library essay are especially close to my heart. These quotes remind me I need to dig that essay back out and read it again. Soon. Thanks for that very much.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: July 31st, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I always loved that "Music for Babies" piece! I think about it a lot, actually, as I J's baby cousin dance to the music from her dad's cell phone or watch my kiddie cousin dance to this one particular record in her dad's collection. I wonder how long that body memory will persist, or what difference it makes that the one kid dances to anything but the other for at least a year requested the same song over and over (I can't remember it and haven't seen her do it in a while so I wonder what changed).

Anyway, it's really cool to have a second installment to the "Music for Babies" piece, so thank you. I know you've posted other accounts sort of like this--about what S likes to listen to, what she sings, how you run various new albums by her and feel glad she doesn't demand only music marketed to kids, etc--but I found it really cool to be able to read along as you stop your thoughts midway to ask her what she's experiencing in the moment you're writing in/about. Very cool! And a clear mark of what makes you such a great dad as well, of course :)
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