Sunday, 6 September 2009

Compilations - the Alphabeticon rules

ITunes does some bloody weird things with compilations - or what it perceives of as being compilations. Personally, I think a CD collecting the 'Best of' a single artist should be catalogued under that artist.

Not only does iTunes randomly decide that some collections are compilations, rather than albums by that artist, but this also means that when an artist appears on a compilation they don't appear in the list of artists on an iPod. To find if you have an odd track by, say Tallulah Gosh, you have to do a general search because scrolling the artist list isn't enough.


So,for the Alphabeticon, if artist releases a collection of their own work, they're going to appear in the A-Z lists of artists CDs (as will collections of covers).

Additionally, if I have odd tracks by certain bands, they're appear in the appropriate letter as 'random tracks' (e.g. The 'A' List - random tracks) with a cross-reference from the main CD entry if I also own a CD by them.

Certain compilations will be treated as themed collections under genre (e.g. Pillow and Prayers, the Cherry Red collection, will appear under Indie collections).

It's going to be confusing but hopefully complete!

Cassette tapes: an introduction

Cassette tapes can hardly be many people's favoured way of listening to music. They lack the beautiful artistic form of the vinyl 12" or even 7". Tapes stretch, break, tangle and generally prove themselves unreliable to play back any music as it deserves to be heard (I'm avoiding the vinyl versus CD debate at present though I recognise that the digital form does 'squash' the breadth of analogue sound).

Anyway, for all their faults the cassette holds many fond memories for people like me. And part of that is tied up with the concept of the compilation tape.

Peans to the compilation tape are many and varied. In 'Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture' Thurston Moore, of Sonic Youth fame, collated a variety of recollections from those who taped and/or created tapes -- whether compilations for love and friendship or from radio recordings or live gigs. Meanwhile, Rob Sheffield produced the utterly heartbreaking 'Love is a Mix Tape', a memoir about his wife Renee told through their various mixtapes.

Anyone who is between a certain age (currently [2009] between their early 30s and their 50s) is likely to have made or had cassettes of some form or another during their life. For their sake, I will be recording the cassette tapes I continue to own and love whatever their origins.

NOTE: when the urge to clear has hit us hard, cassette tapes have been amongst the objects I have felt least able to argue a case for keeping. So apologies to the original Cherry Red collections that the NME gave away. Cloud did own you but you had long since ceased to be playable and you hit the dust.

CDs, vinyl, downloads, dispersed items and other miscellaneous notes

I love the physical objects and forms for conveying music. Okay, CDs are not albums - those chunky 12" forms of artwork beauty and solid (yet dramatically breakable) physicality, but even so I continue to be enthralled by the little square boxes with their sleeve notes, photos and thanks to families, friends and random influences. You may not be able to spread jam on them without consequences but they can be fabulously produced objects that challenge the formal constraints of their size.

Between us Cloud and I have probably released into the wild (that is, donated or sold) more pieces of vinyl than most people own in a lifetime. Ah, the 7" and 12" we have loved and played and scratched. Sadly, playing many of these items has not always been easy for us: non-functioning record players, a lack of any record player, record players that can only easily play one speed of recording -- all of these have affected our relationship to vinyl. Being broke has driven things to be sold; being bereaved has driven the (temporary) acquisition of parental record collections. We have just a handful of vinyl items left with us now.

The invention of the download has revolutionised music listening, yet to me these tracks do not feel like music I actually own. Instead they feel as if they are on loan to me. In practice this may well prove to be the case as iTunes has already proven itself adept at 'retrieving' items. As we move towards streaming being the dominate mechanism by which we listen to music, I suspect that being so old-fashioned as to even 'own' downloads will seem like the action of another century pretty quickly.

Dispersed items
In an age of online listening it feels far easier to ditch and disperse items of music. So there are a number of tracks still on my iTunes where I have opted to ditch or more likely donate the physical objects to Oxfam. Compilations - especially those free with magazines - have frequently headed this way even though they may include several fine tracks. The point is that unlike compilations produced by friends, the track listing is unlikely to have any real significance. The order has rarely been selected to show similarity/contrast, link a band via a soundtrack they both contributed towards, or make a thematic/lyrical connection. So off they've gone, to be enjoyed by others.

Welcome to the Alpha Music Blog!

I've been meaning to get geeky with doing a review of our music collection every since the admirable Swiss Toni did his Alphabeticon. He logged it as 'pointless cataloguing' which of course it is (not - depending on your POV).

So here will be a collecting point for alphabetical reviews of music, representing the diversity of the Rullsenberg and Roberts musical taste.