What’s all this about then?

THIS is about records. More specifically, its about my record collection. I was parted from this for about three years when I went to live and work in Amsterdam. It was quite traumatic boxing everything up, leaving it behind, and hoping that they’d survive without me. I took only a small handful of CDs with me, plus the laptop contents of my iTunes library and a Spotify subscription, but it’s not the same. It’s not surprising that after 6 months in Amsterdam, I cracked, bought myself another record player and started making the most of all the wonderful second-hand record shops that litter the city, not to mention the world’s largest record fair that visits Utrecht twice a year. (Info here if you’re interested)

Having returned to London last year, it was with nostalgic excitement that I unpacked the boxes of CDs stored in my attic and recovered my crates of records that a close and trusted friend was looking after for me. I actively encouraged him to play them whilst I was away – LPs need to be played, and music is designed to be shared. I’ve never been interested in ‘collecting’ records as artefacts. The rare first editions fascinate me, but I still want to play them. I regard ‘Near Mint’ as a bit of an insult to the artist – they’ve spent hundreds of hours composing, performing and recording that music, the least you can do is listen to it properly. And listening to music ‘properly’ cannot be done in the same way with MP3 files, streaming and downloads. I love their convenience, I use them regularly, daily in fact, but its not the same as the physical act of putting a record on, of even sliding a CD out of its jewel case and inserting it into the player, performing the quick peer and wipe procedure to eliminate the effects of sticky fingers.

DIGRESSION I’m digressing already – they’ll be a lot of that, so best prepare yourself now.

SO WHAT is this actually about then? Well, having been parted from my collection for a while, and on integrating my newly purchased items from the Netherlands with those records and CDs that had been waiting patiently for me in the UK, I realised that I have a heck of a lot of stuff that I haven’t listened to for a long time. This is also because due to space (and cost) considerations, I’ve reverted to listening to most new music these days on the aforementioned streaming sites like Spotify, Soundcloud and Bandcamp (the latter undoubtedly better for the artists themselves). I figured if I’m going to go to the trouble of keeping this collection of recorded music, then I should damn well do it the courtesy of actually listening to it. It’s also a good way to prevent me slipping into lazy listening habits and to reacquaint myself with golden oldies and unusual finds.

LISTS I like lists, okay? They’re useful, they help you find things. And as part of my record reconciliation process, I recently updated ‘the list’. Yes, I know it sounds super sad and anally retentive to have a list of all your records and CDs, but once you get over the 1000 mark it’s hard to keep a track of them. My pedantry was vindicated however, when a few years’ back, whilst living in a rented flat with my girlfriend at the time*, the place was flooded and my then collection of mainly cassette tapes and a few CDs were completely ruined. As I had a list of them all, I had no problem getting the insurance company to pay out for the cost of replacing each one. It was a brilliant way to upgrade my collection of cassettes to CDs.

(*Incidentally when we first met, said girlfriend used to organise her cassettes and CDs according to colour. Whereas this looked very pretty on the shelves and was workable when she only had about 20 of them, when it came to us merging our collections when we moved in together, it was not an option for me. I keep mine in a strict alphabetical order, with a few divisions by genre – in order to be able to find them. In retrospect, I should have realised at the time that this meant that we were fundamentally incompatible. It only took us 10 years to come to that conclusion.)

GENRES are not my thing, I’m not a fan. This may surprise you, being as I am, an ex-librarian; you’d assume we like to categorise things. Well, not really. We like being able to find things, and cat and class (cataloguing and classification for those of you not blessed with a Masters in Librarianship) can help with the whole finding thing. Not everything runs on Google you know, and nor should it. I choose to use as few genre classifications as possible in organising my records, and this is merely to make it easier to find what I want to listen to. Basically, it’s just Classical, Jazz and Pop. Pop includes a multiple of styles of course – everything from Beth Orton to Captain Beefheart to Belle and Sebastian and Jaques Brel. Oh, and there’s Soundtracks, they’re separate, as they should be, but that’s about it.

RANDOM is good. I like random, so these reviews, which is really me just listening to EVERYTHING in my collection and then writing whatever pops into my head, will be generated by a random number identifying an album on ‘the list’ on either LP, CD or cassette (if I can find something to play them on). I did think I’d start working through them one by one in the order they appear on my shelves, but I prefer Serendipity to a Strict Structure, and besides even the biggest Bowie fan may get a little bored once I’m on the B’s.

To generate a properly random number, I’m using random.org run by the Randomness and Integrity Service Ltd (awesome name – basically sums up the entire World Wide Web). However, I didn’t choose their website by random, but because they use atmospheric noise in order to generate their random numbers. How cool is that? And entirely appropriate for a blog which is basically a load of hot air (my witterings) recorded (here) about recorded noise.

“RANDOM.ORG uses radio receivers to pick up atmospheric noise, which is then used to generate random numbers. The radios are tuned between stations.”

RECORD At the time of writing I have 1510 ‘records’ – that is, a physical piece of media that contains recorded sound – 993 CDs, 477 LPs and a few (40) select cassette tapes which I either can’t bring myself to throw away due to the sentimental value or I have yet to be able to replace them with an alternative format. It’s not a DJ-sized or professional-musician-sized collection, but it’s probably bigger than average (size always counts) and possibly more eclectic than average also. (It’s actually a breakdown of roughly 60% under the very broad church of ‘Pop’, 10% Classical, 15% Jazz, and 15% everything else.)

REVIEW This is in fact something that’s been on my ‘to do’ list for many a year – to actually sit down and listen properly to ALL of my records. It’s a long-lost labour of love, and the writing bit just gives it a bit more ‘purpose’. I’m curious to see what comes out of my listening, and I hope it’s of interest to you too, dear reader. It won’t be a ‘review’ in the normal sense of the word. I’m not likely to tell you anything you don’t already know about the music, or someone else with far more expertise and sophistication can demonstrate with their esoteric music knowledge, but it will be my thoughts about what my records mean to me and the place they have in my life.

I’m hoping to be able to write and post one of these a day, which is probably a bit ambitious, so I may cheat some days . Even then, it’s going to take me over 4 years to get through them all. Given that the randomiser is properly random, it’s likely that they’ll be some repeats during that time, in which case I will cheat to make sure I get through them all. I wonder how many more I’ll end up buying in that time….?

Here goes…

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