I hereby resolve…
Here’s the thing: I’m already a vegetarian. I gave up smoking a few years back (I can recommend the book). And while I could stand to lose a few kilos, I do a fair bit of day-to-day general exercise.
Besides – I’m not averse to a bit of extra padding in the interests of good living, so there’s no need to be hasty making promises about physical regimes. I could be more organised, but – y’know… I don’t feel the need to commit to undertake anything particularly new that I’m not already underway on.
And so, the usual New Year’s Resolutions don’t fit. Mine needs to be something a bit different. Something I believe I should do, but that I don’t make a consistent effort about already. Also – it shouldn’t be a chore. At least, I’d prefer that it wasn’t.
So here it is…
My New Year’s Resolution: 365 albums
(52 books was taken by another blogger).
An album a day. In its entirety. Start to finish. Uninterrupted. Minimum.
Why? Well, because most people don’t listen to music. Not properly, anyway. Myself included, most of the time. What people do is they have music on while they… [insert verb].
There’s music for doing the vacuuming. Music for driving. Music for waiting at the bus stop. Themed music. This is my dinner music. That’s my getting ready to go out music.
In these post-walkman days of iPods and the like, there’s a personal soundtrack for every occasion, and it’s as customisable as you’d like it to be. Your entire CD collection can go on random, you can have a ‘chillout’ selection or a ‘get busy’ playlist.
But I’ve been on the other side of the process. A failed musician, sure – but I’ve produced albums. Not many, but a handful. One of them was really good.
And there’s this part in the mastering process, after a few days of listening to the mixed tracks, where you start to debate the track order – and, particularly, the gap between the tracks.
You can get really precious about it. I did. Y’see, it’s not about how many seconds elapse between fade out and opening chord. It’s not like you can just set the default at 3 seconds. The gap has to feel right. It has to flow properly.
The album is the Work. The Opus. The songs are components of that work. The work has to hang together as a whole. The silences between the tracks are as much a part of the album as the songs themselves.
And all the debating, the agonisingly long sessions of playing back and adjusting track separation, the standing in the mastering suite and waving the next track in like a conductor… well actually, it’s kinda pretentious and unnecessary – but it feels very important at the time.
Of course, the intended listening experience generally bears little relationship to the actual listening experience, and as a result, a good deal of paid studio time is completely wasted. Mastering studios are generally more, not less expensive than recording facilities.
But even the ‘gaps between tracks’ issue is not the key to the problem. Ultimately, it’s a ‘level of attention’ thing.
For someone like me who claims to have this great passion for music, I should give it more attention than I do. I should sit down, shut up, and focus on the work for the duration.
I mean, I don’t play table tennis when I’m at the cinema. I don’t play playstation while reading the newspaper. I don’t rent a DVD to have on while I do the dishes. I should be able to sit still and give my mind over to a record from start to finish.
Now, of course I understand that audio media are inherently different. Hell, I’m a McLuhanist. But there’s very little in this world that doesn’t have more value in it than we generally give it credit for.
Think about it this way: We’d get more out of going to the library if we paid attention to the architecture. We’d get more out of walks in the countryside if we paid a bit of attention to the light – or the different flora and fauna. We’d get more out of websites if we noticed the typography and layout.
So I reckon a professed interest in music and its sonic qualities should be accompanied by some sort of commitment to a focused attention to the work itself.
Now, I’m no hi-fi snob. I listen on modest equipment. Budget stuff. But the experience of listening to an album ‘as intended’ has rewards far above those of simply having some sort of sonic wallpaper – an acoustic backdrop to whatever task you’re focusing on.
And I have to say – even quite mediocre albums reward an hour of close attention far more than most hours of television. They do for me, at any rate.
I’m still doing my ‘No-repeat winter‘, but from today, more deliberately than before, it’s going to include whole albums. One a day.
And of course, I’ll let you know what I’ve been listening to. Occasionally, you’ll get my thoughts and observations on the CD or record in question – but more usually, there’ll just be a footnote in the blog. Maybe a link if someone’s written something interesting about it that’s worth a look.
No reviews – and certainly no rating system. Just an album a day. Every day of 2005.
Your suggestions gratefully accepted – and just as likely to be pounced upon as entirely ignored. Maybe we could chat about the albums in the comments section. Whatever you like.
Let’s start with just about one of the best albums ever:
1. Miles Davis – In A Silent Way Columbia (1969).
Happy New Year.