Listening Log: May (and More on "Sharity")

The "sharity" movement that has generated mild controversy and (perhaps) extensive exploration of obscure experimental musics since, roughly speaking, 2006 has presented me with a few conundrums. First, I say "perhaps" because the task of deciding which albums to download is itself a source of pleasure, not far removed from deciding what to buy at record shops. The obvious difference comes from being able to download more than I could purchase in any given period of time. Certainly every tangible disc that comes my way I will eventually listen to. But every download? We'll see...

In the meantime, the "sharity" blogs have in the course of less than three years made more experimental music available, for free, than has ever been available before, even to the wealthiest, most-spendthrift collector. Just to give some examples... I have downloaded The Lowest Form of Music [1996], the ten-disc set featuring varied artists associated with the Los Angeles Free Music Society; the ten-disc compilation released by the Improvised Music From Japan label [2001]; Bernard Parmegiani's 12-disc complete works [2008]; and Mosaic's eight-disc complete Arista recordings of Anthony Braxton [2008].

The potential downside to this glut of available listening, as many observers have already pointed out, is that the romance of the "find," the allure of the obscure and mysterious, could begin to dissipate: a progression from enticing mythology toward perfunctory history. Before the release of The Lowest Form of Music, one heard a lot about the L A F M S but most likely only heard a few examples here and there, and usually recent manifestations - say, the latest Smegma album or newer group Extended Organ. Those who, like myself, began to listen to sundry experimental musics around the time the box set came out, again, heard a lot about the L A F M S, but also knew the box set and other records were available, no matter how reluctant we were to spend the cash to get it. Now, younger listeners can get that set, and other records from L A F M S artists like Solid Eye and The Doo-Dooettes, for free. After all, many of the records available at "sharity" sites are out-of-print - so, the thinking goes, why not offer them in .mpeg or (ideally) .wav formats? That is, the ethics of file sharing - to the limited extent any code of ethics exists - even if it does not reward experimental artists financially, at least allows for their music to be easily heard, relative even to popular artists, who have quite successfully turned the M P 3 business to their advantage (for, as with poorly-mastered early C D's, customers willingly - stupidly - buy an inferior new product at a higher price).

It is at this point that we ask if the proverbial young listener of, say, Deerhunter or T V on the Radio or Animal Collective will bother with these legions of past artists if they had not heard of them through word of mouth, through the ephemeral layers of meaning that attach to the words defining an artist we have not yet listened to. The splendors that we hope await us when we finally get to listen to these artists we've heard others speak of in hushed or excited tones: La Monte Young and his exhausting five-hour solo-piano tour de force, Fushitsusha's nerve-racking to-and-fro between spaciousness and heaviness, the historical flights of fancy of Harry Partch's compositions and homemade instruments, and so on... We could dismiss these verbal decorations friends and acquaintances come up with, as they awkwardly try to compensate for the music's non-presence in the room, but we also find our computers loaded with music that doesn't inspires us to take the time to enjoy it. Is it because no-one, save perhaps the jumbled thoughts of a "blogger," built it up for us? Raved about something, taking the risk that others might not get it, perhaps even reveling in the challenging of thinking literally about sound...

As for countering this potential negative effect... one can hope that the easier availability of experimental musics will result in less of the pointless chatter about scenes and personalities that sadly often accompanies meaningful discussion. And most of all, eventually we will listen. Concoct little listening adventures for ourselves; build up the contextual framework for such great amounts of music. Those artists whose romanticized bodies of work beguiled non-listeners now hopefully will entrance actual listeners. If they don't, no harm's done... their music remains, taking up space, as it should. While the market for rare records will continue to grow, much like that for rare books, the Web could make records as accessible as books have always been via university libraries. Music for me, and I'd like to assume for other close listeners of divers kinds of music as well, has never been as much of a social, interpersonal activity as many assume. In contrast to the cultural milieu of the present decade, wherein "popular music" artists make experimental music yet sometimes lack appreciation of their forebearers (quite distinct from the historical-minded Reconstructionist artists of the 1990's) and even sometimes make an ugly, or blank, face at the mere hint of intellectual thought expended upon their music, I envision a learned society wherein those who name-drop heroes of the musical past will face the same level of scrutiny afforded those who assess a writer's merits based only on a review or those who pontificate on the genius of a famed painter or filmmaker while knowing little about the aesthetics and history of the media in question. In other words, forget about the mystique of what is not known, and delve into the wonders of what you are told is known, but do not know for yourself. After all, if the social arenas of our gentrified cities offer little in the way of provocative charming artfulness, the solution presents itself as such: turn inward, revamp your stereo system (and refurbish your book collection) and get to work.

David Bowie - Station to Station;
The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace;
The Los Angeles Free Music Society - The Lowest Form of Music (disc 10);
T V on the Radio - Dear Science.

David Bowie - Low;
Excepter - STREAM 52;
N T X + Electric [Indian Jewelry] - We Are the Wild Beast;
TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain;
M V + E E with the Golden Road - Barn Joint.

DJ Pica Pica Pica - Planetary Natural Love Gass Webbin' 199999;
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion;
Sun City Girls - Live From Planet Boomerang (disc 1);
Sun City Girls - Kaliflower.

Animal Collective - Feels;
Miles Davis - In a Silent Way;
The Los Angeles Free Music Society - The Lowest Form of Music (disc 10);
Sun City Girls - Live From Planet Boomerang (disc 2).

Joy Division - Heart and Soul (disc 1);
Neil Young - Chrome Dreams II;
Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden;
Robert Wyatt and Friends - Theatre Royal Drury Lane Sunday 8th September 1974;
Miles Davis - At Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East (disc 1);
Miles Davis - Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West (disc 1);
All the Best of the Lovin' Spoonful.

The Velvet Underground - The Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (disc 1, tracks 1-4);
Nico - The End;
T V on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain;
TV on the Radio - Dear Science;
Miles Davis - The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (disc 2, tracks 3-6).

T V on the Radio - Desperate Youths, Blood Thirsty Babes;
Kazuki Tomokawa - Blue Water, Red Water;
Charalambides - Market Square;
Roky Erickson - I Have Always Been Here Before (disc 1);
The Orb - Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (discs 1 and 2);
The Fall - Code: Selfish (tracks 1-5).

The Orb - U F Orb;
The Fall - Code: Selfish (tracks 6-12);
Tod Dockstader and James Reichert - Omniphony 1;
Fennesz - Black Sea;
Tony Oxley and Derek Bailey - Soho Suites (disc 1);
Omar Souleyman - Highway to Hassake (Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria);
The Birthday Party - Junkyard;
Don Cherry and Edward Blackwell - Mu, First Part.

Miles Davis - Milestones (tracks 1-3);
This Kind of Punishment - A Beard of Bees;
Matthew Shipp - Symbol Systems (tracks 1-7);
Pierre Henry - Mouvement-Rhythme-Etude.

Model 500 - Classics;
Wire - Chairs Missing.

Robert Wyatt - Rock Bottom;
Robert Wyatt - Nothing Can Stop Us.

New Order - Movement;
Talking Heads - Remain in Light.

Sly and the Family Stone - Stand!;
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky;
Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92;
Ghost - Snuffbox Immanence.

The Ramones - Rocket to Russia;
Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender;
This Kind of Punishment - In the Same Room.

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Royal Trux - Hand of Glory.

Fleetwood Mac;
Animal Collective - Water Curses;
Ghost - Hypnotic Underworld.

Fleetwood Mac;
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul;
Nico - Desertshore;
Wire - 154;
The B-52's - Wild Planet;
Circulatory System - Signal Morning.

Panda Bear - Person Pitch;
Sonny Sharrock - Guitar;
Circulatory System - Signal Morning.

The Jim Carroll Band - Catholic Boy;
Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple;
Matthew Shipp - Symbol Systems (tracks 8-13);
Aphex Twin - I Care Because You Do;
Marion Brown - Why Not;
Excepter - Obedience (side B);
Alternative T V - The Alternative T V Collection: The Image Has Cracked (tracks 10-18);
Circulatory System - Signal Morning.

Excepter - Ka (track 1) + "Vacation," "'Forget Me'";
Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam.

Wilco (The Album);
Circulatory System - Signal Morning.

Wilco (The Album);
Radiohead - Hail to the Thief;

Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow;
Excepter - Tank Tapes;
Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, and the Amorphous Strums - Dark Developments.

Circulatory System - Signal Morning.

Stereolab - Dots and Loops;
Stereolab - Cobra and Phases Groop Play Voltage in the Milky Night;
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Wire - 154;

Rafael Toral - Wave Field;
Sun City Girls - Torch of the Mystics.

Animal Collective - Water Curses;
Animal Collective - People;
Animal Collective - Prospect Hummer;
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion;
Panda Bear - Young Prayer;
Panda Bear - Person Pitch;
The Los Angeles Free Music Society - The Lowest Form of Music (disc 1);
The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle.

Fushitsusha [1991] (disc 1).

Throbbing Gristle Bring You 20 Jazz Funk Greats;
Fushitsusha [1991] (disc 2);
Excepter - Tank Tapes;
Polwechsel and Fennesz - Wrapped Islands.