Monday, 2 November 2015

(Can’t) Get(ting) back: free choice killed my roots (and I don't mind)

Make no mistake. I’m older. We all are. I’ve been actively, consciously seeking out new music to excite me for twenty-five years. It has been an expensive habit. CDs used to cost $30 each. I’ve bought, sold, owned, rented and even accidentally stolen hundreds of them. Then there are all the records still in the boxes they were stuffed into for an aborted migration to Australia… over two years ago. Still unmentioned are the hundreds and thousands of individual audio files obtained thanks to file sharing.

Since I first started this, a lot has changed. As physical media gave way to owned digital media which has given way to streaming the amount of available music has grown as explosively as its monetary value has diminished. A vast collection of music, even within the most jealously guarded, narrowly defined genre ghettos is available within moments of committing to a keyword search.

With very few exceptions (and thankfully they do still occasionally appear), I can own it all. I can hear it all. The only obstacles are science: biology and physics. There are only so many hours a day that I can stay awake. Only so many minutes I can commit to listening.

The inevitable outcome is that anytime I am presented with an opportunity to listen, I face a deep existential problem: reflection or exploration? Listen to something old, for memory’s sake, for nostalgia, for deepening, for resonance or listen to something new, for excitement, titillation and the potential to add to the list that defines me musically. Naturally, had I the time, then the question would not have the weight it does. Nevertheless, this problem lies at the heart of my daily listening and more often than not is resolved as I fall asleep with headphones on at the end of another long day.

Where once I had clear musical “roots”, now my location stretches to the horizon. What had been a small, neat garden has been replaced by an unruly and ultimately unknowable forest. Although I maintain a degree of lament for this change, as in a real forest, walking, watching, noticing, reflecting… all of these activities connect me to a wider whole. I suppose that what lies at the crux of the earlier question is a persistent, low-level angst that at any one time in the forest, I can only know what is immediately around me. And that in a finite temporal stream, both the desire to know and the desire to return, both tradition and hope are simultaneously bi-directional and proportionate.

Which leaves me to lead to a single conclusion. Admit the angst and just keep movin’.