The Tower

stapelklein

Original Dutch text and English translation by Degtyarov
(Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie)

My eyes are caught by the countless CDs to my left. Some of them have been neatly put into racks, uniformly stacked on top of each other like a flat, each plant carrying the musical oeuvre of a country or genre: French(-language) music sits on top of a vast collection of Greek black metal. Others are less fortunate and form rickety, unorderly stacks. Norwegian electronica lies on top of Dutch hiphop, while Russian Oi is accompanied by evangelical pop music for children. For half of the more than 100 CDs, it is doubtful whether they will ever be played again. The diversity in music hints towards either a schizophrenic music taste or a rigid reluctance to dispose of unwanted music; maybe even both. This allows the collection to reveal several sins of youth. A number of obscured Dimmu Borgir albums demonstrates that the collector, too, is aware of this. They lay at the bottom, meticulously hidden behind the façade of a stack of random clutter. rekken2Still, they form the foundation of a tower that, as the top draws closer, testifies of an increasingly refined taste. The ivory ornaments on the roof form a stark contrast with the mud-ridden base, but still the structure could never have been there without the foundation.

When I look further around me, it occurs to me that there are few of these collections left; that but a small number of friends have similar towers in their possession. Or it has to be a sort of digital skyscraper characterised by rough edges. And that is no more than understandable. You have to be at least a little bit crazy to spend money on goods that can be obtained for free, or to have packages flown in at the expense of steep shipping costs when you can have the contents of those packages on your computer within ten minutes. In the past, downloading still came with a (light) moral objection, but with artist-endorsed initiatives such as Spotify and iTunes, that aspect, too, seems to have faded. This means that starting a physical music collection in the present day is, at all times, a conscious decision, seeing as higher convenience and lower costs both point into the direction of the digital highway.

The fact that purchasing physical copies these days is both the most expensive and the most complicated way of obtaining music implicates that the modern collector is by definition a materialist. For the only conceivable advantage [1] of buying CDs, vinyl or even cassette tapes is the tangibility packaging: the box and the booklet. Still, my personal choice to not make the switch to digital formats does not have to do with the shell, but rather with the music itself: it remains my conviction that an unlimited offering of music also has a dark side to it: why would you make the effort of getting into an album when the next download is but a few clicks away? Especially with metal, not every album or song is going to be ‘love at first sight’. It took me a full seven years before I was able to appreciate Darkthrone‘s Transilvanian Hunger, but currently it would easily rank among my favourite all-time albums. Would I have made the effort of giving the album another go once in a while, had it not stood in my closet all this time and instead having been a mere collection of anonymous MP3s on some external hard-drive?

Maybe the biggest problem with music journalism today is the prevalent McDonald’s mentality. The vast majority of the reviews that you can find on the internet limit themselves to two or three all too concise paragraphs that formulate first impressions rather than thorough analyses of the music in question. Albums are also regularly reviewed based on YouTube videos [2], downloads or streams, something which goes hand in hand with the ‘eating one’s food but not digesting it’ method with which music is so often approached and judged. This way, reviewers can not only discuss more music, but it also enables them to provide the latest albums (often before they are even officially released) with SEO-friendly reviews (= more hits, thus more advertising money). Additionally, the end of each year sees the apparition of the obligatory top 10, 20 or even 50 lists, pretentiously boasting to contain the ‘best’ albums, EPs and demos of the year.

stapelgek

The fact that this website is, in many regards, the antithesis of the afore-described approach is the inevitable result of the way in which we obtain our music; not through free promos, downloads or YouTube escapades, but paid for with hard work (seeing as we consciously choose not to put any advertisements on our website) and flown in from the outcorners of Europe and Canada. Seeing as such an approach cannot compete with the ease of downloading in terms of quantity and recentness, every review has to be of high quality. This ensures that, even years after the album in question has been released, a review of it can still be relevant. Moreover, worthwhile contributions compensate for the relative scarcity of updates, as they provide readers with more lasting and profound material that can even be used as a reference point [3].

By converting a review into a reference point for background information on the music and band, it overcomes the obsolete ‘buyer’s guide’ ideal, which dictates that reviewers briefly inform the ‘consumer’ on the latest ‘products’. Exactly because of media such as YouTube and Spotify, music listeners are all too capable of informing themselves, and no longer depend upon some journalist or voluble amateur to point them into the right direction. The articles that you find here, can both be read by people who are completely oblivious to the band that is being discussed, and by fanatics who have accumulated their entire discography over the years. Such an approach would simply not be viable if we had to discuss ten new albums every week.

Meanwhile, my eyes are again caught by the tower of CDs, some of them put into racks, others thrown randomly onto a pile, but all of them tangible. It remains to be seen whether half of the more than hundred CDs will ever be played again, but an effort has already been made for every single one of them, and they will all remain within my grasp. Not just because throwing away CDs is unwise financially and actually costs more effort than deleting and MP3, but particularly because they form the building blocks of a tower that represents my personal musical history. A tower that might have been considerably higher in the digital world, but also less stable, as too many blocks would have been made of an unfamiliar material. No, I prefer my own little rural tower, built with my own hands, and solid as ivory.

Toren3

Notes:
[1] Technically, the sound quality is also better, but these days it can be quite difficult to distinguish high quality audio files from CD quality. The difference is certainly there, but, in my perception, too minuscule to be a considerable factor in the balance between the physical and digital markets.

[2] Take a look, for example, at one of the many reviews of L’Ordure à l’état Pur that speak of “J’avais rêvé du Nord” parts 1 & 2, notwithstanding the fact that the song is in fact one track on the album. Until recently, YouTube had a length limit on high quality videos, meaning that long songs such as “J’avais rêvé du Nord” had to be separated into two parts. Reviews that mentioned two parts of the song are therefore undeniably based on the inferior YouTube version of the album. Also read this interview with Peste Noire for more information on this subject.

[3] This I mean in the sense that our reviews can be addressed to comprehend the background of an album or the concept of a band. Few other reviews on the internet even get around to covering themes such as band concept, aesthetics and cultural mechanics.

About degtyarov (121 Articles)
Molotov cocktail in the face of music whorenalism.

2 Comments on The Tower

  1. Damn it, this has nothing to do with the article, but every time I visit this website and then move onto another website, my eyes have a really difficult time adjusting because of your dark layout. So thanks a lot, now I have to get off the computer for a while. Jerk.

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  1. De Toren | Bevroren Ivoren Toren

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