Lost in Online Plenty

In a 2012 New Yorker essay, Mike Spies considered what’s lost when we have so much music so freely available online.

Music isn’t as treasured as it used to be, because it’s no longer an endeavor of effort and luck to get our hands on it, he argued. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, over the last half decade, very few new albums have stuck with me — I just don’t spend the time with them anymore.”

I sympathize. When buying physical CDs and records, the randomness of something being there helps me savor the discoveries, partly by limiting the input. But it only works with a handful of items. Whenever I come out of a store with, say, a dozen CDs under my arm, I find half of them unlistened-to months later.

It’s as if the seeking and digging, and the time spent in the store considering, creates a well of potential energy that’s infused into the music.

On the other hand, Internet delivery creates the option of instant experimenting.  I once saw an ad in Gramophone for a solo album and solo Carnegie Hall concert by Bjarke Mogensen, an accordionist. Solo classical accordion! What could that possibly be like, and would it even be bearable? In the past, I’d stare at that gorgeously stark album cover, and I would wonder, and that would be the end of it.  But now … I sought out the album, Winter Sketches, on eMusic and gave it a listen. And ended up buying the whole thing. (It’s quite enjoyable, by the way.)

I revel in that speedier process of discovery, too. And yes, the fact that it’s cheaper helps.

But I’ll always love record stores, and bookstores, and the tactile experience of searching and learning. I’m grateful to live in an area with substantial record stores — Amoeba, Streetlight, Rasputin — and I savor what little browsing time I can get.

Every generation sees some of its greatest loves obsoleted — processes, objects, skills, artistry. Things that transcend tradition and habit. Maybe record stores aren’t any different. But given how many people share my sadness about what’s being lost, it’s clear that the love of records runs especially deep. The disappearance of record stores is like a piece of our souls being taken away. There are benefits. But we’ll mourn for what’s lost.

P.S. Regarding eMusic — note that I’m talking about music being inexpensive, not free. Big difference, as Ben Allison articulates here.

P.P.S. Turns out Bjarke Mogensen has a new album coming out next month.

Indiejazz Shuts Down

I’m mentioning this with very few days left (possibly zero), but: The Indiejazz retail site is closing in a few days, if not already.

It’s run by the folks at Cryptogramophone, Jeff Gauthier’s record label that’s put out some strong work in the past decade, largely from the L.A. scene. I have the deepest admiration for the people who put the effort into running a creative-music record label — especially one as well crafted as Cryptogramophone, which specializes in attractive CD packaging and surpassed itself with the artwork for Intiate by the Nels Cline Singers. (See also here.)

A record label is a lot of money-losing work, but I’d imagine it’s a picnic compared to running a store, even an online one. So: Thank you, to the folks at Indiejazz, for being an outlet for this music for six years. It’s not always obvious where to find these discs, and even though it’s possible to buy from many labels directly, having a storefront — a place to browse, even virtually — is a crucial aspect to sustaining a community of fans and listeners.

Much as I liked Indiejazz, it’s not leaving the biggest of voids. Plenty of competing sites specialize in creative jazz and improv: Jazzloft, Squidco, Forced Exposure, Cadence, and Downtown Music Gallery all come to mind. (And in the Bay Area, there’s Aquarius Records — lots of freak-folk and noise/metal-style improv there — not to mention the physical storefronts of Amoeba.)

I did stop by Indiejazz’s site for a final purchase, an admittedly modest one. On a whim, I added Cryptogramophone’s first CD, which I’d not yet heard (see previous post). It seemed fitting.

M-Theory Pulls My Strings

M-Theory, in the lovely Mission Hills neighborhoodI’m in San Diego for the next several days — on business, not pleasure, so there’ll be no time for music shows.

But I did arrive early enough for a trek to the Mission Hills area to visit M-Theory Music, though. It’s a nifty little CD store with some nice, obscure, used jazz vinyl (which I never dare purchase — it’d be too much burden in addition to the computer bag I lug around). I love to spend an hour or so at the listening stations, trying to find new stuff. Who needs Sea World when you’ve got this?

Even with a dearth of avant-garde stuff at the store, it’s hard keeping the haul as minor as possible. Here’s the damage this time:

1. Los Campesinos!We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. A find at the listening station. Crazed, manic pop, dense with instruments and sounds and energy. A latter-day New Pornographers, maybe, with a British accent in the lead vocal and — suddenly! — an American-accented female vocal. I’ve been in the mood for big-energy pop lately.

2. Asobi SeksuHush. The other listening-station find, a Japanese pop band apparently fronted by some classical-piano child prodigy. High energy here, too. Big, airy guitar sounds and forceful vocals, and some nice sheens of emotion. Apparently they were just in San Diego a week ago.

3. Medeski, Martin & WoodZaebos. The trio plays selections from John Zorn’s Masada Book Two, the cluster of 300 or so songs that came from an outpouring of inspiration a few years ago and is being documented on the Book of Angels CD series on Tzadik. I’ve heard mixed things about this one, and I’ve had mixed feelings about MMW, but I’ll give it a shot, to show M-Theory that people do buy this stuff sometimes (plus, it was sold at a price uncharacteristic for a Tzadik…)

4. Archie Shepp & Roswell RuddLive in New York. Replacing a copy I’d lost and never got a good listen to. A 2000 session of veterans that includes Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille, Grachan Moncur III, and a bit of Amiri Baraka.

5. Hugh MasekelaPhola. This one’s kind of for the kids, actually; they’re showing an open spirit when it comes to music, and when I spied this one filed in the wrong place, it suddenly seemed like a good direction to try out with them.

So much for play time. It’s off to work.