I have a CD player sitting on my floor and a stack of CDs on my table, considered a collection now. The machine is a decade old and is plagued with wires and cables; I trip on them and things get caught in them. Every time I try to bundle the wires together they entropy back. The CD stack sometimes falls and the cases crack. They collect dust and must be cleaned. Discs get lost, swapped around, scratched.
But I collect them anyway. They are great because they give form to music. Its substance is the music itself. You can hold a song, an album - you can even throw it at people if you’re inclined - and you can break a song, an album, it’s in your hands. But in our era of ghosts, music has lost its form and I’ll argue it has lost its quality. Quality meaning its essence, being, what makes it have value to us, what separates it from low-quality phenomena (e.g. sound of toilet flushing), what makes it art.
The music is ghosted as soon as you choose to buy it digitally or you choose to stream it. Ghosted music means you cannot hold it, ever - it becomes abstract. It’s there, of course, it’s there because you can click on it and hear it but it isn’t really there - it’s not here - its only there. You lose its value. Ghosts have less value. It becomes another meaningless forgettable transaction, an exchange between big people and small people (us) which came from an earlier exchange between artists and the same big people, that’s all it is, a virtual transaction, and you haven’t even touched it.
And when you collect CDs, or any physical art, you have a tangible reflection of your tastes that you and others can see. It’s right there, on your wall or stacked up on your book case. But when you have a digital music library, you have nothing, it’s all virtual, there’s no proof of yourself in your music, you can’t see a refection on your library only binary 1010101010101. Same with books. Stacks of books, wizened spines, cracked spines, folded pages, pen scrawls - it’s all a part of its quality, it’s what makes it so cool, it’s that feeling you get. Book petrichor, that lovely smell - you can’t get that from a Kindle, can you? You can’t get that feeling of clicking open a CD case, unearthing the art, sliding it into the slot, waiting a beat as the machine processes it...
Google’s Art Project lets you see thousands of works of art, all for free. It’s fantastic, but the quality is less. It is universally understood that quality is lost as soon as you take a picture of it and go look at the picture instead. You lose quality. Where does it go? One could say that, paintings are not two-dimensional and the subtle differences of relief in the paint make all the difference. However, modern technology allows for a three dimensional view of art — it could be achieved through multiple cameras, or videos. And you could say that standing with your nose an inch from the canvas cannot be achieved through looking at a digital copy, but it can, you can get even closer on a computer, you could probably zoom into the paint molecule if you wanted to — so why is it inferior?
The human aspect is lost. Humans are flawed, and going to a gallery is always a flawed experience: when you look at a painting in a gallery it’s incorrect to assume you only experience the painting, when really you experience the gallery, the city you’re in, the smell, the crowds or the loneliness, all these micro-exchanges of information and sensations you feel (i.e. the experience of being a real-life person) whether you’re hungry or not, whether you saw a bored child drag themselves across the floor in boredom. None of this is detrimental to the huma experience, it just means everyone has a unique experience of that moment and therefore a unique experience of that art. You can take a photograph of a sunset but it will never be the same as how it felt to be part of that sunset.
So I like the hassle. Whilst digital music is convenient and cheap - I’ve accumulated over 3000 songs over my pirate lifetime - it’s just not the same. I have these insane attachments to certain albums but I’ve never touched them, I’ve never felt them. I’ve never been able to physically give the album to someone else, the best I’ve done is linked a friend to a Youtube playlist, but then there are ads, clunkiness, and it's not the same. I can give a CD to someone. I can create a mixtape and burn it on a CD and make my own album cover and I can give it to someone, a proper exchange of quality, a proper exchange of art. That is hassle, and that, in my opinion, is good.