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In defense of tangible music

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2013 - 12:00am

A quick perusal of my CD collection brings with it mixed feelings of horror and misplaced pride. Britney’s first album is a case in point, her spray-tanned face gazing demurely from the cover photo, the words “…Baby One More Time” printed in cursive just beside her ear. It is the one record I am horrified to discover I possess, even more so than my copies of S Club 7 and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” Still, it’s a testament to a bygone age, to an era where overly sexualized 16-year-olds were only starting to define the market for prepubescent girls and, more importantly, to an era where physical music was still very much the order of the day.

Is there a point to having a CD collection in this digital age? Well, no, not really. They take up actual space that can be used for more important things, are cumbersome, expensive, and impractical, to sum it up in a word. What’s more, CDs straddle that precarious line between the old school and the contemporary; not quite attaining the much-lauded vintage status of your dad’s vinyl record, and not exactly serving as the format of choice for today’s music aficionado, either. Thus, even the bragging rights that come with owning a veritable museum of compact discs falls somewhat flat. One could even argue that the CD is a manifestation of the world being too much with us, physical baggage preventing music lovers from attaining the pure nirvana of sound. Who needs gimmicky packaging when the actual listening experience is above and beyond the disc you hold in your hand? A physical collection is just a roundabout way of projecting musical tastes to visitors and asking for their approval, anyway.

These are things I tell myself those times I find myself strapped for cash, the culprit lying snugly in my hands, winking at me through its shiny plastic wrapping.

But while the notion of a physical music collection is today more or less an anachronism, those of us who, for better or worse, have in part defined ourselves by the display of our listening habits, still long for the physical object itself, and for the actual ownership thereof, no matter how puerile.

In my case, those compact discs embody the milestones that have marked my formative years, also standing as proof of the shifts in my temperament and personality, and in the evolution of my ideology and taste. I distinctly remember Mariah Carey’s “#1’s” accompanying me on my first excruciating trip to the dentist as an eight-year-old; Parokya ni Edgar’s “Inuman Sessions” helping me through my first tentative contact with high school boys; Oasis’ “Be Here Now” guiding me through the pangs of first love; Cynthia Alexander’s “Insomnia and Other Lullabies” dispelling the peripheral fears about entering a new university environment for the first time, and so on and so forth.

The downloading of songs and the subsequent burning of them onto CDs was something I had only learned to do in college. It was a personal experiment, something I would have never bothered to do if not for the constant teasing of friends that I was, for one thing, a Luddite; and for another, an amusing relic from the not-too-distant past. I am the proud of owner of approximately 10 CDs which I’ve burnt myself, but I’ve yet to burn compilations or playlists and have stuck to making copies of the albums I can no longer find in record stores.

Some purists argue that a ripped CD doesn’t sound half as crisp or half as bright as the ones bought from the shelves, but others say that these obsessive compulsions might as well be psychosomatic. While I don’t profess to be an expert in recording techniques and production methods, I’m somewhat inclined to believe that this idea of the original CD’s distinguished sound quality may actually hold water. It’s not because I’ve heard the precise differences with my own ears, but because I feel it each time I listen to CDs I’ve bought straight from the record store.

My latest purchase was a Jeff Buckley compilation — discovering the ‘90s grunge, Fender-wielding bands only now — and it was sold at only P99 in a major record store. It was as bare as original CDs get; with its sleeve only a millimeter thick, giving only the necessary credits for each song and showing only a few stock photos of Jeff Buckley in concert. When I listened to him sing on that no-frills CD, however, I heard a no-frills jazz-rock musician who was neither drunk nor drugged, swimming downstream Wolf River, Tennessee, and dying a likewise unglamorous death, accidentally drowning with his clothes and his boots on while singing the chorus of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

Those are things I never seem to feel in a downloaded album or a burnt CD. Let the Buddha strike me down for too much material attachment to these shiny round discs; but I’m taking my CD collection — and the memories, milestones, and experiences they carry within them — to my grave.

 

BABY ONE MORE TIME BARBIE GIRL BE HERE NOW CYNTHIA ALEXANDER INSOMNIA AND OTHER LULLABIES INUMAN SESSIONS JEFF BUCKLEY LED ZEPPELIN LET THE BUDDHA MARIAH CAREY
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