I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Touching Music

Music is a gift, but it also can become an organizational burden...

I recently made a sojourn to another city and while I did not find a cool music store like this one (located in Paris, near the Parthenon, close to where they filmed the car scene in Midnight in Paris), my mind went back to the concept of collecting music on CDs (and records, for that sake).

I visited a friend that has a sizable music collection, and has placed his collection on shelves. Primarily CDs, CD box sets, and books, if you focused your vision just so, you might expect you were in a CD shop like La Dame Blanche, minus the price tags and extravagence of used vinyl. I used to love shopping at Tower Records here in Richmond, not to mention a number of other shops in towns across New York, Michigan, and Ohio. Just as with a book in a book store, there's something palpable about putting your hand on a physical thing that you can see, and touch.

The CD shops, by in large, are gone here in the US, for the most part. When I recently visited Italy, I found CDs for sale (classical, too!) in a mainstream book store chain on the third floor. It was nice to see it there.

Yet, we can still purchase CDs from a number of online vendors. As we conversed, I made the usual arguments in favor of the physical CD:

  • better sound quality than a compressed MP3 or AAC file;
  • built-in backup after you rip the CD;
  • liner notes, artwork, and something you can hold.

My friend loved box sets, especially those that came at a discount. He lamented that some skipped the liner notes, as the box sets were offered at a reduced price. It's a practice I don't understand -- at least why these booklets can't be made available online in PDF for free, if the decision is purely economic.

Something interesting happened when he wanted to point out one particular volume. He turned, with hardly looking, and he could put his finger right on the CD, as if he knew exactly where it was. He had a physical location memory about his collection, how it was organized spacially, etc. This type of organization or knowledge is lost within the user interfaces of computers. That's something we give up when we go "digital" with our music.

When I am browsing music on my iPad to play remotely through my MacMini "stereo" system, I have to skip around the collection with my finger, and I land on things within a large list, alphabetically arranged. More often than not, the browsing by letters isn't effective or memorable (the Beatles may be next to Bach, for instance), when I jump around, I seem to always land on the same titles, and there's no intelligent way for me to explore my collection that really works for me. (I will say, I know I can search by Genre or Composer, but my collection has not been so-well organized using this metadata for me to fully take advantage of this; for instance, digital music I buy is often tagged "classical" when the period is actually baroque.)

While I am happy to go digital and reap the benefits, I do pine for the ability to finger through CDs in rows, open the case and look at liner notes, and be able to physically arrange recordings. I am hoping someone comes up with a virtual, perhaps 3D system, for doing so, so that I can position virtual albums into groupings and in relationship to one another, as I have seen prototypes for, for next-generation user interfaces for organizing files. While I realize my preference is at least partially rooted in my old habits, it's also something my brain is excellent at remembering.

The Microsoft Store

Scroll Bars Should Not Disappear