The Hard Drive Solution

What do Jeremy Eichler and I have in common? We are out of room for the thousands Jeremy Eichler.jpgof CDs that show up when you commit music criticism. Eichler is the classical music critic of The Boston Globe. Some time ago, I wrote about a temporary solution that I applied to the problem of limited shelf space. Eichler has taken a more drastic step. He is putting his collection where the only space consideration is the capacity of his hard drive. His article in today’s Globe begins:

Piles of CDs surround me. I have been feeding them into my computer to suck the music out of them. And then I pack them away.

Further along in the piece, Eichler laments the psychic loss when he consigns music to a realm where tangible evidence of its existence cannot follow.

To begin with, there is nothing left to hold in our hands. Recordings have of course always been physical objects, ever since the first known recording device, a phonautograph, was created in France in the mid-1800s. Its inventor did not design it to play back a song – he could not conceive of such a thing – but merely to visualize the music as lines on paper. Before we could dream of reproducing sound, we simply wanted to hold it.
And still do. A recording documents the presence of musicians who are no longer there, but the thing itself can stand in for them, can mediate our relationship to the music we are hearing. We like to turn it over, gaze at the cover art, devour its liner notes, and arrange it on a shelf in a way that gives it meaning in the context of the other albums we own.

To read all of Eichler’s piece, go here. And if you decide to follow his lead, be sure that your computer has a reliable backup system.

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  1. says

    The radio station I manage, WNMC in Traverse City, MI, is only now transferring the cream of its archive to hard drives. On the one hand, I recognize the loss of which you speak: covers, liner notes and such can become divorced from the music itself, but we’re working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
    For one thing we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure everything is as well-tagged as we can make it, using multiple data sources and tagging programs.
    And in addition to the automation system, which displays songs as mere artist/title listings for the most part, there will also be a more visually intensive ways to browse and search the archive.
    Right now I’m using a cataloging program called Catraxx, which displays whole albums together, artwork, reviews, links and allows DJs to add comments to the catalog listings, as well as allowing them to build playlists they can then load to the automation system.
    Not quite the same as the CD, but on the other hand this much music & data was never simultaneously available to the DJ either.
    It’s a trade off, no doubt, but I think the display of the collection can alleviate many of the drawbacks of non-tangibility.
    I’m open to suggestions for other collection management/display programs, too, if other readers have ’em.

  2. Ken Dryden says

    I can’t imagine the time and hard drive volume it would take for me to load 15,000-18,000 CDs.
    I’m glad I live in a home large enough to hold my collection (for now) but if it gets much bigger, my wife expects us to buy a new, larger house. I just hope that my favorite shelf units, which everyone has had backordered for months, are in stock by the first of the new year.

  3. says

    I for one cherish the simple sensuousness of picking a disc from a shelf and putting it in a player. I am wary of the effort to reduce life to code streams and the neurotic back up issue strikes me as stupid.
    I never back anything up as we have ‘cloud computing’ as a perfectly sweet alternative. All my stuff is in a server on Google documents. I have confidence in them and they never let me down. Why store anything on a hard drive when it can live on a server?
    Maybe one option is to just ‘weed’ more. How much stuff that lands on your doorstep is really critical and how much is just peripheral?
    Free stuff can be a clutter menace. I like to make a canon. As it is I am gradually gathering an object archive of Boston Jazz. For such a vile and self important city, it has a great jazz history.
    Johnny Hodges was born in some dump, unknown, not far from me here in Cambridge and Harry Carney was from Dorchester. Sam Rivers and Tony Williams were from here as were Joe Gordon and Serge Chaloff.
    Yes I have about 12 gigs of MP3 files of old lost vinyl albums I converted, but getting a player is a low priority.
    I guess the issue is: How much of your life has to be routed through a bit stream. Each of us will decide our boundaries.
    Have a great year sir and thanks for existing.