What do Jeremy Eichler and I have in common? We are out of room for the thousands of 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.