the cost of free things…

January 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Posted in art, blog info, musings, new music | Leave a comment
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Reading John Lanchester’s recent London Review of Books article on how the web may be causing the demise of print newspapers got me thinking about how the internet has changed the way I consume cultural fodder.  The instant, free accessibility of almost everything has encouraged me in a kind of omni-dilettantism and has given free rein to my most vulgar archival urges.  A quick example from last year: RFMHQ is rocked by a long-forgotten song by Band X (name changed to save my embarrassment) on the radio and, drugged by the warm fug of nostalgia, I get it into my head that I love Band X.  An hour or two later, via the magic of the internet and at no cost to myself, the extensive back-catalogue of Band X, in its entirety, has accumulated on my hard-drive in high-spec mp3 format.  Have I listened to Band X since?  Of course not.  Like Wall-E (two Disney references in as many posts!  Must be some kind of Christmas hangover…), I gather together indiscriminate masses, squash all into uniformly stackable shit-cubes then pop ‘em out and store them in gargantuan heaps, never to be revisited.  Never mind discernment, or joy, or connoisseurship, just feel the meaty girth of my collection.

Obviously, this will not do.  I feel a New Year’s resolution coming on: no more indiscriminate cultural consumption, no more stealing.  I am still happy to stream stuff to try it out, and I will greedily and gratefully accept gifts from my talented friends, but now if I want something from outside my circle then I will pay for it.  Should someone provide a free-at-the-point-of-use-service that I like, a podcast say, then I will contribute by donating or buying some merchandise or whatever.  If I find myself disinclined to contribute then I will stop using that service.  I’ve not bothered installing any peer-to-peer software on the RFM laptop, nor will I.

Why then?  Well, first two reasons that have no bearing on my decision.

Number one: legality.  The arguments surrounding the issue of ‘piracy’ have been endlessly debated on the net and I am not going to rehearse them here.  Suffice to say: copyright is over.  Being pro or anti is like being pro or anti the dodo – it is simply irrelevant.  Here are two notes in passing that say all I want to say: a) all (ahem) ‘music’ that I have produced will eventually be freely available here and b) I consider one of the most pathetic episodes in the history of music to be Metallica suing for infringement.  What a bunch of Cnuts.

Number two: this decision is not about physical versus digital.  Whilst respectful of those that do a decent and appropriate job of presenting their art (see, for example, my many reviews of Sanity Muffin’s lovely tapes) I’ve long found the fetishizing of the physical formats and their packaging to be a refuge of the dull.  Imagine going to an exhibition of paintings and obsessing over whether all the frames match, or thinking that some awful daub can be justified by its extravagant frame, or refusing to view anything painted in acrylic or watercolour because oil is the superior medium.  Utterly ludicrous, of course, but views analogous to these are common currency in the world of music fandom.  As is the voodoo of audiophilia which is so scientifically ridiculous that even homeopaths laugh and point.  Mp3s can be just fine, man – get over yourself.

So my new insistence on coughing up the dough is not about revelling in the feel of the physical versus the cold anonymity of the digital.  A ridiculous, unvisited archive remains ridiculous whether it is choking up a hard-drive or lurking in the spare room threatening me with back-ache the next time we move house.  Nor is it about wanting to stay on the right side of the (anachronistic and unenforceable) law.  Like most things embarked on by men like me, tragically suffering from early-onset middle-age, this is about rekindling a feeling I had as a teenager, but tempered by a lifetime’s knowledge.  My perspicacity, once razor sharp, has been dulled by infinite accessibility.  I’m hoping that paying for things will add a moment of discipline to my cultural consumption and hence allow for my powers of discernment to man-up.

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