by Charlie Wilson
When I was a teenager, way back in the dark ages of the 1990’s, I would spend weeks saving up to buy a CD. Floors would be hoovered, cars would be washed and I would watch those pound coins slowly pile on top of each other until they made 10.
Before the days of the internet I would pick up music recommendations from friends or music magazines. I remember strolling around the aisles of the newsagents in Radstock, they used to have a pretty good CD collection – I even bought a couple simply because I liked the front covers.When I was at college in Bath I’d go to HMV at lunchtime and just peruse the shelves.
When I had picked out my CD I’d take it home and play out the ritual of placing it in my CD player and lying back to absorb the sounds. Due to the investment I had made in my product I would be determined to get value for money and would play that CD, from beginning to end, many times over.
Skip forward to the heady days of broadband, file sharing and online journalism. I find myself trawling through websites reading music reviews and end of year lists.I’ve learned one thing: it’s a big world (wide web) out there.
I’ve downloaded more music than I could ever hope to listen to in my lifetime.
Many albums only get one spin and often I skip to the next before it has finished. I have no product to hold; no physical relationship with the music. I don’t have to get up and take a record out of its sleeve or a CD out of its case. I have no album liner notes or artwork to pore over. Music is no longer an immersive experience to be savoured. It’s just another product to be consumed so we can quickly move onto the next.
We live in a world of ultimate convenience. We flick on a switch and have instant heat. We prepare food that only requires the skill of turning on an oven. We switch on the TV and have access to immediate entertainment. We have so many devices designed to save time but we have, it seems, less time than ever. A culture of busyness and of hyperconsumerism has become the norm. It seems as if we drown in information but none of it reaches beyond the surface level of our psyche.
The world has become saturated with surface and lost its depth.
I hold that there is inherent worth and satisfaction in building a fire; in chopping wood, creating a pyramid of kindling, blowing on glowing embers, nurturing the fire and watching it rage until it reaches full power. Knowing that the heat you receive has been created by your own hands. Knowing that for thousands of years your ancestors have engaged in the same, fundamental, life-giving process. The same is true of preparing a meal using fresh ingredients.
In gestalt therapy they talk about the contact boundary between an organism and its environment and they use techniques of dynamic enactment to enable the person to make truer contact with reality. I believe these simple processes of creating fire and preparing food can be viewed in the same light.
They bring us closer to the real.
In Forum Theatre there is an understanding that passive entertainment breeds passive citizens and they engage in a brand of theatre where everyone participates. Instead of spectators you have “spect-actors”. The whole audience engages in debate and then volunteers to come forward and be part of the performance. This is radically different from the forms of entertainment we have at our disposal. Many people in our world come home after a long day at work, switch on the TV and “veg out”.
Could our world of convenience be creating citizens who are happy to sit back and allow social inequality and injustice to continue so long as they can access easy entertainment?
I understand that there are now groups of people who are having “vinyl revivalist” evenings. This involves selecting a classic album for that week, gathering at someone’s house and then playing a record, from start to finish, enjoying the complete experience of the album as it was intended to be listened to. No computer screens. No mp3’s. No skipping to the next track. Hearing every note, every lyric, every strain of the music in its full. Leaving aside the mad rush of hyperconsumerism and regaining depth of experience. Getting back to the real.
Charlie’s three albums worth listening to all the way through:
- It may seem like an obvious choice but Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is an album that really rewards being listened to from start to finish. It is such a cohesive whole; the mood of the album and the sequencing of tracks are so perfect that it becomes more than the sum of its parts.
- Radiohead’s Kid A is another testament to the album. It finds the band leaning away from their rock roots and creating rich, sonic textures. The lyrics are often oblique references to the madness of the modern world and the vocals get swamped under electronic noises – which is itself a brilliant metaphor.
- Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space by Spiritualized is a personal favourite. The lush orchestration, the confessional, heart broken lyrics and the sense of drugged up haze all combine beautifully. The album originally came in a blister packet – like your daily dose of medicine.