Grounding music preferences

Category: Arts

It is too easy to keep expanding your music library. Any online service with the purpose to actually maintain you hooked makes the task seamless. Recommendations, similar tastes loom a click away.

We know that 21st-century music listening no longer fosters the same appreciation as prior. Before you would purchase physical media. Before you faced scarcity due to the extra energy and expenses needed to acquire music. Consequently you would cherish each listening experience that much greater. This is academic.

Today you can, for a large part, gain access to your desired song or album on a whim, either inexpensively or gratis - insofar as total disregard in the collateral effects of such transactions.

What effects you might ask? Beyond the decreased appreciation due to abundant access, beyond the ever increasing mindless listening, the perpetual quest for more makes you anxious; anxious over managing what you already ‘own’, and anxious of missing out on the marvels you haven’t yet consumed.

Anxiety, in consequence, makes the mind scattered and ill.

The pattern applies not only to music but to any physical and digital content.

Any possessions, any quest for continuous acquisition demands increased cognitive facility to manage. That is a fixed resource. You can only effectively manage a fixed quantity of priorities before the mind scatters.

Assuming you seek a greater purpose to life than mere consumption and entertainment, it behooves you not to squander that energy.

For our purpose, let’s focus on music. For the time being, I make due with what I have.

A while back I had already abandoned any online listening services, my music stored entirely offline. I listen to MP3s in Cmus, a terminal-based Unix music player, or via an external device disconnected from the internet. The device takes shape of either a dedicated music player/recorder or a secondary non-smart phone without a SIM card, disconnected from WiFi.

The latter point is crucial. I often listen to calming music before sleep as it gets noisy in the area. Yet I maintain the internet at a league’s distance from the bedroom, no internet connected device in sight of the bed. This is one of the most impactful habits one can maintain for quality sleep and mindful being.

Until not long ago, I still downloaded new music. Yet I’ve grown apprehensive of the habit. I already have access to an abundance. This was the case a year ago, the year before, and probably five prior.

Rather, I wish to cultivate as close to whatever raw pleasure I felt in the 1990s, spending significant income to purchase and absorb a new compact disc. This is no longer possible as the reality has drastically transformed.

In the 90s I owned upwards of a handful dozen of albums. Presently, I’m uncertain how many digits comprise that number.

Forget it. I have plenty. I could eliminate three quarters and still feel plentiful.

I would even argue that 80% of what I listen to reflects the foundation of two or three years prior. And yet I must have exerted notable cognitive capacity in further musical exploration.

50% of my Jazz listening still revolves around Miles Davis, another 30% around a few artists: Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner. The smaller remainder scatters among dozens of others, many recent discoveries.

Among classical music, I feel an overwhelming inclination for Bach, Shubert occupying a minority slot; that in spite of an absolutely inexhaustible library.

As for the remainder, I appeal to progressive groups Soft Machine and SBB, fusion guitarists Al di Meola and John McLaughlin, the chameleon David Bowie, a small handful of Brazilian MPB artists, and synthesized music of Brian Eno, Vangelis, and Nine Inch Nails. For years these cases represent at least 80% of my listening.

Beyond that, I’ve made amazing newer discoveries, but at what cost, considering the cognitive expenditure and the small marginal returns appropriated? Better to focus on the few.

Better to listen mindfully, attune to the subtle detail, keen on discovering hidden nuances with each repeat experience. Better to channel the freed energy towards greater goals.

Questions, comments? Connect.