Day 5: Jewel Cases of Goa

There are things we buy for ourselves, and things we buy for a lover. And then there are the things we buy that only the two of us will enjoy–and only together. Wacław was too poor for us to go out for dinner or a concert or the theater, and too proud to let me treat him. So I bought us music. For when we made love.

Not every time we got together, but often enough that we wouldn’t get bored. It was almost always the riff-stitched, pulsating melodies and heavy bass drum beat of Goa trance. There was something ritualistic and theatrical in our encounters, so the shamanic epics of trance, the mesmerizing, relentless build that is at the core of this music, suited us. A couple of times I had put on darker and more dissonant music, stuff by Auteuchre for example, but Wacław found it too cerebral. He didn’t actually say it that way,but that’s what he meant.

Jean Lowe, Yellow Chinese Chicken (2002)

Jean Lowe, Yellow Chinese Chicken (enamel & resin on paper mache)

I bought CDs by artists with names like The Green Nuns of the Revolution, 4 Carry Nuts, Brain Damage, tracks with names indistinguishable from those of their creators. Which the track and which the artist: Headspace or Psychosis, Wizzy Noises or Plastic Mold? You guess.

As imaginative the titles of groups and tracks, so uninspired were the titles of the CDs. Most of the music came in regularly issued volumes, and I have only a sampling of the set: Distance to Goa (9 and 10) and Goa Head (6), Goa Sound System (5) and Ticket to Goa (4). The unimaginative but unmistakable album names were as distinguishing a mark of the genre as the kitsch covers with serene Buddhas, Ganges sunsets and ancient temples (as Ishkur comments in his encyclopedic overview of electronic music, “Goa would be the best genre ever if it weren’t for the fucking hippies.”). The nomenclature and packaging, though, were parts of the experience of listening to the music.

Now I wouldn’t need to actually buy the music. I could find a trance radio station on last.fm or run through a YouTube playlist. If I weren’t one of the few persons left on the planet who still actually buys music, I could download the music from a bit-torrent site.

There are certainly gains to be made in the shift to music libraries in the cloud and e-books and virtual exhibitions. You’re liberated from format-dependent machines and geography; you can listen to the same collection of music on the phone and iPad and computer, wherever you are. And the digitization has enhanced our ability to share and disseminate music, literature and art and empowered the individual not merely as a consumer of the arts but more importantly as a curator of the arts: witness the myriad of YouTube users who compile playlists, the flickr users who put together photographic galleries, the Amazon list-makers.

But for every gain there is a loss, and one of the things we lose, at least in the move to a digital world of music and books, is texture. I will miss running my fingers over the stitched binding at the middle of a signature in a hardcover book, just as I once missed holding the finely grooved vinyl LP in my hands, or skimming over the perforated amber frames of a reel of film (I’m not really that old, but my father was a film editor by occupation and a diehard protectionist at home, so I grew up watching real film at home). Perhaps one of the pleasures we get from the objects we possess is simply tactile: the delight of holding something in our hands that presages the visual, olfactory or auditory pleasure that will follow. I swear that my Bialetti macchinetta makes better coffee than I get from a dedicated espresso machine, but part of the reason must be the pleasure I have in filling the one chamber and screwing the collecting chamber back on before setting it gently on the ring of the gas burner. The Goa covers in the CD jewel case functioned in a similar way.

In weaning us from our dependence on the physical medium of the music or book, technology may be preparing us for the greater detachment from things that will arrive when we or, better, the generations that will succeed us in a world of molecular assemblers and desktop manufacturing, no longer need to possess objects because we (they) will be able to create them at will. What is the point of attachment when every consumer durable has become a consumable? Who becomes attached to a paper plate (which of course will be a proper Danish-designed stoneware plate in the future)?

I’m getting rid of the Goa, though I haven’t figured out yet how to dispose of the Goa music. Throwing it away seems a shame. If I were still talking to Wacław, I’d offer him the CDs, but he didn’t honor the memory of our friendship after we stopped seeing each other, and that was worse than the actual end to the sexual relationship.

This is the also first test of my genre rule. I am disposing of music, but not all my music, of course (I don’t think I want to do that, at least not now). Not even all my electronic music. Or even all the trance music I have—I’m still keeping the psy-trance, though honestly, except for the covers and the more cybernetic feel and stripped down melodic texture, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two. But I’m keeping it for the moment because Infected Mushroom is kick-ass workout music, and I haven’t transferred enough music to the cloud. I wonder if digital “possessions” count in this project.

Wacław figures in my Breach of Close blog in a post entitled, A Minor Obsession.

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