15.7.11

a month without music

For the better part of a month now I have been without the usual staple of music that has filled my life for the better part of fifteen years.

At about the age of twelve I bought a sony walkman, a mid-to-high grade tape player (for those of you my not be quite as old as me. music – and film for that matter - as we know it today used to get recorded onto magnetic tape) It was beautiful; slim, encased in metal and requiring only one battery. It’s feature function, which to this day I still do not understand, was that upon pressing ffw (that’s fast forward for the younger of you) it would magically skip to the next track. From there I was hooked, I needed music in my life as much as possible. Not only because I was gingerly placing my first steps into discovering music for myself – beyond following the recommendations of friends – but because with the music up loud the outside world could not bother me i.e. I couldn’t hear the obligatory school bully taunts.

I sold out my walkman for a CD player, my CD player for an MP3-CD compatible player and finally, around about the millennium I had enough of my own money to buy a fully fledged MP3 player. Three hundred pounds bought me a meagre 6Gb of storage inside the plastic-brick that was an Archos Jukebox 6000. I’d love to tell you that I have nothing but fond memories of this little device but that particular nostalgia is not so rose tinted. For all its capabilities I plugged that devilbox into charge one day and when I returned the plastic housing was so overheated it was melted and bubbling like the lake of fire itself, and yes you’ve guessed it, three weeks outside the warranty bracket.

Sony Walkman - 'The good'
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really trust apple products in their first few iterations but by this point the ipod was on its fourth or fifth generation and was looming over the market place like a great white monolith, the antithesis of Arthur C. Clarke’s evolutionary kick-starter, and so I bought in and have never really looked back.
I have owned only two ipods, upgrading to a stately 80Gb several years ago, and for the better part of a decade they have served me well. My clearly Braun inspired black music box has travelled Europe with me and survived the inevitable ipod battery death/replacement ritual, it had been my faithful companion up until about a month ago.
Archos Jukebox - 'The bad'
Upon returning from work I fished my real-world distracter from my pocket to hear a faint little rattle. A rattle! Ipod’s shouldn’t rattle! After replacing the battery and seeing how ludicrously tight everything is crammed in there I knew unequivocally that there was no space for a rattle. So taking the battery replacement tools and once again prying open the back I was surprised to find a tiny electronic component shoot out to meet me. The ipod itself was still playing and I had no idea what this piece did.
It would seem that where the human brain can remain intact without oxygen for approximately eight minutes, and ipod can survive without a seemingly useless part for about a week.


And so for about three weeks now I have been without my daily dose of music as I to and fro from work. This has afforded me the chance to catch up on a lot of reading, (which after finding that is can get a free version of the guardian sent to my kindle on a daily basis has made the daily commute less mundane) but the lack of music has now started to seep in.
I had never really contemplated a time where music would not be a relevant feature in my life, or worse an occurrence whereby I would not have the capacity for the sheer aural elation that comes from music which really digs into the heart of you and – possibly against your will – make you truly feel. To those readers with even the slightest of minor hearing inadequacies you have my utmost sympathy and, for the present, empathy too.
Everyday is spent with a dozen reminiscences of old songs, albums I’ve begun to miss hearing and the experiences that are so dutifully tied to the music I love that I feel I’m losing memories by not listening. Of course all that music resides happily on my laptop, waiting to be accessed when I arrive home, but my hour to and from work was my time to be alone with music, to listen to it tell me the story of other peoples lives.

Like a hardwired circuit, from player through headphones, eardrums triggering synapses snapping to brain, and then onwards from brain to a new place where the world around me shifts ever so out of reality. This all sounds a little ethereal, almost mystical (a sense to which I do not normally apply myself) but I believe anyone who has ever been touched by music has had the experience of walking through a seemingly ordinary and familiar location to which, on any other day, passing through would be a minor occurrence. But by adding a score, a soundtrack catered to and created by you that place changes to somewhere so much more cinematic. To a scene in which you are a key player, to a moment where your life and the surrounding world revolves around a new set of rules and the unknown seems ever more present.

Recently I wrote about my experiences as a psychosomatic-spy while taking part in a piece of interactive art, well I had forgotten that everyday I have those experiences through music, everyday I have the chance to pretend that even my tiresome walk to work is a thrilling mystery tour. Each day I can sculpt the ordinary world into a slightly more exciting place with the simple addition of a soundtrack, give it a try because someday your ability to do so could be snatched away from you and promise me it’s a hard thing to go without.


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