During my mercifully brief period in music PR – and I emphasise that brevity was a mercy to all concerned – there was an NME writer who wanted everything on cassette.
It was a practical matter: he lived a fair way from the magazine's home in a South Bank tower and preferred to use his driving time to audition new releases. The great John Peel regularly did the same, once even quipping that "I've always imagined I'd die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette."
I raise these examples because it intrigues me that most of us, even the deepest fans, don't give music 100% of our attention when we enjoy it. This makes it different to other art forms. You can't do much else (except maybe listen to some music) while you read a book. There's nothing else to do when you're in a cinema but watch that movie.
I love music: it's been a key part of my life since I was a kid. But I'm almost always doing something else when I consume it, and for years that's often meant something in the kitchen. Many a meal has been cooked, dish has been done and surface has been wiped while the music plays.
That in turn influences the music I listen to. A beat is more likely to get things done than a ballad, and I sometimes dance like the neighbours can't see me. Sometimes I find Nadia Reid or Lucinda Williams lend strength to my arm.
But subtle, detailed listening music? Not so much. Until such time as I win the lottery and get my dream kitchen with integrated speakers (also lights and a mirror ball behind a ceiling panel), I'm facing away from the music. Although I do have a comfortable chair that faces the stereo in my home office, it's a small and cluttered office which doesn't offer much of a sound stage.
Moreover, I'm the sort of mildly-ADD person who relaxes by doing something. I genuinely find it quite hard to sit still and face the music. The office is also where my vinyl lives, so that has a bearing on how, and how often, I listen to that. (Sometimes I'll DJ for myself on the turntables, but that's a squeeze too.) By contrast, I can send lossless digital music to both the kitchen and the deck, where I haul out the subwoofer on summer days and nights.
But it was different a couple of a weeks ago, after I'd had a few friends over to mark my birthday, for which I moved some furniture and put in the full DJ setup – including the big old Wharfedale speakers for which there isn't room in the office – in the nicest part of the house, the second living area we built five years ago, which adjoins the kitchen.
I left things in place for a couple of days afterwards – and, lo, I listened to the spacious, nuanced techno of my birthday Micronism LP and it was glorious. Chris Chetland's mastering of that album for vinyl really is magnificent. But it's something I might not have appreciated had I auditioned it in my usual setting.
The mode of listening matches environmental necessity. A month ago, I was on my own in a hotel room in Christchurch and it seemed like the Bluetooth speaker was the greatest human achievment of the 21st century. The music of William Onyeabor sounded objectively better on the big DJ rig at home, but also perfect in that room. I pulled down the hotel blinds and had a little dance.
Because I don't commute and I think wearing earbuds while cycling is extremely foolish, I don't do a lot of listening on headphones. But I did get some better headphones recently and I've enjoyed a couple of times sitting with the cans on by the open fire in the lounge while my darling gets through her TV watching .
There's also dinner music, which is about warmth and tonal quality. Sometimes it's the Phoenix Foundation, more often it's rocksteady reggae.
And, of course, to take us back to the top, there's the car. It's a modest motor with a cheap stereo, but the stereo does have a USB port, so if I don't fancy the radio, the phone gets plugged in. It's not so bad, but it's almost never where I have a revelatory moment about a piece of music.
So my music consumption is overwhelmingly the playing of digital files and primarily in the kitchen. It works for me – but I'm interested in what works you. How do you consume your music?
Edit: Duh, I left one thing out one important thing – my computer speakers. I bought the basic Bose Companion 2 multimedia speakers several years ago and it was $200 very well spent. I’d recommend them to anyone. They're what I hear most music first on.
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