Hard News by Russell Brown


Music: Summer Season

I dunno what you did during your break, but I bet you didn't re-rip your entire CD collection to lossless and use it to build a new library on a networked home RAID array. Nah, me neither.

But I did this week finally set my CDs in order. This was no trivial task. I am not one of life's natural librarians, and there were discs strewn through the house, in drawers, on shelves, stacked on players.

One motivation was that I do, indeed, want to re-rip some key albums to Apple Lossless format. While the iTunes Music Match trick did a pretty good job of upgrading most of the very low-bitrate tunes on my hard drive to 256k AAC, I have begun buying lossless on Bandcamp and Juno sometimes and it would be nice to have a few old favourites -- say, the best of The Clash, and The Aggovators' Johnny in the Echo Chamber -- in a nice, fat format.

It means capacity issues on the portable player front: my 80GB iPod Classic appears to be dying (well, its battery is, at least) and nearly all the storage on my iPhone is already taken up with music. So I've tidied up my home network a bit and switched from using the phone as a player to using it as a remote for my main iTunes library, which is now wired to the Apple TV that plugs into the cheap Onkyo receiver that drives the outdoor speakers. Now that I've finally got that sub-woofer working on the deck, it's all going quite well.

The first thing that occured to me was that it actually wasn't that big a job. I've traded quite a few CDs over the years, so we were really only talking hundreds of discs, especially once I'd separated out the cruft. But, oh, the cruft.

There were CD-Rs from the pre-iPod era, freebies from magazines, New Zealand Music Awards samplers -- and, most of all, the various flavours of Kiwi Hit Discs. So, so many Kiwi Hit Discs. And Indie Hit Discs. And Iwi Hit Discs. Hundreds of them. I've been on the mailing lists for the NZ On Air radio samplers since the beginning. It was a good system -- but what the hell am I supposed to do with them now?

There are doubtless a few local classics that I only have on Hit Disc, but am I really going to wade through all the Autozamm to find them? I've parked that for now, and the discs sit straining in shopping bags. It would be a breach of faith to try and sell them, but what's the proper way of disposing of old CDs? The hospice shop might be getting lucky.

The next thing that struck me was how estranged I've become from much of my music across the barrier of physical formats. I'm so used to having everything on a hard drive the size of a paperback book, instantly searchable (even in iTunes 11). CDs, they once shone like starry laser spaceships. Now they're just irksome.

So I did an alphabetic sort on the floor of the lounge, wiping off dust as necessary with a damp cloth, then a rough classification split: New Zealand, reggae, dance/electronic/funk, and the rest. It turned out it all went neatly inside a big dresser I'd cleared, apart from the reggae, which got its own shelving. It was great -- until Fiona pointed out the large box of unsorted CDs in the office. Damn.

What I did find was the disc that had sparked the whole thing. I've been filling some of my downtime by helping out with writing for Simon Grigg's AudioCulture project. I wanted to craft entries for the Exploding Budgies and Goblin Mix, but was short of a clear narrative. So I looked them up on Discogs -- which duly informed me that I'd actually written the sleeve notes for The Complete Goblin Mix and the Exploding Budgies compilation, released on Flying Nun 21 years ago. Who knew? My notes turned out to be quite useful.


John Peel, of course, had a far, far larger music library than me. And he kept his in order with annotated index cards. But he was unusual.

I read Peel's autobiography/biography Margrave of the Marshes on holiday recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Peel's genius was in part that he was the same man over a beer as he was on the radio or onstage. And also, it transpires, in his prose. He's droll, whimsical, passionate, frank and an unabashed spinner of yarns.

The quirk is that Peel's autobiographical account stops in his American years, well before his BBC fame arrived. He'd got that far before he died of a heart attack, hiking in Peru. The tale is taken up by his wife, Sheila Ravenscroft. Their marriage was clearly founded in a shared sense of humour. Her part soon abandons strict narrative duty and becomes, really, a letter about John. A lovely, lovely letter. If Peel ever meant anything to you, I can recommend this book.

I can also recommend the book I picked up next: Patti Smith's Just Kids, her account of life with her soulmate Robert Mapplethorpe. My word, sher can write. She's constantly lyrical, without ever being mannered, and she tells her story with wisdom and humanity. I gather there's a companion volume in the works, telling the rock 'n' roll story. I look forward to that.


In the shorter term, I look forward to the vesting of those concert tickets I bought last year. Elvis Costello, now out of the winery and into The Civic on Saturday. Fan alert: Simon Grigg has published an interview with the man before his performance at the ill-fated Sweetwaters revival in 1998.

And on Monday the 28th: Laneway 2013.

Laneway's brand is partly in presenting the bands that are about to be big, and I presume I'm not the only one swotting up on the lineup before the day. If you're a Spotify user, my friend Thomas Watts has helpfully banged a few of the acts into a playlist you can subscribe to. Why didn't I know about Nicholas Jaar?

There'll be more from us on Laneway -- in particular, Jackson and Jon will be capturing it for Capture. Yay.

I've also realised that I'm going to have to fork out to see Dinosaur Jr in March. I've been revisiting some albums I somehow left out of my best of the year (another is the L.E.D.s' Dunes) and have realised that I Bet on Sky is a splendid return to form whose live manifestiation I cannot afford to miss.


I realise these posts aren't complete without a couple of downloads. So I am confident you will enjoy this groovy re-edit:

And in the course of a fairly frustrating search for the 70s catalogue of Jamaica's The Pioneers/Sidney, George & Jackie, I came across this wonderful thing:

It's out on 7" next month.

Righto. What have you been listening to?

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