A Habit of Disorder: Building Musical Libraries

There is a particular “full” album on Youtube that surprised me. One of the hit singles was not even on it. If you return to the comments of the video, people are clamoring for what is missing:

“where are the other 15 minutes and 19 seconds??”

“Nope, 3 tracks are missing.”

“Where is ‘Points’?”

The nature of this protest is fascinating in that it assumes that anything that is on the internet will be full and that order will be a mainstay of it but that is not the case take

Walter Benjamin discussed this in his essay “Unpacking My Library.” “Any order”, Benjamin writes of collecting, “is a balancing act of extreme precariousness.” Disorder and contingency runs amuck in the process of collecting a personal library. And what of a musical one?

“The only exact knowledge there is”, Anatole France once said, “is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books.” You could try to say the same of music. But precariousness’ grasp reaches far. Even the format is not a given.

Albums, for instance, have various guises on the Internet. The album on Youtube I mentioned is just one example. Another is a version of J Dilla’s Donuts I scoured that has the first and last song flip flopped. The edition of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo I have has varying versions of existing songs and is missing others. And then there are full albums on Youtube whose sound was taken away due to copyright infringement. Only the track listing and information exist, bottles without the wine.

There are many ways in which we access music now. Not all of the results will be the same. That is why the comments about the supposed full album are odd. The solutions to their problem are various: buy the album in person or through the Internet, find another free stream or download that contains the missing tunes, listen to the missing songs apart from the album, or download and attach them to the video via an audio program.

Any listener of music today would deem these actions as ordinary. In truth, however, these are aspects of music consumption that are foreign and messy compared to anything that came before. This disorder is subsumed into the daily deluge and becomes ordinary. It becomes the way we establish order, the way we build our libraries.

“For what else is this collection”, Benjamin wrote, “but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?”

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