I’ve always been a music lover. I think the frequency with which music was played in the house when I was growing up made it impossible for it to be any other way, really. I would be devastated if I were to lose the contents of my iTunes. If my apartment were to burn down, you can be sure I’d grab my CD collection before evacuating. My devastation wouldn’t be solely because of the money I’ve spent over the years. Rather, it would be due to how much music affects my mood. A brilliant song can put a smile on my face in even the direst circumstance. However, I don’t think losing an iTunes library or my fit-to-bursting CD cases would make me as sad as if I were to lose a vinyl collection like my dad’s.
I have fond memories of my father’s record collection – rows upon rows of perfect vinyl, each record protected by its equally spotless sleeve – and his predilection for excellent record players on which to play them. I remember countless mornings filled with the sound of Fats Domino, Led Zeppelin, The Stones, and Dylan as the records spun on the player. When one album ended, he’d carefully lift the needle, remove the record, gently return it to its sleeve, and slot it vertically back into its place on the shelf. “You never store records lying flat – the vinyl will warp”, he would tell me. Those records were precious to my dad. He had brushes and clothes and all manner of tools to keep his vinyl in mint condition despite recurrent use. Looking back on the care he took of his vinyl collection and the time I’ve spent in the MAL this semester made me think of the sentimental relationship we have with various technologies, specifically where music is concerned.
There’s something about the care involved in maintaining a well-kept vinyl collection that allows us to assign sentimental value to its content. I would argue that this value is increased by the manner in which the user is occupied with the machine in a way modern music technologies don’t allow. There is a physicality involved in exchanging one record for another on the player – taking care to place the needle just so, to meticulously wipe the machine free of dust (if you’re my father, at least). The records themselves take up a physical space. Like books on a shelf, record collections are as much to be looked at and admired as listened to. So are the machines on which we play them. The same can’t be said of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, or our MP3 players and smartphones. They lack something distinct, a certain kind of tangibility, that renders the user as of secondary importance.
If were to lose the contents of our iTunes libraries due to a defunct hard drive, I hazard a guess that most of us would be more upset about the loss of our broken computer than its musical subject matter. Especially with the increasing presence of cloud technology, our hard drives have become less of a liability.
With this in mind, I wonder if archives, whilst unwelcoming to nostalgia, allow for a certain sentimentality? Or, is sentiment just a longer word for nostalgia?