Music for Use

Music for Use

Music, Be Mine

Cooper Ottum

Oddly gratifying: the purchase of four compact disks, three of which from a thrift store at the price of two dollars and fifty cents (plus WA state tax), one of which from a small music shop just steps away from aforementioned thrift shop. Though that last one was thirteen dollars and fifteen cents, including WA state tax.

First, Phantom Planet: The Guest. The pleasant surprise of recognition, in this case not just recognition of a decent “find” amongst the haystack of a resale shop (still in the shrink wrap!), but recognition of familiarity. A little chuckle at that album cover. My oh my did he need a haircut back then. I shouldn’t be one to talk about the need of a haircut, but still. Maybe, if I were a subscriber to Rdio or Spotify or whatnot (fine services, I’m told), I could have punched p-h-a-n-t-o-m p-l-a-n-e-t into a search field, parsed the results, listened to this music I’ve never heard that perhaps tells part of the life story of someone I know and respect. But it was oddly gratifying to pull this untouched, forgotten, plastic almost-square from its shelf in Langley, WA.

Then, the album of Copland Americana, Bernstein conducting. Not that I haven’t heard my fair share of Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, etc., but for two-fifty I couldn’t leave it on the shelf, all unappreciated and such. And the disk of Wynton Marsalis playing standards, which, despite my mixed feelings about Mr. Marsalis’ “agenda,” also seemed like a decent purchase. My collection of Caravan renditions can never be too big, after all.

At the nearby music shop I perused and bent at the knee and sidled and browsed, my previous acquisitions clutched in my left armpit in what I hoped was a casual-looking way to hold compact disks that had been recently purchased at a nearby store, despite the realization that my attempts to look as though I had certainly not hidden three compact disks in my armpit with intent to shoplift increasingly made me look like some kind of nervous shoplifter with absolutely no skill in shoplifting. Plus, none of those disks called out for a home, most seemingly content to live forever on their genre-distinguished shelf, overpriced ($17.99? Did my parents pay this much for albums?) and unopened.

I found some albums I already owned, unexpected ones like the BMOP recording of Steven Mackey’s Dreamhouse (which, yeah, you rock, Langley music store compact disk curator, because that album is off the charts) and then settled on a Bang on a Can recording of some of Louis Andriessen’s chamber music. Cool. Plus I needed to get on board with this Worker’s Union thing. So I self-consciously became the touristy guy who bought “contemporary classical music” (ugh) at a music shop in Langley, WA, and yes, I paid maybe a little too much for it and yes there was sales tax; awesome.

I guess I still can’t shake this (potentially unfortunate) affinity for music ownership, the ownership I am repeatedly reminded is not nearly as good as access, which is the method of consumption I ought to crave, given my tendency to be current in my methodologies of media consumption, as might be indicated by my ownership of several expensive rectangles, all requiring some type of attention, all providing an outlet for the enjoyment of the music I own as well as music I might have access to. Ownership. As though the possession of data expressed as an audio file, playable on a number of my glass rectangles is the best way I have to digest someone else’s attempt at expression. As though possession of this facsimile of carefully captured changes in air pressure gives me control, judgement by way of inclusion, power over its potential influence.

To this question, whether or not I should care about ownership, I have no decent answer, no carefully reasoned argument to put forth. My gut tells me to stick with this ownership business as long as it still exists. But I’m quite often wrong about these kinds of things.