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The Burden of Choice

February 18, 2010

Over Christmas, I ended up with vouchers to spend on iTunes.

Three problems have come to light:

a) There is too much choice. My whole listening history is of stumbling across albums which fill holes in my knowledge, and link to liner notes, guest appearances and reviews I’ve already come across. The great thing about a bricks and morter shop is the limited supply of albums. It’s how I found Eno and Jah Wobble’s Spinner album in the heavy metal section of a small CD shop in a small costal town. It’s also how I found a Cluster album in Gunnadah of all places.

Even Amazon has not been able to provide many of the albums they list. Such a limiting factor makes searching out music worthwhile. Plus the frustration of not finding things keeps me going.

With iTunes so much is there and can be had instantly. But you can’t have it all, and choosing is hard. Where’s the romance…

b) Thanks to the track previews “lost classics” turn out to be mundane. For instance, most of the Virgin back catalogue is on iTunes, so one of my holy grails, Kew. Rhone. by John Greaves, is suddenly available where a CD or vinyl copy is a rarity. Except, going by the track previews, the album doesn’t sound very good.

Once I would have bought an album blind, based on reviews and the artist’s previous output and collaborations etc. I would then explore it properly. Some albums were great, other’s duds. That’s the way it goes. But now iTunes track previews mean snap decisions on quality. But is a bunch of 30 second clips truthful of the albums quality?

The easy answer would be to ignore the previews, but when there is that much choice, something has to tip the balance.

c) And finally iTunes doesn’t have everything. I’d love a digital copy Leo Kottke’s version of Open County Joy – all rushed acoustic picking plus finger cymbal. No chance here. Similarly, some Klaus Shulze which used to be available on iTunes is no longer there. I have bad cassette copies of both, neither I can find on CD. Contrary to popular belief, not all music is available on the Internet. If so I would have a copy of Peter de Havilland’s Escher on my hard drive now…

As it is, here are some of the things on my short list:

And finally, for the cheese factor:

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