At some point during the Easter holidays of my first year at university, I started to acquire the kind of amount of music only a much richer person could afford to get their hands on via the traditional channels. In next to no time my catalogue of albums and other recordings to “work through” expanded, along with a thirst to broaden my musical experience. The only way I’d have a hope of keeping up with such a rate of expansion seemed to be to take a systematic approach, and I quickly settled on a basic pattern for listening.
The following term, I started each week by picking what seemed like a diverse set of up to 10 releases, and made sure I listened to each of them at least six times during the week. Six looks like an arbitrary number, but that amount of exposure tended to be sufficient to develop an appropriate appreciation of most recordings: it meant that I would avoid too-hasty rejections of music in unfamiliar or uncomfortable styles (say, punk, metal, hip-hop, avant-garde classical music and music from distant cultures), and – the most rewarding part of the process – bring about a new awareness of what fans of different styles of music find to love in their preferred styles. During the term, this amounted to a lot of time listening to music and not a lot of time reading set texts. It was superficially fortunate that the two modules I took that term were primarily assessed by examination, and therefore not particularly difficult to do well in.
There was so much pleasure to be derived from playing new music that way, it naturally happened that I went on listening according to a similar framework. As this practice has continued, I have kept a record – Music diary.doc – a list of albums, EPs, singles and recordings of classical works, ordered according to the date I first listened to them (8 pt font, 1 album per line, since you ask; and the font itself changes with my tastes). The list is 5 years old today, and keeps growing.
In effect, an album is archived after its sixth listen, with numerous exceptions. The most extreme cases are those I loved most and still listen to (e.g. Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, first listen c. 26 Mar 2009, which instigated my slow-burning, as-yet-unconsummated love affair with the man) and those I detested and promptly deleted (e.g. Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future, first listen c. 28 Jan 2008, not long before its unfathomable Mercury Prize win, a little longer before the band’s subsequent, inevitable slide into obscurity).
As a way of getting to know music, this method can sound dryly formulaic, but, as with most compulsions (not that this is quite a compulsion), the process itself remains largely in the background while listening. The focus is on the music, as well as, afterwards, on the periods of time it sometimes becomes associated with.
Footnote: Contrary to what might be a popular opinion, there’s no perceptible reason to suppose that this way of doing things has contributed to the music industry’s woes. The frequency of both my gig attendance and album purchases has risen significantly since it began, and the knowledge derived from all the hours spent listening partially prompted the piles of reviews and interviews I’ve since had published for no money.
Week 1: 23.04.07
Neil Young: After the Gold Rush 
Michael Jackson: Off the Wall 
Talking Heads: Speaking in Tongues 
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works ‘85-’92 
J.S. Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, BWV 1001-1006 [Lucy van Dael, 1996]
Elbow: The Noisebox EP 
Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther 
Patrick Wolf: The Magic Position 
Grinderman: Grinderman 
Björk: Volta 
Scott Walker: Scott 3 
Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here 
Zoltán Kodály: Missa Brevis [Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; Stephen Cleobury, 1988]
Sarah Vaughan: The Essential Sarah Vaughan 
John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano [Yuji Takahashi, 1997]
Devendra Banhart: Black Babies EP 
Deerhoof & Of Montreal: Split 7″ 
Jack White: Blunderbuss 
Rufus Wainwright: Out of the Game 
St. Vincent: Krokodil