Alas. Earwax.

I’d like to think (with extra smugness I might add) that my geek hierarchy street cred has improved since I started reading The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame. How could it not, what with this three-volume collection of classic sci-fi short stories and novellas being so widely regarded as a definitive work in the genre? Now that I’ve read it (once) I’ve totally progressed from “People who write erotic versions of Star Trek where all the characters are furries” to at least “Fanfic writers who put themselves in the story”.
Having said that, one story I thoroughly enjoyed was called Microcosmic God, by American author Theodore Sturgeon. Apart from being a brilliant and compelling tale about a scientific genius who is almost too smart for his own good, it also happens to be from an author who was sufficiently well known to have been credited with an eponymous law: Sturgeon’s Revelation.
Basically, 90 per cent of everything, says Sturgeon — be it science fiction, romance novels, films, art, consumer goods and, yes, even (or perhaps even more so) music — is “crud” or “crap”.
I like that. In fact, it resonates with me because it’s something I discovered the hard way (and at considerable expense) over the last few years. Let me elaborate…

Quantity not quality
In my previous post I mentioned how a substantial part of my music collection was the result of a retail fix-driven desire to experience the thrill of acquiring music. That is, while I hate to admit it, my music collecting was as much motivated by the retail therapy thrill that was the ritual of buying music, as it was about actually owning it. Retail therapy of the worst kind, basically. And one of my very worst excesses came about a few years ago when I purchased wholesale CD bulk lots from two record stores.

One was a collection of mostly second-hand industrial CDs while the other constituted all remaining music stock from an obscure little shop called Synaesthesia Records, specialising in experimental, weird, abstract and unusual recordings of all descriptions. I might point out that this second purchase was the first and last time I ever purchased music by the kilo.
My theory was that I couldn’t possibly lose: either my personal collection would expand with vast quantities of quality music, or I’d make a killing on eBay.

Sadly, I couldn't possibly foresee just how very wrong I would be on both counts.

This is what 48 litres of industrial music looks like.

There are 25-40 CDs in each of these 12 boxes.
The blow-up plastic hammer is unrelated to this picture.
Also, my fiancée hates how these boxes have literally
gathered dust for the last three or so years.

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans
The approximate 1000 CDs which I acquired were a most unfortunate purchase and a real-life reminder that Sturgeon’s previously mentioned Revelation is as relevant to alternative music as it is with anything else.
A case in point was the first bulk lot of predominantly of 90s-era industrial, EBM, synth-pop, goth, and electro along with a few other bits and pieces, much of it from artists who had long disappeared into obscurity.
The hundreds of industrial music CDs, for example, seemed to conform to the notion that “one sound fits all”. Just start with unimaginative sequences from an analogue-sounding synthesizer and add in a few samples; throw in that done-to-death Ministry-style vocal distortion; then extend the recording with some dubious remixes. As for the synth-pop, while there was (some) noticeable variety, it was generally a case of merely composing a vaguely catchy melody, adding clean vocals from someone who may or may not be able to sing in tune, then extending it again with various ‘remixes’. Seriously, so much of it sounded the same, and much of it was positively awful. Not all of it, mind you, just much of it — the vast remainder was mediocre at best while the remaining small proportion — the very small remainder that actually made it just worthwhile — contained those gems that were worth getting excited about.
The Synaesthesia lot contained even more astoundingly awful recordings. We’re talking so-called field-recordings, live recordings, improvisations, ambient, drones… the whole gamut of what I suspect is really just rubbish made by people without any musical talent, or even an understanding of basic musical principles, somehow committed to audio.
Again, I’ve found some absolute gems in there — from quirky home-made self-produced recordings to a field recording of a real street fight to just plain outworldly weird and bizarre albums — but goddamn, am I fed up with ‘organic’ and ‘drone and ‘improvised’ and ‘experimental’ and many otherwise worthy terms being passed off as something other than the worthless rubbish recordings that they really are. Seriously, a recording of an afternoon’s worth of pissfarting around with a crappy synth and adding in some dodgy samples does not an album make. And yet, this bulk lot was filled to the brim with dozens upon dozens of such recordings — and a suspiciously high proportion of them were wrapped in fancy, often DIY-produced packaging. In fact, the elaborateness of the packaging was almost directly proportionate to the awfulness of its contents. Almost… because, as I said, there were some gems in there. Some gems.
So that’s how I was proven wrong in the belief that I would embiggen my music collection; and to add insult to injury, I couldn’t sell this stuff online. Indeed, I have many of these CDs on my eBay account for next to nothing and they still don’t sell.
Which brings me to the whole Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans thing. In Harry Potter, these are the sweets at Hogwarts that have a random flavour — as in literally anything. They famously appeared at the conclusion of the first Harry Potter story, when Dumbledore tells Harry about an unfortunate experience in his younger days when he came across a vomit-flavoured one. He then warily consumes one, hoping that it may be toffee flavoured, whereupon he remarks: “Alas. Earwax.”
For better or worse, my 700 or so yet-to-be-listened-to CDs are my personal Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. I’ll grab one at random — doing the dishes, heading out in the car, working on the computer — and usually I end up not thinking much of it. I’ve long since become oblivious to the notion of disappointment. If it’s not awful but just mediocre it promptly gets relegated to the eBay pile.
Occasionally I’ll find a keeper.

1 comment:

  1. The Synaesthesia purchase by weight is a great story!. I loved that place, was always out there, shame there's no place for the edgy side of record stores in current society.