Thursday, September 12, 2013

The futility of preserving the ephemeral.

You know how we knowledge geeks are. When we're learning about something, we have to compile every little scrip & scrap pertaining to our passion, no matter how insignificant it may seem to anyone else. This includes a multitude of random sticky notes, scrawlings on old gas receipts, scribblings on cocktail napkins, and especially for us musicians, sound recordings of all kinds. We hoard these things like they're rare gold (my preciousssss!), and in a sense, I suppose they are.

In addition to my sticky notes and old receipts, I have music everywhere: Kindle, iPod, two recorders/mp3 players, various thumb drives, and other computer files. I got myself the iPod Shuffle as a graduation present when I finished grad school a few years ago, and it was GREAT! Between what I got from iTunes and what I uploaded from my own CDs, I had a pretty big library. Then one day I opened up iTunes and . .  EMPTY. Nothing there. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Gone. I also had to reset the device because it was glitching, so the iPod was empty too. SWELL. I had to rebuild the library from scratch. Now the computer won't recognize the iPod, but that's a whole nother story, as we say in the South.

When I started going to Irish session night at the pub a few months ago, a friend suggested I record everything in case there was something I wanted to learn later. I dug out my first little voice recorder, which still works great after 8 years, but it doesn't hold a lot. I discovered that for what I paid for it back then, I could get a recorder/mp3 player with 4 gigs of storage. Shut up and take my money!

Well. I had a great recording of the most recent session, including some mind-blowing uillean piping. I mean, really ultra-spectacular. I sat there doing the Simple Dog Head Tilt, and when I looked over at the flute player, he had this look of disbelief and amazement on his face. I can't even describe it to you. It was that amazing. And I had it all on my digital recorder. . . that is, until I accidentally erased it yesterday.

Yes. I was trying to upload some no-longer-commercially-available archival recordings and in the process, pushed the wrong tiny button. If that weren't cringe-worthy enough, I outdid myself a little later by erasing ALL my live recordings. Every. Single. One. I thought they were stored in a different file, and I was wrong. Poof. Gone. Not recoverable. The archival recordings are safe, but all my live stuff is off in the ether.

In the 17th century, when memento mori paintings were a thing, musical instruments were often included as symbols of impermanence. Before recorded music came along, all music was live. Let that sink in for a minute. If you're reading this, you've always lived in a world where recorded music was available in some medium: vinyl, cassette, 8-track, whatever. In the grand scheme of history, recorded music is a fairly new invention. Once upon a time, not too awfully long ago, if you wanted music, you had to either make it yourself or go someplace where someone else was making it. Once it was over, it was over. You couldn't go back and listen to it again.

But maybe, just maybe, you could remember how you felt.

I don't know the name of the tune the piper played, and couldn't even tell you how it goes, but I sure as hell remember how I felt. Amazed. Awestruck, even. Grateful and humble that I had the opportunity to be there at that moment with that particular group of people. And those are things you can't capture on a recording, anyway.

Till next time --- capture what's worth saving and don't worry about the rest.

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