A New Listening Project

Posted by: admin on February 10, 2010 @ 11:35 am
Filed under: Humor, Listening, Music, Music Technology

I have a new listening project. It’s a pretty mammoth undertaking. As you can assume from my job and past posts, I am an avid listener of music. I love vinyl. I love CDs. I love digital. All means to the same end: experiencing great music from jazz to rock, folk to metal, prog to lo-fi and everything in between.

The project? Listening to all the songs in my library in alphabetical order.

I started at the beginning yesterday: “¶ª” from the Trap Door International Psychedelic Mystery Mix (special characters are sorted first). I made it all the way through “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin. Today, I started with “Acorda amor” from Joyce’s killer Passarinho Urbano album, and while I write, I went from “Adagio for Strings, Op 11” to Springsteen’s “Adam Raised A Cain.” Next up: “Adam’s Apple.”

Given the diversity of my library, some of the transitions are pretty rough — the aforementioned Barber to Springsteen is a great example of that. But I am discovering and rediscovering some great tunes from people that have been lost in the massiveness of the library.

I pointed to an interview for the New Yorker awhile back in which Jonny Greenwood said:

SFJ: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the MP3 age?

JG: The downside is that people are encouraged to own far more music than they can ever give their full attention to. People will have MP3s of every Miles Davis’ record but never think of hearing any of them twice in a row—there’s just too much to get through. You’re thinking, “I’ve got ‘Sketches of Spain and ‘Bitches Brew’—let’s zip through those while I’m finishing that e-mail.” That abundance can push any music into background music, furniture music.

Read more.

I will admit, I fall into that a lot. I own far more than I can digest. That’s one reason why I like vinyl. 20 minutes, switch, 20 minutes, done. That’s also one reason why I’m doing this. I want at least 1 legitimate play count on every tune, and I want to delete the things I don’t like. Not that play counts are proof I digested everything, but it’s a start in dealing with my library.

It will take me 88 days, 18 hours, 16 minutes, and 56 seconds to get through this. Wish me luck.


  1. I’ve got a similar project, though having essentially everything digitally simplifies things (my vinyl lives on another continent at the moment!)and provides me a way to avoid some of the really rough transitions. I’ve got an iTunes smart playlist of “Unplayed Jazz” and am working my way through that. Of course, given the arbitrariness of the “Jazz” label, some of the transitions can still be a bit rough (no Springsteen though!)

    Comment by Chris — February 10, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

  2. I think you two are insane. And I mean that with all due respect. That said, aren’t you contributing to the background aspect of it by doing it alphabetically? Don’t you think you could focus more if you did this by genre? Or genre/style, i.e. Classical/Baroque … Jazz/Bebop? Or by artist too? Classical/Baroque/Bach … Jazz/Post-Bop/Horace Silver? At least that way you might really get to understand an artist or get a feel for genre or style or period. Seems you’d be educating yourself and possibly absorbing more while you’re doing your listening. Not that listening doesn’t have its own pleasures but you know what I mean. Too much work? Not the point? I don’t know. Just a thought.

    Comment by Mike Grimaldi — February 10, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

  3. I have to agree with Mr. Grimaldi – filing by genre makes more sense (probably will take just as long.) I also agree that it’s a great way to discover (or, better still – in my instance – uncover) gems from a previous decade or 3.
    Have fun!

    Comment by Richard Kamins — February 11, 2010 @ 9:13 am

  4. Yeah. After two and a half days, I’m realizing that this may not be the best way to keep music from going into the background. Though, since I work while I listen, it’s inevitable that something will get lost.

    At this point, I just need to make it through the “A”s for this to be any bit of a success.

    I will say, I have found so many hidden gems. SO MANY. So whereas I might not be digesting a proper artist catalog or album, I am (re)connecting with my library a lot more than I had been.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — February 11, 2010 @ 9:45 am

  5. — “Though, since I work while I listen, it’s inevitable that something will get lost.” —
    So, it IS background music then. As a jazz educator, I bristle at the thought of that, but on the other hand, and perhaps this is just the devil in me, what exactly is wrong with background music? I certainly never felt that my furniture detracted from my enjoyment of great art. As long as the furniture doesn’t get in your way, who cares if you use it or not. Sometimes you need that end table in the corner. Sometimes it just sits there. It would take an awful lot of mp3’s before they started getting in my way. That said, I think the real problem would be forgetting to spend some time really listening to music in a serious and undivided way.

    Comment by Charles Sharp — February 11, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

  6. I’m doing something similar as well, listening to everything in my digital library at least once. I actually completed this successfully once before a few years and I’m doing it again. It’s easy for me because I can listen at work six to eight hours per day, though it will still take a long time.

    I use a random shuffle and it’s a lot of fun when something I haven’t listened to in a long time comes up.

    (Well, it’s not quite random. I do take efforts to make sure that I don’t listen to a single movement of a symphony in isolation, and things like that.)

    Comment by RichS — February 11, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

  7. — “So, it IS background music then. As a jazz educator, I bristle at the thought of that, but on the other hand, and perhaps this is just the devil in me, what exactly is wrong with background music?”

    Well, I don’t think there is much wrong with it. As long as it’s good. I think if I were to say that my goal was to never let music fall into the background, completely concentrate on it, I wouldn’t get anything done at my job. Music may fall into the background, but that doesn’t make it elevator muzak or something.

    I finally made it through the “A”s — last on “Azure” from Ella Fitzgerald’s Song Book box. Still truckin’ through.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — February 12, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  8. Jim, just wondering, if you’ve got many versions of a particular song, are you listening to them all in a row? I would think that that would get a little tedious.

    Comment by RichS — February 12, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  9. Yes. One of the first hurdles was all songs called are starting with the word “Africa.” They were almost all from different artists/albums so I did listen to all of those. But if there is an exact duplicate song, I have been skipping. Like I had three versions of Miles’ Agitation. Only one play from those.

    I’m nearly through the “B”s. I’m sure I’ll run into more problems like this soon.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — February 15, 2010 @ 8:25 am

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