Letter to The Wire, January 2009

I’d like to address a couple of the points made by David Keenan in his section of the Unofficial Channels feature in The Wire 297. Firstly, Keenan is way off beam in his assertion that downloading music “gives primacy to the platform through which it is received.” On the contrary, downloading inevitably focuses the listener’s attention on the music itself, rather than the attendant paraphernalia fetishised by Keenan.

Secondly, it’s a bit rich of Keenan to claim that CD-R and cassette culture “keeps music social” when the distribution of these artefacts is so limited and, arguably, elitist. I would have loved to own Christina Carter’s exquisite Masque Femine album, for example, but with a total edition of a mere 80 copies my chances of acquiring one were always going to be slim. How, then, to hear this spectral masterpiece? Nothing else to be done: download the monster, then listen to it in the dark, on headphones, where the fact that it’s coming to me as a sound file on my iPod rather than as a CD-R becomes supremely irrelevant.

Keenan accuses technology of having an “isolating influence,” a frankly absurd contention given that current filesharing protocols allow music to be shared between like-minded individuals more effectively than ever before. One fine example, and a notable omission from your feature, is the Dimeadozen website, a goldmine of commercially unavailable live recordings from every genre and era imaginable. Because the site uses a “share ratio” as part of its technology, its members are incentivised to make their recordings available as much as possible, thereby exerting precisely the kind of communitarian influence that is absent from the “guerrilla media” Keenan advocates.

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