Private Viewing: Has download culture robbed us of that vital human factor?

You can't compare the dull functionality of streaming music with the joys of browsing as Steve Langd

You can't compare the dull functionality of streaming music with the joys of browsing as Steve Langdon demonstrates at a pop-up record store at the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre. - Credit: Su Anderson

The recent World Record Day has reminded arts editor Andrew Clarke of the delights of being a passionate collector

Classic albums are ripe for a good browse in search of that elusive rarity. Downloads don't trigger

Classic albums are ripe for a good browse in search of that elusive rarity. Downloads don't trigger the same passion or collecting impulse. - Credit: Su Anderson

Hello, my name’s Andrew Clarke and I’m a collector. There I’ve said it. I feel that a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve stood up and been counted and now I’m free to live my life on my own terms.

Sadly, after my confession, I realise that I am part of an endangered species – part of a dwindling number of men and women who love to get under the skin of their interests and really research them. Part of the process of researching, investigating and educating yourself is collecting lots of stuff.

I love music, particularly roots music, and I love films and I collect lots of both. Walking into parts of my house you could be mistaken for thinking you had walked into an archive. But, as my much beloved number one daughter coolly informs me, no-one buys records or CDs any more and DVD sales are also collapsing. It seems we live in a disposable age. No-one is a collector. No-one is a fan.

I am told by my all-knowing daughter that Spotify will stream all the background music that you will ever need and digital platforms will temporarily download the latest films onto your laptop, phone, tablet or TV in an instant. But, my problem with that is after you have watched it will be deleted – that precious piece of movie magic will have vanished.

It seems to me that our instantly available but ultimately disposable age has taken back to a pre-video world when you saw films at the local cinema and until they turned up on television at irregular intervals they were just a rose-coloured memory.

But, I want to have the collected works of Alfred Hitchcock available at my fingertips. I want John Ford to take me on a guided tour of Monument Valley. I want to be able to call on contemporary classics and foreign language films at will. If I fancy an evening with Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz it’s great to be able to pop a disc in the DVD player or some nights you just need to switch your brain off and enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark for the umpteenth time.

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I don’t want someone else making my choices for me. The same is true of music. Why would I want Spotify or some other music streaming service creating musical wallpaper? If I want to listen to music I want to create a track selection that I really want to engage with.

I want to explore musical backwaters. I want to stumble across new stuff.

One of the reasons I find roots music so endlessly rewarding is that the more you delve into the artists you enjoy, the more you find to listen to. You find yourself searching out the artists that inspired your own musical heroes.

Listen to The Rolling Stones and before long you will find yourself in the company of Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Slim Harpo. Listen to Eric Clapton and it’s a short hop that takes into the world of Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.

Listen to Lucinda Williams or The Dixie Chicks and you swiftly find yourself in the company of the endlessly adaptable Emmylou Harris who quickly introduces you to Gram Parsons who not only re-introduces you to The Rolling Stones but teams you up with Elvis Presley.

Music and films exist in an endlessly inter-connected and completely absorbing world which rewards your interest and insatiable curiosity at every turn. Why would you want to put your cultural life on cruise control? Why would you want to dampen your enthusiasm or download a single track when there might just be a dozen even better songs by the same artist from the same sessions waiting to be discovered?

Although our numbers are dwindling The Collector species is not yet extinct. Last Saturday saw the annual celebration of the art of browsing in World Record Store Day. It’s an event to celebrate independent record stores and their eccentricities and specialities.

Whereas the big chains increasingly only stock a few highly popular chart titles and online stores may have an unlimited stock it is very hard to browse. You can’t stumble across something that you weren’t looking for. You can’t have your interest piqued by a fabulous album cover or by an unusual song selection.

I have spent many a happy hour just flipping my way through entire sections of themed records talking to expert staff like Scruff in Rex Records in Ipswich. Sadly these places are increasingly rare.

Downloading has robbed us of the human element of music and film collecting. You don’t get passion and enthusiasm if you don’t talk to like-minded souls. You also don’t get that all important exchange of knowledge.

The more we engage with our cultural world the more we get out of it.

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