The semester is coming to a close, and none too soon. It's been a bear, for reasons that I won't belabor. But one running theme this semester has been technical difficulties in the classroom. For my class at UMASS, I was placed in a room where the only a/v I had at my disposal was my laptop. No cd player, no dvd player, let alone anything as old fashioned as a turntable - and this in a graduate seminar on popular music! At Smith things were only moderately better. My rock history course met in a room that ostensibly has all that one would need: cd, dvd, turntable, installed computer as well as plugs to accommodate laptops, hell even a vhs player. Problem is, hardly any of it works the way it's supposed to. The turntable is hooked up to sound like crap, same with the laptop jacks, the dvd player loses audio out of one channel, the in-class computer makes a horrible buzz whenever you turn the volume up past barely audible. So that basically leaves you with a CD player. Awesome - not! So much for being at a school with a $1 billion + endowment...
The upshot of all this is that, not being able to play vinyl in class, and refusing to pay for music I already own - and having to work with a music library that's done a good job purchasing stuff I need for class but still has its gaps - I've had to resort to so-called "illegal" downloading on a regular basis. Not that I think anything I've done should actually be considered illegal, but that's a topic for another post. And not that having downloaded a bunch of music for free is anything that deserves congratulations - in this day and age it's a given. What I find ironic is that I was pretty much forced into the situation of doing so by the horrendously inadequate technical facilities provided in the classrooms where I taught.
This is doubly ironic in that, old school music consumer that I am, I've generally been disinclined to make digital music into something I use on a regular basis. I've posted along these lines but it's worth reiterating: I like vinyl. I still buy vinyl, as well as CD's. I buy a lot of music in physical form, and I prefer to buy my music in that form and to listen to it in that form. I don't like headphones and portability is all but irrelevant to my listening habits. I am the kind of consumer that is allowing the record industry to have some sort of continued solvency, and yet...when all is said and done, I find that there are many situations in which I basically need to go online to troll around for free music because otherwise my options for acquiring the things I need are too limited and expensive.
Besides taking the opportunity to vent about a situation that I find very frustrating, this story seems to me worth telling because it provides something of a parable of the contradictions involved in being a professor of popular music. It's my job to try to cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of popular music and the larger media system through which it's produced. But to do so, I need resources of a sort that are pretty common outside the academic setting but far less so inside. Adding to that, it's important for me not to take the supposedly inevitable tide of technological "progress" as a given. Just because the corporations that earn enormous profits from the production of new technologies have deemed some particular item or format to be obsolete doesn't mean that we should all follow suit. Vinyl may be, in the end, just another commodity item, no more no less, but it was also a dominant form in which people experienced music for the better part of a century, and the notion that we should all dispense with our vinyl archives because of changing media is folly.
I find it a matter to despair that academic institutions, ostensibly a site in which we can resist some of the gravitational pull of market capitalism in at least a limited degree, are so shortsighted on these matters that it would be possible to have a classroom in a music building that doesn't even have a cd player, let alone a turntable (yes I'm talking to you, UMASS).
This rant is now officially done. For now.
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