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Oct 04

The aesthetics of hand-crafted CDRs

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 136 views

The aesthetics of hand-crafted CDRs — not that musicians actually sit around and carve in data on them, that would be a bit much. But increasingly my actual music purchases are steering away from ‘official’ CDs as such — personally I think the distinction will grow less apparent with time — towards the kind of small-release/home-release efforts that can either be literal one-offs (CDRs with differing art from release to release, or even different tracklistings) or part of a more formal effort. Burning Shed falls into the latter camp with its standardized made-to-order efforts, while Time-Lag has crossed over from limited vinyl releases to doing similar with CDs or CDRs, and that’s just the tip of an increasingly huge iceberg.

What’s not entirely clear to me is what the musical demographics are of bands and performers taking this approach — which is in and of itself not unique or new, and has a more well-known current hip-hop equivalent in mixtapes, released and ripped and traded fast and furiously (an observation on the new Eminem single I quite liked came from Matt H on ILM saying that he was disappointed because recent mixtape appearances showed him to better effect, indicating another perhaps marginal but known blur between what is ‘official’ and what isn’t). I’m not sure what the prioritizing of the artifact is with such tapes in and of themselves — comment if you know! — but similarly CDR releases get ripped and traded and so forth while at their best still trying to aim for something more to give value for money, to make it something distinct or worth owning beyond simply having the ripped file.

Perhaps for this reason where I tend to see (or more actively look for) such releases comes from people who implicitly or explicitly are focusing on ‘craft,’ however defined. The whole idea of limited runs and hand-created artwork and packaging and getting a little note from the person you bought it from is part fannish connection and part artisan-worship in a way — that you can use up-to-date technological efforts (PayPal in particular really has opened the floodgates) to get something with hand-printed or silkscreened art or a written notation of what number of the run it is or the like is part of the enjoyable conceit. That you can use the ‘fake’ to get to the ‘real,’ perhaps — if money is just an electronic listing in a computer.

And similarly most of the time the music being shared is home-created, or lo-fi, or experimental or random jams or something where the music is ‘real’ in Ye Olde Rockist Terms. It’s perhaps no surprise that that New Weird America hash is so closely associated with these efforts in ways — consider Sunburned Hand of the Man’s careful way of upping the mystique via their series of releases that usually sold out immediately — and that the sense of ‘artifact’ is all the more important, perhaps. But again, this is somewhat limiting in terms of what is intended by such releases — is the strictly downloadable microhouse mix any less real than such a CDR, despite the evanescence of the mix in comparison to something you hold in your hand?

There’s more to be said about this and a lot I’m doubtless missing. So I do welcome all further thoughts…

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