Uncharactistically Joshlike thoughts strike me this morning while listening to Karenina, Charlemagne Palestine’s voice-and-harmonium tribute to his dead black labrador. The main characteristic of a piece of recorded music is that we can listen to it repeatedly, and our judgements of records tend to rest heavily on that fact. Karenina is mournful, difficult music, and I can’t imagine myself listening to it again often, if at all. Does that diminish it? I would say not – often the records that gather dust on our shelves are as important as the ones that become firm and much-played friends. And treating an album as an experience, maybe not one to be repeated, is as worthy a way to hear it as treating it as something to be pored over at length, or something which settles in the mind over time.

Of course if you accept this, it defuses a main criticism of difficult music – that hipster purchasers only end up with these records for show, and they don’t actually listen to them very often. The standard response to this is defensive – why yes I do listen to drone music all the time, it’s your conventional music I find intolerable, blah blah. The right response might be: “so what?”. (For real Zen listening, buy a record and never play it – allow it always to have that delicious suspended promise that it carries in the shop). And accepting that ‘experiencing once’ is as exciting a way to approach music as ‘listening often’ carries other implications, for the firefly delights of throwaway pop, and for ways to mix and blur music and ‘other’ writing a little more.

(Thanks to Mike Daddino, the most generous man on the net, for sending me this CD!)

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