Idle thoughts

I catch my Flying Nun t-shirt in the mirror, and I briefly see the reflected ‘NUN’ as ‘NIN’ and I suddenly daydream the perfect scenario: FLYING NIN: A Nine Inch Nails Tribute to New Zealand Music.

Imagine Trent Reznor and his band attacking a Gordons song? And with Reznor’s range, he could tackle a whole raft of NZ music from delicate ambient stuff, to classic songwriting from the Knox or Kilgour catalogues, right on up to full on hardcore and metal.

Of course this idea would come to me, and of course it would appeal to precisely a dozen other people around the world.


Running past the ‘Premier Inn Hastings’ this week (which has the dubious honour of being precisely two and a half miles from what I would consider the centre of Hastings), I noticed that from this lofty height just off The Ridge, the high road that forms the town’s northern edge, I could just briefly glimpse the sea. As I ran alongside the multi-storey hotel, I imagined some of the rooms must in fact have a sea view. I wondered if they are sold with this designation? Probably not. I don’t think Premier Inn goes for that kind of marketing.

But it got me to wondering: this combination of a tallish building on a high rise of land near the coast… I wonder what is the furthest inland hotel room in the world that can legitimately claim to have a sea view? Annoyingly, I just know that there are about three databases one could throw some AI at to answer this question. Possibly there’s a hotel that even specifically claims this already, whether rightly or not. But it’s a fun thought.


I watched Talk Radio this week; it was on my list of ‘radio films’ to watch. It very definitely is a radio film, and a very claustrophobic one at that, with the bulk of it taking place within a dimly lit radio studio.

The set design is actually really convincing and apt. I naively wondered for a moment if it might in fact be a real radio studio, before realising the acres of space and the weirdly dim lighting and all sorts of other extremely cinematic design decisions at work.

It was interesting (or perhaps distracting?) to see in the opening credits that it was adapted from a play – I noticed throughout its runtime many scenes which had a very theatrical feel. Not in a bad way; I could just see how it would work very well as a play.

In fact, it was an Oliver Stone film, and looking at his list of credits, I think it was my first. Whether because of Stone’s direction or just the source material, it’s a really dark film, with some surprisingly edgy themes and dialogue. I was left with quite a sour taste of a particular slice of ambiguously bleak Americana in my mouth. But it was a great, enthralling film – and what a performance from Eric Bogosian.


That unsavoury, ambiguous slice of Americana was complemented this week by my continued reading of The Road to Somewhere, a book by James A. Reeves (he of Atlas Minor dot com; his blog should be in your RSS reader).

It’s an enjoyable read, mainly in the sense that it gives me more of what I wanted from it: Reeves’ stream of consciousness, descriptive passages about what it is to be an American, a man, a human being, and an occupant of this strange planet, as well as passages describing the feeling of blasting down dark desert highways with the AM radio relaying voices of demented and devious folks, catching the occasional glimpse  through the windshield of a ghostly figure in the night.

His writing is accompanied by photographs – really decent images, too; infuriatingly well-observed writing alongside neat illustrations of the moods and scenes he’s describing. It’s a page-turner in the most literal sense of the words: each snapshot is one spread, with an image on one page, and a perfectly formed vignette in words on the other. These vignettes are assembled into roughly themed chapters, but I find myself sipping at this book, telling myself ‘just one more’, until the book’s heft becomes too much and I place it down next to my bed until another night.


I listened to the Oceansize album Frames yesterday evening, along with Southkill’s self-titled 2002/3 EP, which features the sublime Horizon at Aramoana. I never did visit Aramoana when I was in Dunedin. Sad times. I may yet visit again the most southerly point on earth I’ve yet been to – but it does seem a remote dream, literally and figuratively.

Frames sounded incredible. I’ve always considered Oceansize’s debut Effloresce their best, but I heard Frames in a new light yesterday – partly as I was listening via headphones plugged into a hefty lump of vintage Sony amplifier. I hadn’t realised the full potential of that device, and it’s slightly terrifying to see how loud it got with the volume – sorry, attenuator – knob turned only a quarter of the way round. Ooft.

Frames just has a cohesion to it that, yes, Effloresce does too, but… Yeah. It clicked for me yesterday. I reminded myself of the dozen or so albums Chris Sheldon has produced or mixed that are all-time favourites of mine.

I also listened to Björk’s Verspertine yesterday* – earlier on and just via headphones on my phone – and that album clicked for me as well. I particularly enjoyed the birdsong she’d sampled in underneath one track, and found it curious that she’d bled the sample into the next track too – but, ah, no: I slipped off my headphones and the deafening sound of seagulls was very much local to my own listening environment. Nice accompaniment though.

* ahem, for the first time…

Radio Diary for February 2022

As usual, February was a month which contained a number of radio-related resources to stimulate, entertain and inspire. So much so that I have inevitably ended up with a whole mess of tabs, recordings and ideas that I want to try and record even just for my own sanity.


FM/DAB/broadcast

On top of our usual regular morning listening of BBC 6 Music on DAB – Chris Hawkins’ sardonic wit is great, and I’ve been enjoying Deb Grant’s filling-in shows when I catch them – we listened to local radio while decorating in half term. The winter storms Eunice and Franklin rolled in, and it quickly became apparent that we would be best served by tuning in to BBC Radio Sussex to hear more localised updates about the storm’s progress. We heard traffic updates and anecdotes from callers and it was useful to have this resource to get an understanding of the impact on our local area.

Where radio really came into its own, however, was when we lost power on the Friday lunchtime. Fortunately we have a number of radios, and many of them can be powered by the mains or batteries. M’s rather old and battered Pure DAB radio is still very technically proficient, and sounds great – and its battery still holds a good charge.

When we lost power, we also lost radio. I checked the radio and it had successfully reverted back to battery power, but there was no DAB signal. Not too surprising, but I flipped over to FM and found that there were no FM signals to be found – that was a shock.

We also found that although we had mobile phone signal, the 4G signal had died, leaving the phone only capable of making calls and sending and receiving SMS.

A short while later, FM stations were back on the air – presumably the FM transmitter fell back to backup power, but perhaps the DAB transmitter is different or requires more power. DAB would be restored quite a while later,

I can’t remember the last time I lost FM signals. If I’d had more time I would have spent a bit of time tuning around, embracing the interference-free airwaves to see what distant stations I could pick up. But as usual with these events, the priority was in making sure the house was safe, and then carrying on with the decorating. I don’t think M would have appreciated me sat twiddling knobs and playing radios while she carried on!

Our power was restored about three hours after we lost it. It was a wake-up call: we are a little more isolated here than we used to be in London, and when power goes, it can take longer for it to be restored. These winter storms are becoming more frequent, and it was a useful lesson in preparedness – ensuring we have various battery packs and radios charged most of the time, and keeping an eye on what we have in the house that can be stored or warmed up for food using our camping gas stove etc.


Retekess V115

I recently ordered a couple of low-priced radios from a Chinese retailer, and the first to arrive was the Retekess V115. It’s a small, portable unit which receives FM, AM, LW, and short wave. It also has a micro SD card reader and can play files from it, as well as recording to it from the various radio bands, or even the built-in microphone.

I’m still getting used to this radio’s features, but the initial impressions were good – especially for such a small device. The display is bright and reasonably high resolution for this sort of radio, and I was quite stunned by the tone and loudness of the volume – the speaker is quite powerful, and it has a second ‘sub woofer’ type speaker at the back, giving it quite a rich sound.

I’m still getting to grips with the capabilities of it – there are odd ‘holes’ in the FM reception, and I want to do some more comparisons with my Tecsun PL-380 on short wave to see how it performs – but it is pulling in stations in my initial tests. If it is a generally good radio, the recording feature could be really useful.


Radiophrenia

Radiophrenia –  the self-professed “light at the end of the dial” was back this month for two weeks of incredibly diverse radio. The station is broadcast via FM in the Glasgow area, and is repeated over DAB via Resonance, as well as being streamed online for listeners around the world.

The website schedule was as full and complex as it has been in previous years, and I spent a bit of time poring over the descriptions to see what shows interested me the most, at times I might be able to listen in.

As Radiophrenia is a live station with shows going out around the clock, it feels even more special to find unique shows and pieces that have been submitted for broadcast, and to listen live when there may not be an opportunity to track it down online later. The magic of live radio – or at least linear broadcasting.

This doesn’t stop me from using the schedules to find new and interesting audio/radio artists to follow online, hence my reference above to having dozens of tabs open to explore: people to look up and try and check out their work where I’ve been unable to catch it live.

Some highlights I did manage to catch live included various bits of Hali Palombo’s work – I’ve heard some of her stuff before and was delighted to see she had a number of pieces and shorts in the schedules for 2022’s broadcast. She works with amateur and short wave radio recordings as well as field recordings and spoken word type stuff. It always adds up to something fascinating and inspiring and I love checking out her work.

I was also pleased to see Radio Cegeste had something debuting on Radiophrenia – a piece combining Morse code, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and the recent pandemic media coverage. It was an edited down version of a longer piece that ran in Melbourne last year.

One early highlight was Adriana Knouf’s experiments with SSTV – slow scan TV – tones, turning these rhythmic pulses into something approaching techno music. At times hard to listen to, inventive, amusing – all the things experimental radio art can and should be.

And then closing out the last day I enjoyed the Shortwave Collective piece Open Wave Receiver, an audio how-to guide on building a self-powered radio. It features instructions on how to construct a simple radio receiver, as well as recordings of people doing so, and the delighted sounds they make when it works.  Extremely meta radio, and admittedly not easy to follow if you were truly trying to listen along and make what they were describing with no other visuals or instructions. But a lovely thing to listen to.

As I mentioned elsewhere previously, I am so glad that Radiophrenia exists, and one day I feel like it would be amazing to have a piece broadcast. But I need to go away and work on that to make it happen. In the meantime, the platform it gives to such a wide variety of performers, presenters, musicians and… whatever else… is just such a great effort.


Amateur radio

When I am at home in the my office / box room, I often have radios on in the background, and the same goes for my little Baofeng UV-5r, which is a cheap little handheld for the ham bands and enables me to listen in to conversations between amateur radio users in the local area – when they are talking directly – or via repeaters, which extend the range of their individual signals.

I am lucky where I am to be within good range of more than one amateur radio repeater, and I’ve also found a couple of local clubs and nets that have scheduled chats on set frequencies which have enabled me to test the reception of the Baofeng. This radio can also transmit – though not until I have a licence – and knowing that in my new location I can pick up local conversations and repeaters has given me renewed impetus to pursue getting my amateur radio licence.

I studied the excellent Essex Ham course last summer, and enjoying learning a lot of new things. At the time I didn’t go as far as taking the exam, and I knew my London location would be no good for amateur radio – my Baofeng never picked up anything at home. But now I have a new location, and an apparently active ham radio scene, it might be time to do some revision and get myself licensed.

It is… very apparent to me how un-diverse the amateur radio scene is. This is partly why I am such a fan of what Shortwave Collective does – they are an international feminist art group promoting the creative use of radio. Hearing Hannah Kemp-Welch’s use of amateur radio in particular was very inspiring, and I want to hear even more diverse voices on these platforms. And although as a white male I am not bringing much diversity to this scene, I may at least provide a slightly younger voice. And who knows, if my own involvement somehow leads to anyone else paying an interest in the medium, then that would be incredible. One step at a time.


MW/AM

Whenever I tried to listen to AM / medium wave stations in my old flat in London, I was frequently disappointed by the small number of signals I could pick up, and the high levels of interference which got in the way.

But now in this new location I have returned to the open arms of the MW bands where I can frequently pick up fifty or more broadcasts, most of which are international, and a number of which share the same frequency, allowing for some fun fiddling to refine the signal and identify the stations I can hear.

I haven’t dabbled with MW properly for a decade or more. It’s a fascinating new angle into the radio hobby and I am enjoying learning about the kinds of stations I can pick up here, and at what times and in what conditions.

When we were looking at moving here I hoped that a new location would open up new possibilities in my enjoyment of radio – from broadcast and beyond – and I’ve not been disappointed. I suppose going from a semi-submerged duplex flat to a standard semi-detached house halfway up a hill would inevitably give better conditions for radio, but I have been pleasantly surprised just how much of an improvement this has made.

Onwards!

Half term – a productive week

What a productive week.

I almost started with “what a week!”, but that has a sort of dual meaning, both positive and negative. I had a good week, but/and a busy one.

We started half term – I took the week off along with M to work on the house – with a visit from the electrician who came to do a whole house survey. Thus far, the only reassurances we’ve had that the house’s electrics are sound are a) that nothing, so far as we can tell, has gone wrong yet – not even a tripped fuse; and b) an electric cooker was installed, and this has to be done by a qualified sparks. As well as checking our earth and voltage (current?), the cooker installer also looked over our consumer unit and general cupboard-under-the-stairs situation, and, far from recoiling in horror, he reassured us that he could see nothing untoward.

But we still wanted/needed the whole house survey, mainly to answer one big question: do we need a rewire? And the answer, fortunately, is no. As I understand it, this means that the fundamental construction of the house’s circuits, and the types of cables used under the floors and in the walls, are of a standard high enough to be safe to use and to not need complete replacement. A huge relief.

There are many areas around the house that do need sprucing up – many of the sockets/outlets are dated and one or two have even physically seized up, so we will replace those as and when. But knowing that the underlying systems are fine has given me the confidence to replace more things on my own. Our electrician talked us through a lot of stuff, explaining logically why things are the way they are, and he took the time with us to muddle out the handful of bits that have been added later which took some head-scratching for us all to understand.

We (and by we, I mainly mean M’s father) had already replaced a couple of light fittings and one switch, and I had done some other switches – including a dimmer; what a saga that was.

But now that someone has physically checked every end of the whole system, I am filled with renewed confidence to do more work on the lights, sockets and switches around the house. And, as I reasoned to M, it is these elements that we come into contact with the most – so refreshing a yellowed, dated unit with a smart white unit (or maybe a more charming, individual one here and there), will make such a difference.


This all came in handy as this week our main project was the box room, aka my home office. It’s a decent-sized third bedroom, which will serve as an extra bedroom for visitors, and will provide lots of storage for books and CDs. It also serves as a home office for me three days a week, so it’s a room I spend a fair bit of time in.

As with other rooms in the house, the decor was dated, it felt quite dark and gloomy (north-facing), the carpet was old and stained, and the ceiling wallpaper showed signs of some sort of prior, unknowable catastrophe.

And so we (and by we, I mean mostly M – I had more of a sous chef role) stripped the wallpaper, pulled up the carpet and underlay, sanded the skirting boards and window frames, filled the holes in the walls, sugar soaped and treated all the surfaces, pulled out random tacks in the floorboards, and then proceeded to put primer/undercoat on all the walls and ceiling before painting the whole thing a crisp white.

Once you start painting a dim and gloomy room white, you begin to notice all the beige/yellow elements of the room – and how many coats of white it takes to suitably cover those parts.

And finally, we didn’t paint it entirely white; M had the great idea of incorporating a bespoke motif of strong vertical bars and hemispheres done out in oranges and teals and so on. She did these free-hand, first measuring out the shapes and their specific geometries in relation to the wall they would go on, and then traced this out on the bare wall. It is a remarkable job, and the incorporation of round mirrors is ingenious. Those, combined with the beginnings of a gallery wall opposite, make the space inviting and intriguing and very pleasant.

Aside from my supporting roles – I managed to do two or three coats on the ceiling amongst other things – my main jobs in this room were replacing the light switch, light fitting and a double plug socket.

The light switch was simple enough – I just replicated what I found inside the old one and spent a good few minutes flicking the new one on and off again, satisfied.

The light fitting was a bit trickier. I’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos now on the standard wiring of a British home, but it still surprises me a little when I find quite as many cables as I do hidden inside a ceiling rose. It makes sense: three cables (each with three cores) – one going to the switch, one coming into the light, and one going to the next light. It’s simple enough. But it still feels like a lot when you first encounter it inside that tiny fitting.

Added to this three-squared bundle of copper wires I find, I also have to juggle some colours in my head: most of the wiring I’ve encountered is old enough that it follows the old standard colour-coding – red for live, black for neutral. It’s now brown for live and blue for neutral.

With practice I’m sure this will become second nature to me, but I do still find myself having to check out loud or via a visual reference that, yes, where it says brown, I must do the same with the red.

Red should make sense for danger, but brown is a little… subdued for what is actually the live wire. (Yes, I’m aware of the mnemonic for remembering what colour your underwear will go if you touch the live wire…) And although black is nice and, well, neutral, I find that the blue brings to mind an electrical spark…

At least the earth is either green or green and yellow. (But, wait, isn’t actual earth – like soil – brown…? Oh dear…)

But I did manage to swap out the light fitting successfully – the crucial bit I had to remember was keeping in mind the switched live wire and making sure this one goes to the right bit of the new fitting. I’m still not totally sure what would happen if I neglected this part – perhaps the switch wouldn’t work, perhaps the house would burn down – and at one sweaty-palmed moment when visually checking my work I thought I’d done it completely wrong. But no. All good.

And finally there was a double plug socket to change. Most, if not all, of the houses sockets and switches are, alas, surface-mounted. This makes them slightly easier to deal with, but means they all stick out in slightly annoying places like along the skirting boards or in corners, making furniture placement tricky.

Removing the old-style MK sockets dotted around this house is an ongoing project of mine – they’re classic and robust and have served us well, but they now look faintly like something Doc Brown might hook up to an experiment in the 1950s.

I had by accident picked up a new MK socket which has screwless terminals – well, I was happy to go with this choice when I saw it, but slightly less so when a) I found out that they’re quite new, and b) that I couldn’t get the bastard thing to work initially.

On standard fittings with screwed terminals you have a little brass lug and a small screw. Loosen the screw, stick in the copper wire, then tighten the screw, locking the wire in place, making a solid contact. Simple.

On these newer screwless terminal MK units, you have a row of flappy plastic tabs, colour-coded to each wire’s function. The tabs are small, and feel delicate, and the problem I had was simply that I wasn’t opening them enough. They have a natural, spring-based latching mechanism and I felt that they were open wide enough to receive the wire*, but it just wasn’t seating properly.

* More than once I found literature related to electrical components speaking of ‘offering’ a cable to something, or another part ‘receiving’ it.

After some frantic YouTube searches I found that they’re a little more robust than I’d first expected, and the tiny flappy plastic tabs should in fact be forced up to about 90 degrees, pushing them well past the point at which it feels like you might snap the mechanism and ruin the whole unit. I’m so used to tinkering inside modern electronics with tiny tolerances and delicate connections that I had forgotten how robust MK brand home electronics devices should be.

So once I’d sussed out the screwless terminal mechanism – one which I now quite like for its speed and simplicity, I just had to squeeze all the wires inside the backplate behind the socket, screw it together, and test it. Fortunately it worked.

It should here be noted that the above electrical work took a lot longer than I’d expected. Each process was soundtracked by me speaking out loud my thoughts and processes; M now knows to a certain degree what it is like to inhabit my mind while tackling a new and complicated task. And I kept having to double-check stuff because while I would understand the basic concept, each fitting had a little gotcha that I then quickly needed to check before proceeding.

But it all worked – and I changed another light fitting in the dining room, too, which had its own little gotcha: a metal fitting, and instructions from Dunelm which said it MUST be earthed, but no earth terminal to attach the wire to. I have now learned that some metal light fittings can be what’s called ‘double-insulated’, meaning the live bits are inside a plastic case within the fitting, and an earth connection is in fact not needed. There’s a small symbol to confirm this: . So in the end I just had to park the earth in a choccy block and tuck it out of the way. Look at me, don’t I sound like I know what I’m doing?


Towards the end of the week, we reassembled the room so that it would become an office again, and also to take some ‘after’ pictures to go with the now rather bleak ‘before’ shots. I then had the pleasure of spending Monday this week in my new office, finding it to be a delightful space, surprisingly bright with its new white paint, and enjoying various little views of the walls and the new view out of the window now the desk has been moved into the corner. A very pleasant space to be.

And this has all been said without reference to the two storms which rolled through over the past week: Eunice and Franklin brought high winds and amplified the spring tides. The house took quite a blasting from the gusts of wind – no damage that we’ve spotted yet, though at times the roof sounded like it was about to be wrenched off – and we were without electricity for a couple of hours on Friday, resorting to BBC local radio to hear what was going on.

It was a revelation experiencing a powercut in a smaller town for the first time in many years: when our own power died, we found that the mobile data signal was cut, too, and for a short time even the FM signals went out. That was a first!

But we weren’t hindered too much: it was during the middle of the day, and we were only painting and cleaning at that time. We filled a couple of flasks with boiling water between power cuts in case any future outages lasted much longer, but by the sounds of other local outages, we got pretty lucky with our power being restored by early afternoon.

It was a pretty packed week with the house stuff. We feel very satisfied with all that we’ve achieved and learned. And we even had time this week to get out and explore town some more – finding new pubs to hunker down in, exploring new bits of the coast in varying conditions, visiting new exhibitions to take inspiration from, dipping our toes in the sea (and by our, I mean M’s), and looking at upcoming events to get tickets for and partake in.

It’s all quite exciting.

Wednesday morning

There’s a point on the walk from my house to the station where the view down to the sea suddenly opens up. Ever since the shortest day, with dawn advancing (or is it retreating?) ever earlier, this view has increasingly been presaged by a pastel-coloured sky serving as a backdrop to the silhouette of the castle on the hill. Combined with the delicate birdsong which fills the gaps between cars, it is a rather lovely way to be greeted by the oncoming day.

This morning the moon hangs half-full, and where first thing it had seemed a bright, distant speck out of the rear windows of my house (as below), it now appears high above me, somehow larger, as though rendered in HD with crisp white features discernible even to these sleepy eyes.

As my coffee steamed on the worktop earlier, I spied robin cautiously making his way through the branches of the lime tree down to the feeder. There, a brief pause as he selects the most appealing morsel, and then he is gone, choosing the low flight path down to the bottom of the garden.

Not satisfied with simply showing off how fast he can escape if need be, robin actually takes an unnecessarily deft route between the branches of a bare, low shrub we have yet to identify. Perhaps it affords him a moment’s cover – a safe harbour in the event of any potential peril. But for me it is a spectacle and I raise my cup of coffee to this robin, already far more active and productive than I have been so far this morning.

Through the park I am joined by the dog walkers – oh, blessed are the dog walkers and their benevolent, reassuring presence at all hours in quiet streets – and the joggers; one man bounces softly past me clad head to toe in black Lycra with fluorescent trims, and he joins the robin in my mini catalogue of beings who have tackled this bright morning with more ambition than I have.

I am also inevitably joined on this parkland walk by a great number of water fowl; coots (or moorhens?) pad around the edges of the ponds, and the herring gull stalks about, eyeing everyone up with a steely gaze. Overhead, the unmistakable sound of two Canada geese flying together towards a destination unknown to me.

A fine mist moves across the surface of the ponds, and I find myself thankful for the millionth time for the existence of this wonderful park so close to our new home. That it serves not just as a sanctuary but actually a useful cut-through to so many destinations makes it such an asset.

As I write, my train glides quietly along the valleys north towards the High Weald, and in all directions now the low, bright sun illuminates the frosty landscape, leaving pockets still in frigid shade, waiting for their own moment in the spotlight.

Remember CDs? They’re back! In Pog form!

I’ve been following with some interest and amusement the recent wave of essays on the burgeoning revival of the Compact Disc as a music format which have been popping up online.

From Paul Riismandel’s proclamations, to other recent pieces from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and NME, there’s definitely a movement happening. Actually Riismandel’s strength of feeling for the format goes back a number of years and never really went away – his piece from 2019 is evergreen – and he’s been diligently covering the CD resurgence for Radio Survivor lately.

And I promise you these pieces aren’t all coming from writers and publications that you thought were wound up a decade ago! Some of these pieces reference TikTok and talk to university-age kids embracing the CD as a foil to the inexorable march of using screens for yet another area of our lives.

In some ways it seems inevitable: streaming has matured to the point of becoming not just passé but even cancelled by certain audiences, from the way it has for so long failed to properly remunerate artists, to more recent transgressions like employing figures of, if not hate, then certainly division.

So if streaming is off the table, where next to turn for our music fix?

Vinyl has had its own resurgence over the past decade or more, with sales growing year on year, and it looks like that trend will continue, despite huge production and distribution issues as the world’s vinyl pressing plants struggle to keep up with demand. But it’s hard to deny there’s something about the format which makes for a pleasant physical item to possess: that 12″ sleeve artwork, and often liner notes to add to the experience. Playing the music itself has its own romanticism – and drawbacks.

One question commentators often have with regard to the vinyl comeback goes beyond how much vinyl is being bought, and instead asks how much is actually being listened to. It might be interesting to see stats on vinyl ownership as compared to turntable ownership.

And perhaps even when LPs are bought to be listened to, the practice is so involved that for most folks it must surely be a special occasion – a mindful Sunday evening kind of pastime, rather than the primary method of listening to music. The candle-lit bubble bath to streaming’s three-minute shower, if you will.

So if vinyl serves to scratch one certain itch, but perhaps doesn’t fulfil the full-time needs of the music fan, and streaming is vetoed until a more ethical digital platform can emerge*, what does that leave us with? CDs, naturally. The format never went away, of course, and reports state that in the last few years the market has been propped up by a handful of releases by huge artists which have made up the bulk of sales. (It’s worth bearing in mind that the recent uptick in CD sales is tiny, but an uptick it is, and it does point to a change in music-buying habits.)


* I’ve left out the digital unicorn that is Bandcamp for now. It’s true that it has provided a platform for artists to sell their own music directly to fans with, I believe, a much better return. And it even holds regular days – Bandcamp Fridays – where the artist takes all the proceedings. But I have a feeling that it is its own little bubble – a far-from-mainstream marketplace for a reasonably niche set of artists to connect with reasonably small fanbases. And that’s totally fine – in fact, it’s artists of that sort of level that need the direct income the most. It probably wouldn’t make sense for the Adeles or the Taylor Swifts of the world to stick their music on Bandcamp.


Beyond that modest spike in sales, the secondhand CD market has proved popular – a neat give-and-take has been found between the two parties of ‘folks who want to get rid of their vast, unused CD collections even to the point of giving them away’ and ‘folks who will gladly pick up copies of classic albums on a format that’s likely to still be playable – and for a tiny price’.

That secondhand market has matured to the point where your average British charity shop will have its shelves lined with not just tat that no-one wants, but copies of classic releases along with rather more niche CDs that were lovingly collected by genuine music fans at the time, but have been more recently gotten rid of in favour of a new way of listening to music.

And I – and apparently many others – are here for it: this is the prime time to rebuild your music library if you want to step away from streaming. Grab those bargain bin CDs, enjoy the quality and convenience that made the format a success for so long, and rip copies of the albums to your electronic devices to build your own library which is owned rather than rented.

Music discovery will always be a headache, and it’s a two-part process: there the discovery of new music of course, which is now performed primarily by algorithms rather than by DJs, journalists and tastemakers, but there’s also the re-discovery of one’s own music collection – that wonderful “I haven’t heard this in ages!” feeling.

Algorithms go some way in accomplishing this – certain auto-generated playlists have revealed to me that my own achingly individual history of music enjoyment is in fact far from unique – but it can lead to a somewhat uncanny experience of hearing a series of songs that gel perfectly intersected by that one band you could never stand the first time round, let alone now.

One related point on digital music platforms – and this goes for local collections of files just as much as streaming platforms – is the digital fatigue felt by so many over the past year or two. When we spend so much of our day on Zoom calls, remoting in to other PCs, checking emails and staring at a variety of screens, then how much patience have we got for idly scrolling through Spotify or Apple Music for something to listen to?

And so it goes back to the physical formats: give me a rack of CDs (or vinyl, naturally) in the corner of a room to flick through – either to find that one album I know I want to hear right in that moment, or to stumble on that weird compilation I forgot I owned, which sends me off down a whole new and unexpected path – probably leading to me scooping up some cheap secondhand CDs online by this or that other band I never got round to checking out before.

I’m not saying streaming can or should be totally replaced by listening to music on physical formats. As Paul Riismandel points out, there’s room for all these formats, each with their pros and cons. But it’s hardly surprising that the CD is seeing a revival in the face of vinyl shortages and cancelled streaming subscriptions. These things have a habit of coming around again.

As Mark Beaumont concludes in his funny, astute piece for the NME: “There’s a global vinyl shortage underway and very few pressing plants supplying the ballooning demand, while there’s also an overwhelming surplus of second-hand CDs which is threatening the structural foundations of CeX shop basements across the globe. Hence CDs are now the budget – dare we say punk? – music ownership option.”