September 28, 2009

It’s Always Surprising … [11:09 am]

… To see a truth stated so baldly. From Expensive Box Sets From the Beatles and Yo-Yo Ma (pdf)

Box sets have long been around, of course. Compact disc and digital technology made them easier to produce. But what seems to be their growing presence now has particular reasons.

As younger listeners increasingly acquire their music by downloading individual songs, the concept of the album has withered. So record companies are appealing to older buyers, with more money to spend and longer attention spans, by offering something special.

More profoundly, digitalization has changed recorded music from being a “thing” to a collection of data. The container is irrelevant, said Evan Eisenberg, author of “The Recording Angel,” a study of the cultural impact of recorded music.

Yet the impulse to have and to hold an object, as well as to collect it, remains. A box set “preserves something,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “It preserves a time that we want to remember, that we want to remain in. It suggests permanence and solidity and a bunker against the passage of time, and transience and decay.” Mr. Eisenberg said he has known Mr. Ma since college and doubted the box set was his idea. “He really doesn’t think in those terms,” he said.

Possessing the “complete works of” also appeals to an innate desire to contain a whole world in one place, even if no one has the time to listen to 90 CDs. Instead, such collections allow for archaeological digging and scholarly rummaging.

(On a separate note, I hope to get back to posting at least a little more frequently. Been under the gun these days.)

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