What Shall I Play? And How Will I Play It?

Music. That indefinable entity that entices audiophiles the world over to part with some measure of their disposable income, study reviews, demo equipment, and yes, perhaps disagree about how best to extract that last measure of sonic excellence from a recording. All this happily done in support of music. As broad and varied as are the systems that play music for us, the music itself is even more widespread, by a long margin in fact.

AR-Search-Muisc.jpgI'm always fascinated at the scope and variety of music available for our collective listening pleasure. Anytime I get a box of music slated for review, I'm always amazed that most of the artists are unfamiliar to me. Shopping at music stores yields the same amazement. And that's the fun part - that eternal search to find a rare new work that just captivates and engrosses us into sonic bliss. We audiophiles are constantly searching for new music, sometimes by known artists; sometimes by unheralded artists that fills our collective interest. When found, we normally listen, enjoy, and keep on searching, because the quest never ends.

Once a music library reaches a certain size, it is not at all uncommon that some music goes perhaps unnoticed and certainly not played with regularity. We all have them, that work we know so well, or have heard countless times, that just doesn't catch our interest for that moment's listening session.

I was looking over my albums recently, searching for something to which I could listen that I hadn't heard in a while. In looking at my LP's I discovered I have quite a lot of music I haven't heard in recent memory. I even discovered a surprising number I'm fairly positive I haven't spun in decades. I'd see them, think about them and pass them by. So what have I been playing? New music, of course. Once obtained, whether an obscure new artist, or the recent release by a popular favorite, those are the works that logically grab the predominance of my attention. Quite frankly, I think that makes perfect sense.

AR-Music-Library.jpgOne of the things I so enjoy about a music server is the different ways in which music might be retrieved and played. I recently did a search by genre, selected random playback (or shuffle), and was shocked at how many wonderful songs I didn't remember ever hearing before, or simply hadn't heard in a long time. Of course, this is predicated by the fact that the music library is large enough to allow this to occur in the first place. Hence the ongoing quest for new music. Would it be outrageous to say we're like a bunch of music junkies searching for our next musical fix?

When I look at my musical buying habits there is no uniformity. On a recent trip to the Washington, DC area to see my brother, and a visit to a Falls Church, VA record store, I left with twelve LP's, five CD's and a DVD, although admittedly the DVD was a movie and had nothing to do with music. Diversity would be the best description of what I purchased that day - Jazz (both Smooth and Traditional), Blues, Country, Classical, Folk, Rock and Popular - all were part of my bounty. When played, some were simply works of art, some were just "OK", and one or two I'll likely never play again. Such a description aptly typifies all my music - magnificent, OK, terrible.

Deciding what we play at any one moment also seems to follow no set rules or program. I'd say it's perfectly logical that when embarking on a listening session, what is actually played is an impulsive action with little pre-determined methodology. Music playback decisions seem to occur by what seems best at that moment - unless, of course, an equipment or music review is taking place, then specific music might be chosen. Every so often we'll run across something not heard in a long time, and when played, we're amazed at how much we suddenly love that which has gone unheard for some lengthy timeframe.

AR-What's-Next.jpgI have an acquaintance who for almost two decades was a music reviewer for a very noted magazine. In that time, he amassed a record library of somewhere between 10,000 to 15,000 albums. I once asked him how he decides what he wants to hear. His answer? What ever grabs him at the moment. For those who might be curious, he arranges them by genre first and then alphabetically. That is also an issue - once deciding what to hear, how does one go about finding it?

One of the true gifts of being surprised by something not heard in recent memory is experiencing the same excitement borne by new music. When I hear something not heard in a long time, and twenty years is not even unreasonable, hearing something again almost makes it like new music. I get the same measure of excitement and pleasure as hearing a song for the first time. Opposite to that is playing something and realizing you didn't like it twenty years ago and it hasn't gotten any better since. When that happens its time to say "next!"

Happily, of all the difficult decisions applied to an audio system, deciding what to play next or in an afternoon is the easy part of the decision making process. Unlike choosing amps and speakers, selecting music comes remarkably easy and doesn't hurt or upset things. Because unlike speakers with which you are not happy, playing music you don't like simply means putting on something different. And that's pretty easy to do.

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