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Borges on iTunes. Sort of.

For one of those gnostics, the visible universe was an illusion or, more precisely, a sophism. Mirrors and fatherhood are abominable because they multiply it and extend it.
- Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," 1967.

For Christmas, I was quite pleased to get a Zen Stone Plus in my stocking. I'm one of those people - the ones who exist between platforms. (I lost my true allegiance decades ago, and have been a switch-hitter ever since.) One of the things this means is that I do some things by hand that other people - the loyalists - are used to having done automatically.

So there I was, Christmas afternoon, moving playlists from the iTunes on our Windows machine onto the cute little non-iPod. Grab, drag, copy.

The process immediately reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges' riffs on mirrors. He was simultaneously fascinated and repelled by them because they duplicated the world. There's something obscene about acts of reproduction.

It didn't help that I was, at the time, staring at a particularly large chunk of clutter that wound up in the middle of my dining room. It was a rack large enough to hold all of the family's CDs. We have quite a lot of them. A friend was getting rid of it. The problem is, though the storage would (will?) be vitally useful, we haven't been able to find a place where the rack actually fits.

And I like looking at CDs. The covers contain lots of visual information - each one reminding me of something I liked about that album (or single, or mix) in a way that the plain text of mp3 file names doesn't do. Sometimes, I can't search for that song I need - sometimes, I have to be reminded.

So, there I was, copying files from one drive onto another, portable, drive while looking at, well, another, much larger, kind of drive, and it struck me that I was doomed. Here I was, duplicating duplicates of songs most of which I had on disc, in the middle of trying to de-clutter my life. I was replicating more items. I was filling more space.

Mirrors are monstrous because they duplicate images of things. And iTunes - and any other mp3 ripper/filer/CD burner - is a kind of mirror.

What I need is a protocol for deleting mp3s. Not just minimizing the footprint of the collection (erasing artwork is just the beginning) but actually putting the music back on the discs. Where I can see it.

Oh, I thought. That's it. Instead of thinking of iTunes like a library, maybe if I thought of it more like a mirror - that doesn't display an image after I'm done with it. I'll still use it to burn mixes and load things onto the player. But if it's on a disc that fits on the rack - or if it can be burned onto one - then it's leaving my hard drive.

Now, if only I could find a wall where the rack will fit.

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yesno's picture

Lost in the shuffle

Digital libraries can seem somewhat unmanageable, because there is little physical affordance. You have this deep database of music, and stuff might get dumped into it and never listened to. Physical media, on the other hand, jumps out at you. And of course, digital collections have an unfortunate habit of growing very rapidly, far beyond our ability to listen to them.

I used to trade in crappy CDs or stuff I was tired of and buy good, new stuff. But my iTunes library just grows and grows. (As a musical obsessive, I need to fight the tendency to make my personal iTunes library be the Earth repository of good and important music. I've already given up on the audiophile aspect of it, having realized that even the highest quality lossless CD rip is nothing compared with master tape quality, so why bother?-- but I digress.))

All this is a way of saying that deleting artwork is the exactly wrong approach. Coverflow and tools like clutter-- and maybe Delicious Library if they ever get around to it-- offer physical-like ways of interacting with non-physical objects. Artwork is the only physical way we have of interacting with music. A better approach is to make sure you have all of your artwork, and then use coverflow to randomly select stuff to listen to. If it's terrible, delete it.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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