Personal Collection or Archive?: A Closer Look at What Defines a Library

archive

I was recently contacted by Dan Gravell, founder and programmer of the server-based music management software, bliss. Bliss received praise from Andrew Everard of What Hi-Fi and their official website calls it a tool “for people who care about their music collection.” Dan posed several questions about my library, and about what differentiates an average personal music collection from a true archive. He suggested that my response might prove useful as a journal entry at Innerspace Labs, so I’m sharing my response for others who might ask the same questions about their own meticulous collections.

So let’s dive right in –

Regarding the difference between run-of-the-mill “playable” music libraries and what one might call an “archive,” there are a few primary factors which could differentiate the two. The first is one of practical function and intent. If a library is for personal use for playback alone it is most likely the former, whereas a consciously organized collection of significant size and scope which is representative of a particular period or culture and which sheds contextual light on that era might serve a greater, almost scholarly purpose as an archive. Uniformity of structure, organization, navigability, and accompanying supplemental metadata enhance a library such as this to greater usefulness than mere playback. And it appears that it is precisely this focus on consistency by which Dan has endeavored to empower users like me with his bliss project. Another important factor is the long-term sustainability of an archive, which I’ll touch upon momentarily.

Next Dan asked whether my source media is exclusively physical. My collection comprises only a few thousand LPs, with a significant focus on the history of electronic sound. This spans the gamut from early notable works of musique concrète to the Moog synthesizer novelty craze, all the way through the international movement of ambient electronic music. I’ve also a predilection for archival box sets, like the Voyager Golden Record 40th Anniversary set with companion hardcover book and the special release from The John Cage Trust, as well as the previously unreleased collection of Brian Eno’s installation music issued earlier this year on vinyl with a new essay by Eno. But the bulk of my library is digital. This is both for practical and financial reasons, as digital libraries are far easier to maintain. (I don’t blog about digital nearly as often, as 450,000 media files are nowhere near as fascinating as a handsome limited edition LP!)

Dan also inquired about my workflow, which is critical to any archive. Early on in the development of my library, (around 2002-3), I began ripping LPs with the following process:

Exclusive analog recordings are captured using a Denon DP-60L rosewood TT with an Ortofon 2M Red cart, powered by a McIntosh amplifier (later replaced with a vintage Yamaha unit), and are saved as lossless FLAC via an entry level Behringer U-Control UCA202 DAC. I previously utilized a Cambridge Audio DacMagic DAC but after it failed I opted for the Behringer and it has been more than sufficient for my needs. Audio is captured using Audacity on my Linux-based DAW and basic leveling and noise reduction are performed but I minimize post-processing to maintain as much of the original audio’s integrity as possible.

Dan specifically inquired as to where the library information was stored (barcodes, etc) and asked about my policies on which metadata are included. This is fairly straightforward, as nearly all of the vinyl recordings I ripped pre-date the use of barcodes or were limited private releases with only a catalog number, which I bracket as a suffix in the release folder path.

Polybagged LPs are stored vertically and organized by primary genre, then by artist, then chronologically by date of issue. Due to the entropic property of vinyl playback, discs are played once as needed to capture the recording and subsequent playback is performed using the digital files. I employed a dozen static local DB applications over the years for my records, but eventually migrated to a Discogs DB which increases accessibility while crate digging in the wild and provides real-time market value assessment for insurance purposes.

But honestly, I almost never need to perform the rip myself, as the filesharing ecosystem has refined itself to the point where even the most exclusive titles are available through these networks in lossless archival FLAC with complete release details. There has never been a better time to be alive as an audio archivist.

Once digitized to FLAC, my assets are organized with uniform file naming conventions with record label and artist parent folders and parenthetical date of issue prefixes for easy navigation. gMusicBrowser is my ideal playback software for accessing large libraries in a Linux environment. Release date and catalog numbers have been sufficient metadata identifiers, as subsequent release details are only a click or a tap away on Discogs. Occasionally I will include a contextual write-up in the release folder where warranted, like in the case of William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops 9LP + 5CD + DVD set as it related to the events of 9/11.

Next Dan inquired about how my archive is accessed. I employ Sindre Mehus’ Subsonic personal server application on my Linux DAW to make all of my audio and music video film content accessible from my phone, tablet, or any web-enabled device. I use both the official Subsonic app and the independently-developed Ultrasonic fork by Óscar García Amor for remote access of my library, (about eight hours daily). You can see a short video walkthrough of the features of the app that I put together here:

To return to his initial question about what differentiates a playback collection from an archive, my own library incorporates a few key factors which might lend itself to the latter:

– lossless bit-perfect FLAC wherever possible
– index documentation
– a systematic process guide for new acquisitions
– a 76pp manual highlighting special collections and large libraries of the Collection
– disk mirroring in multiple physical locations for preservation and sustainability
– fire protection for further indestructibility
– routine disk operation tests to mitigate risk of data loss
– complete discographic record label chronologies suffixed with catalog numbers
– elementary data visualizations created using Gephi and Prezi web-based tools
– the use of TrueCrypt whole disk encryption to prevent unauthorized access
– and the active use of Subsonic and Ultrasonic for enhanced accessibility

And scale is another noteworthy factor in my circumstances. Just to cite one example, I’ve collected every LP and single issued by the electronic duo Underworld that I’ve been able to get my hands on, and the digital audio branch of my Underworld collection comprises 482 albums, EPs and singles, including 2850 tracks and DJ sessions totaling well over 385 hours of non-stop music, spanning 36 years of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith’s work in all of their many incarnations. This collection is uniformly tagged, organized into a network of categorical root folders, and substructured into chronological subfolders by date of release. And the complete record label collections are a definite differentiator from the majority of casual-listening libraries.

I understand that my archive is small compared to the 12-20 TB libraries of some more seasoned users, but I feel that discretion and selectivity are virtues of my personal collection so that I can focus on only the most exquisite and remarkable recordings of my principle genre foci.

So what about your own collections? Do you employ standardized uniform file naming conventions and organizational standards? Do you supplement your library with relevant documentation to add context to your media? Does your collection offer insight into a particular era or musical culture? And do you take measures to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the work? If so… you might just have an archive.

Supplemental Note:

A good friend was kind enough to offer his thoughts about what sets an archive apart from other collections, and his remark was too good not to share. He said –

I think another major difference between the average personal collection and an archive is retention and adaptation.

A casual listener or collector wouldn’t have the retention of a true archive. The individual may build some playlists or even some advanced structure for locating and listening to music, but there is a very good chance that after some time, that particular music will get buried by the newer, or the most current thing the user is listening to. The casual listener may not want the huge or growing library, so when they feel they have moved on, the music will be removed from their collection. I cannot see someone who is keeping an archive remove anything from their collection. So retaining the entire collection and not removing anything because they are bored with it would be a difference.

I also mentioned adaptation. This is a rather basic idea but would be rather important in the grand scheme of things. Lets say you have a collection of 100 songs, all with 4 points of meta data. You realize as you begin to add more songs to your collection, a 5th point of data is needed. A casual listener may leave those 100 songs in the current state they’re in, with the 4 points of data. The archivist would need to go back, and add that 5th point to all 100 songs, and the new ones. Add another zero to those numbers and that can be a daunting, but necessary task for the archivist.

I really appreciated his input!

The Innerspace Labs Essential Recordings Guide

Another successful project implementation at Innerspace Labs!

For the last year, I’d been keeping a list of music to listen to in a checklist app, but the scope of the project quick outgrew the checklist format, so I reconstructed it as an organic digital music journal that can grow with my listening habits.

The initial process guide built from my notes comprises 76 pages of content, organized into 50+ sections with decimal numbered subsections. The journal also includes genre surveys, links to web resources, articles and reviews, and much, much more.
It will be fun to build and explore, will promote new and rewarding listening experiences, and will serve as a historical document of my musical journey. Perhaps it can even survive me as part of my legacy to help future listeners explore the world of music I leave to them when I’m gone.

That legacy factor developed into a second project which I’ve just completed this evening. While my blog and the journal will outlast me and serve well for any curious future listener looking to discover great music, I felt it would help to have something more digestible and more concise to introduce new readers to my archive.

That’s when I had the idea of generating a user list on RateYourMusic.com to showcase favorite recordings from my library with very brief statements about each work. Tonight, the resulting list is live on RYM.

Check it out here!

Screenshot from 2017-11-21 20-12-46

 

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fall 2015 Megapost: The Playlist Project

This summer brought many changes to The Innerspace Library.  First we started fresh with a Linux OS and finally said “farewell” to Windows.  There was a brief period of limbo as I tested various open source media management software to find the right fit for my collection.  I finally settled down with gmusicbrowser which outperformed Clementine and other major players in its handling of large libraries and in the incredible versatility and customization of its GUI.

This was the very first time since the launch of Winamp 5 (the amusing successor to  Winamp 3) that I’d explored the power of music metadata to organize my library dynamically across multiple data points.  (I’d never really saw the need during my years with MediaMonkey Gold.)

But as the summer drew to a close, I was still irked  that my Subsonic media server lacked the function of genre browsing.  I’d previously sidestepped this issue by generating mammoth genre playlists to serve as my personally-themed radio stations, each with hundreds or even thousands of the finest albums of their respective genre.

But it was this fresh start in the last few weeks that inspired my refinement of those playlists into distinct album libraries which would zero in on a specific moment of music history.  The aim was to bring a semblance of order to the hundred thousand plus tracks in my file library and to give me a set of starting points to really explore the neglected and unplayed folders of my drive.

I’m proud to declare that this evening, the project was a complete success.  I’ve created 100 all-killer-no-filler libraries showcasing each of the largest collections in my catalog.  I found that 68% (9,300 albums) of my music library fell neatly into one of these 100 categories.

The following is an index of these 100 playlists, sorted by number of albums.  This roster effectively summarizes and gives order to what is otherwise an insurmountable archive.  I’m going to enjoy exploring these playlists throughout the fall and into the winter months.

Playlists by Descending Size (in # of Albums)

Playlists with 1000+ Albums
Midnight on Mars: Ambient Worlds – 2,986 Ambient Albums
Hearts of Space: Innerspace Journey – 30 Year Complete 1,069 Broadcast Archive

Playlists with 200-999 Albums
Kelly Watch the Stars – 607 Classic Albums of the Downtempo Genre
Mentalism: Psybient Dreams – 545-Disc Archive of Psybient Electronic Music
Echowaves: Intergalactic Radio – 450 Legendary Krautrock Albums
The Shape of Jazz to Come – 387 Modern Jazz LPs (1959-1979)
Just Gimme Indie Rock!: 379 of the Greatest Indie Rock Albums (1988-2014)
Underworld: Dark & Long – A 35 Year Chronology – 339 Albums from Screen Gemz to Eno & Hyde
Old Time Radio: Dragnet (298 Broadcasts)
Salute to Birdland – 259 Classic Jazz Records (1924-1958)
FAX +49-69450464 Label Archive: The Legacy of Pete Namlook 254 Disc Catalog
We Came to Funk Ya – A 227 Album Funk Odyssey
Ninja Tune: Turn Me Loose – 204 LP Archive of Ninja Tune Records

Playlists with 100-199 Albums
Days of the Lords: 195 Album Archive of Ethereal & New Wave, Gothic Rock, Minimal Wave, Post-Punk, Jangle & Noise Pop (1976-1997)
The KLF: Abandon All Art Now – 189-disc Catalog of the Justified Ancients of MuMu
Shirt Tail Stomp: Swing & The Big Bands – 181 LP and Broadcast Archive
Tangerine Dream: Journey Through a Burning Brain – 178-Disc Chronology of TD & its Side Projects
Old Time Radio: The Adventures of Superman (171 Broadcasts)
Night Lines – 140 Album Archive of Deep House Sessions
Light Patterns – Jazz of Tomorrow – 139 Future Jazz Albums
Heaven or Las Vegas: 30 Years of Dream Pop & Ethereal Wave (134 Album Archive)
Max & Dima: Sapovnela Studio Sessions – 131 Deep House DJ Sets
Nurse with Wound: Walking Like Shadow – 127 Album Discography
Old Time Radio: X Minus One – 122 Broadcasts (1955-1973)
Deutsche Grammophon: 111 Years of DG (111-Disc Box Set)
Lemon Jelly : Going Places – 110-Disc Catalog of All Things Jelly
Miles Davis: The Complete Prestige & Columbia Recordings – 109 LPs released between 1955-2014
Daft Punk: Daftendirekt – 104-LP Chronology
Flea Market Funk – 100-Disc Archive of Funky Soul & Rare Groove
Frank Zappa: Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar – 100-disc Catalog (1966-2006)
RYM’s Top 100 Downtempo & Trip Hop Albums

Playlists with 75-99 Albums
Franz Liszt: Lisztomania! – 97 LP Archive
Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser – 97 LP Discography
Good Looking Records: 94-Disc Archive of LTJ Bukem’s Intelligent D’n’B Label
Franklin Mint: The 100 Greatest Classical Recordings – 88 LP Catalog
Somnium – 87-Album Library of Pure Drone Music
Aphex Twin: We are the Music Makers – 86 Album Chronology of Richard D James
The Electronic Brain: Future Sounds of London & Amorphous Androgynous 86-Disc Complete Chronology
Mike Oldfield: Tricks of the Light – 86 LP Discography (1973-2010)
Jimmy Smith: Jazz Scattin’ – 85 LP Discography
Cinematic Soundscapes – 83-Disc Library of Music for Films
Old Time Radio: CBS Radio Mystery Theater – The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (83-Disc Box Set)
Klaus Schulze: I Sing the Body Electric – 81 LP Discography
Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Bicentennial Collection – 80 LP Complete Works
Old Time Radio: BBC Radio – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (79-Disc Set)
Vangelis: Poem Symphonique – 77 Album Discographic Archive
Old Time Radio: The Shadow – 75 Original Broadcasts (1937-1954)

Playlists with 50-74 Albums
Sun Ra: Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy – 74-Disc Catalog (1957-1994)
John Cage: A Chance Operation – 73 LP Discography
2manyDJS – This is Radio Soulwax: 72 Mashup Sessions
Brian Eno: Strange Overtones – 70 LP Discography (1972-2015)
Peter Gabriel: Here Comes the Flood – 68-Disc Catalog (1977-2010)
Ornette Coleman: Change of the Century – 66 LP Discography
Prayer for the Paranoid: 66 Albums from a Decade of Shoegaze (1993-2003)
Muslimgauze: The Broken Radio of Istanbul Station – 63 Album Discography
The Piano Has Been Drinking: The Complete Recordings of Tom Waits – 63 LPs (1973-2011)
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: Just Coolin’ – 62 Album Discography
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte – 61 LP Archive
Old Time Radio: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Audiobooks (Unabridged 60-Disc Set)
Philip Glass: Glasspieces – 60 LP Discography of Operas, Symphonies, Sonatas and Scores
Cornelius: Out of Phase – 60 Album Discography
Spacemind: Wonderland Syndrome – 60 Psybient DJ sets
Cafe del Mar: Step into the Sunshine – 59-Disc Archive of the Sounds of Ibiza
Throbbing Gristle: 555 Jazz Funk Greats – 56 Album Discography
DJ Food – Solid Steel – 55 LPs of Classic Jazz Breaks
Herbie Hancock: One FInger Snap – 52 Album Discography
Ash Ra Tempel & Manuel Gottsching: Deep Distance – A 40 Year, 50 LP Chronology
Houdini’s Musical Box: Early Experimental Electronic Music (1940-1976) – 50 LP Archive
Porcupine Tree: Synesthesia – 50 Album Discography (1983-2013)

Playlists with 10-24 Albums
From Murmur to Monster: 21 Key Albums of the Jangle Pop Era (1983-1994)
Old Time Radio: Orson Welles Mercury Theater 1938 (20 Program Broadcasts)
Philips Prospective 21e siecle Label 18-LP Archive (1956-1972)
RYM: Round Midnight – 18 of the Highest-Rated Cool Jazz Records
Deutsche Grammophon Avant Garde: 17-LP Complete Recordings (1967-1971)
Braindance: A 15-LP IDM Chronology of Warp Records
The Plastikman Arkives: 1993-2010 (14-Disc Box Set)
Jellyroll Radio – Ragtime, Dixieland & Bluegrass Standards (13-Disc Catalog)
Claude Debussy – 12-Disc Complete Piano and Orchestral Works
Kompakt Records: Cirrus Minor – 12 Years of Ambient Music (2001-2013)

A Thought Piece on Retiring My Physical Library

I’ve had a humbling revelation, and I’m honored to be able to share it with my audience.

A few days ago, I prepared multiple discographic digital FLAC archives to upload to the finest private tracker on the net.  I posted an inquiry to the moderators of the site – asking if there was any way to preserve the folder structures of the megatorrents I’d created thusly:

– Studio Albums
– Live Albums
– Soundtracks
– Remasters
– Compilations
– Singles
– Solo Projects
(etc)

I had tagged each disc’s %album% and named each corresponding folder with:
[%YEAR%] %TITLE%.  

My core belief was that artists and labels should be experienced in the full context of their discographies.  I’d labored to create resources for those researching the evolution of a composer’s sound and to help listeners track the development of a genre through the chronology of releases on its primary record label.

But the harsh realization came when it was explained to me that the system in place by the tracker with which I’d elected to share my files already had a superior archival method in place.  Namely – all artists’ work is auto-populated in chronological order of release, and sub-categorized by commercial recordings, live recordings, singles, etc.

But more importantly, the site’s torrents grow better with each upload.  Users can choose to download one album or all albums at any bitrate they desire, whether 192CBR, 320VBR, or FLAC.  And as members upload new releases or superior torrents (such as FLAC + .log), the previous entries are automatically replaced.

The site maintains a strict file naming convention and organizational structure, which was the reason I joined their network in the first place.  Shockingly, this realization shattered the labor of love I’d be building for the past five years.

My local archive was old hat.  It was no longer relevant.  The new system already in place is an ever-evolving organism, superior to my method in nearly every way.  I was old and in the way.

Recursively archived torrent systems composed of magnetic links comprise the greatest library of media, literature and human knowledge ever assembled.  The user-constructed collage system of this particular tracker allows members to collaborate and design maps to help new listeners navigate and discover these wonderful recordings.

And perhaps most importantly, this magnificent system will survive long after my modest archive has long been forgotten.

Will I stop collecting records?  Surely not.  Though I will likely be more conscious and selective about which gems I select for my personal archive going forward.  As an independent archivist, I will adapt and re-direct my efforts toward perfect, FLAC + log archives of exceptional and rare recordings.

Please do not misinterpret my words – by no means am I abandoning my life-long affinity for dusty old bookshops and record libraries.  I am only shifting my methods for the sake of practicality and preservation.

My goal has always been to archive for the enlightenment of the generations to come, for the sake of great music that should never be forgotten.  This goal remains unchanged.  It is simply the means to that end which begs revision.

I welcome your thoughts.  Thank you, friends for letting me share.

dusty-library

Published in: on January 26, 2014 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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