Raphael is a cultural sociologist. His research examines music consumption in the digital age. He released his first book ‘Consuming Music in the Digital Age: Technologies, Roles and Everyday Life’ (Palgrave Macmillan) in late 2015 . He told his Harkive story in 2015.
I am very thoughtful about my everyday listening practices and taste in music. I have conducted sociological research on such topics for several years now, and it has only increased my reflexivity about how I interact with music, and why. So I keep track of both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of my everyday listening practices. One way I do this is by using Last.fm. I am a user of the social media for almost 8 years now. At first, I met some people on the site, whom I went to gigs with for instance. Now, I feel like it has — like many other social media — lost most of its potential to connect with like-minded people. However, I still visit my profile regularly — sometimes several times a day — to check what I have been listening to lately (my 3-month charts are a good basis), to get ideas of what to listen to, and even to try to fight any sentiment of ‘choice fatigue’.
In terms of devices, I usually listen to music on my two computers (a Macbook pro and a desktop), on my iPod Nano (through earphones, or sometimes plugged onto my stereo), and once in a while on CDs or on vinyl discs, and rarely through the radio.
I rarely listen to music in the morning, except if I have to commute somewhere. It takes my brain a while to wake up and be fully functional. In that time, I do not enjoy the sound of music. Basically I feel like it would ruin the joy of hearing sounds that I normally find pleasant. My listening habits generally correspond to how I feel. Since I am not a morning person, I avoid music in that time. At the contrary, evenings are usually the time when music has the most affects on me… And evenings also are the time when I am the most functional to complete certain tasks.
I live in-between places. Today I’m at my parents’ house. This is where I get to listen to more music. My digital library, my CD collection and my vinyl discs are all there. So I have the options to choose how I want to engage with music.
The first music I interacted with on that day was a couple of tracks — by American electronic artists Tycho and ODESZA — that I recognized in a YouTube video that compiles the buzz videos of the week. Basically, it’s full of animals doing funny things, Russians driving like crazies, drones filming great sceneries, humans falling from skateboards/motorbikes/bicycles and drones getting smashed by rams (my favorite).
This was probably one hour after waking up — yes I am a slow riser.
I am getting into work. On that day, I had to revise a conference paper I am delivering in mid July at a conference in Portugal, complete some administrative tasks (which always take more time than expected) and possibly getting some writing done. I would almost not feel like I am an independent academic at times.
I worked on my desktop PC and played music from my Macbook pro. My iTunes library is pretty much organized contrary to what I have got going on on the PC.
First album I choose is ‘Silent Alarm’ (2005) by Bloc Party. I remember discovering their music with this first album of theirs. I also bought the CD at the time. I was in my 2nd or 3rd of my sociological study at the time and I purchased many CDs around that time, particularly of bands that were kind of reviving Britpop. Although I have long abandoned Kaiser Chiefs, Hard-Fi, Maximo Park, Franz Ferdinand and the likes, I have given a spin to ‘Silent Alarm’ quite regularly over the years. I have even associated certain songs with particularly moments of my life and people. However, I can also listen to it without thinking of these.
Then I listened to The Heavy’s ‘The House that Dirt Built’ (2009). It was a first in a long time. I randomly came across the Heavy, probably a year or two after that album came out. I realized that I heard their hit song ‘How You Like Me Now’ in a few things, like for instance in one episode of the beloved comedy show ‘Community’.
The whole album is quite pleasant and groovy; it kept me focused on what I was doing on this late morning.
At 1pm, I had lunch with my parents and we listened to Genesis’ ‘I Can’t Dance’ LP on CD on the stereo in the living room. It’s actually rare for my parents to listen to any music at all, besides the sporadic occurrences of leaving the radio on. All the CDs they’ve got used to be mine. Most of them are burnt CDs. I suspect they just wanted to cover the noise of the neighbors but that’ll still do. It’s better to listen to that than to some obscurantist news host on French TV.
I really enjoyed that Genesis album back when I started my undergraduate studies (2003-4). But I didn’t really reminisce during lunch. I only mention it now that I am being a bit reflexive towards it.
After lunch, I once again sat at my desk in front of my computers and got into a more electronic-oriented listening. I successively listened to Jon Hopkins’ ‘Immunity’ (2013), Flying Lotus’ ‘Los Angeles’ (2008) and Jamie xx’s ‘In Colour’ (2015).
The first one blew my mind when it came out in 2013. I have regularly listened to it ever since its release
I already knew about Jon Hopkins at the time, but this album really placed him among my favorite artists. I also got it on CD and sometimes give it a spin in the evening or at night.
Likewise, ‘Los Angeles’ is my favorite album of Flying Lotus, whom I placed among my favorites. I really enjoy his experimental take on electronic music and how he mixes various influences, particularly his touch of hip-hop
Then, Jamie xx released his album ‘In Colour’ only very recently. I enjoyed The xx at the time but find them quite boring now in contrast with Jamie xx’s solo work. In a weird way, the richness of sounds and variety of tracks on this album makes me compare it to Death Vegas’ ‘Scorpio Rising’ (2003).
Electronic music (IDM, glitch, electronic, ambient and to a lesser extent dubstep – but not EDM!) really is the genre of music that is the most effective to accompanying most of my everyday life, and the most conducive to how I feel and aim to feel. I only got into that kind of music around the year 2005-6, particularly through Apparat and similar German artists. The creativity of this scene makes it quite exciting to follow. Its aesthetics have really helped me shape my own approach to music and have now accompanied my life narrative for quite a while. Considering the number of electronic albums I own on CDs and vinyl discs, and electronic music band shirts (Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Apparat, Plaid, Flying Lotus etc.) I own and wear, I admit that I quite strongly identify with this music.
In the meantime, I spent some time on rearranging my entire digital music library. I am currently in the process of putting all my digital music in one place, and making sure that everything is properly tagged. So I have divided everything by the first letter of their names and I make sure that I do not own everything twice. It’s actually taking me a while. The aim is to put all of this music into a Winamp library on my desktop PC and finally give a try to some stuff that was given to me about 5 years ago. So I dropped work a little but it was for a good cause.
Then I moved on to some guitars. I listened to Faith No More’s return album ‘Sol Invictus’ (2015) to confirm my initial positive impressions. I am quite fond of Mike Patton and everything he does. I got the chance to see him live in late 2012 in Brisbane (Australia) when he toured with his solo album in Italian.
The afternoon continued with some hip-hop, Mos Def’s ‘Supermagic’ (2009), and another 2015 release, Ghostpoet’s ‘Shedding Skin’ (2015). I haven’t listened to Mos Def in a while. I got into his music when ‘Supermagic’ came out and for a couple of years, I enjoyed exploring his repertoire. In every album of his, I find a few tracks that I really like and several that I don’t care much about. I find ‘Supermagic’ to be his most solid album (besides the one he released with Talib Kweli under the name Black Star)
As for Ghostpoet, there’s not much to be said. I follow his career since he released his first album (‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’ in 2011). I like all of his stuff, and his latest album will certainly be ranked quite high in my ‘albums of the year’ list.
I managed to work a bit, probably thanks to the rhythm of these albums. They helped me concentrate. However, I didn’t do as much as I thought I would.
I am still home, but I no longer work, nor do I pretend to. I read news online, check social media, play a bit of FIFA 2014 on Xbox 360 and got ready to leave the house. So I kept listening to music by albums. I put on Sigur Ros ‘Agaetis Byrjun’ (2000). I usually enjoy their music in the evening, when it’s dark outside and not too hot, but it did work nonetheless with that day’s heat. Sigur Ros is another band that I come back to quite often.
In fact, I find that there are 3 types of music that I choose to listen to – the one I recently discovered (new releases or new discoveries) and which I ‘test/taste’, the one I listen to on heavy rotation for several weeks to a few months (music that goes well with the season or an album that I particularly enjoy for a while), and my long term favorites that I regularly come back to, particularly when I am struck by sentiments of choice fatigue or feel a bit down and need to reassure myself.
That makes me ponder a bit about the role music has for me. Besides the idea that the particular music that I listen to in accompaniment to a particular everyday task acts as a resource, I think there is something along the lines of a mutual definition between music and my moods. I largely see music as a positive thing, hence why I easily find things to listen to – and even want to listen to everything – when I feel good, and when I am down, I barely listen to anything, and I even struggle to find things to listen to.
After Sigur Ros, I listened to Robin Foster’s ‘PenInsular’ (2013). Foster is a Scottish musician who now lives in Western France. A friend of mine recommended him to me a while back. His instrumental music revolves around some gentle guitars and touches on electronic sounds. It refers a lot to the place where he now lives – in Britannia – and which I had the chance to visit less than a year ago. I got ready to commute as I listened to this album.
I caught a train to go the other place I am squatting, in Lille. For the commute, I listened to music on my iPod. I used my Sennheiser earphones, which are quite good at cancelling environmental noise. I am sucker for Sennheiser products for many years now. I keep spare sets of earphones and headphones just in case.
I often listen to a playlist called ‘at the moment’ on my iPod, which comprises between 250 and 400 songs. I update it regularly, deleting songs and adding others. However, the core of it remains. I listen to it randomly, skip songs sometimes (which I am then likely to delete), and pay various types of attention to it. I know I rarely move around without music in my ears, except when I experience a new place for some reasons. So during this commute, I had time to listen to about 10 songs from that playlist. However I cannot remember what those were. Unless I want to listen to a specific artist/album, or unless I go for a run (activity for which I have dedicated several playlists), I listen to this ‘at the moment’ playlist on my iPod and will have generally got around half of it in a week.
Sometimes, when at my parents’ place, I listen to some CDs or vinyl discs in the evenings. These also enable me to concentrate on the music and actually not do anything else but listening. However, they remain sporadic occurrences. That evening instead, I didn’t listen to any music. I watched a movie with my partner. I find that catching a musical break is sometimes beneficial to make me crave for sounds.