The Making of a Curator
When I was about 9 or 10, my dad brought home a stack of 45s for me, and I started down the road to music appreciation, separate from my parents' activities (He had produced a record, she had briefly been a singer.) By the time I was 17 or 18, I'd accumulated quite a collection of 45s and a few albums; then, in the midst of a typical teenage life crisis, I traded that entire collection for someone's assistance in moving. One of those indelible mental snapshots from the past is the scene of me handing over those record-carrier boxes to that girl.... I feel gut-shot every time it drifts across my inner vision.
From that point on, I collected with the idea of keeping and (since collecting itself didn't guarantee possession forever, as I'd learned) I also started making mixtapes as soon as I had access to the technology, via my participation in running a small, independent record label. Restoring what I could of the original lost archive, and trying in a limited way to keep up with what I valued in the new music, I built a new collection; in the process, I became a curator. Eventually, I had a cabinet custom-built to hold my mixtapes; my first interest in a computer was merely as a way to archive and index the mixes.
And then the internet caught on and the world caught up, and there was Soundcloud and Mixcloud, This is My Jam and so many others, celebrating the curator in everyone. Technology caught up too, and precious sounds that existed just on fragile cassette tapes could be digitized and perhaps remain available for another generation....
Saving My Soul is one of the sessions that memorializes those transitions -- from the original single release heard on radio to possession of the disc to inclusion in a mixtape and back out again, digitally, to the world. (Beyond being a capsule history of curation in itself, this particular set was also a meditation on my boyfriend and his prior girlfriend. The B side of the tape, well, I guess I hoped the love those tunes pictured would be us, our story. And Dear Reader, it was ... over the next 20 years. What can I say, but that a well-sequenced set might just make your dreams come true -- the romantic ones, at any rate. But that may just be the curator in me talking....)
I began thinking about this history I have with music due to contact I had with the Soul Cool music people who are also on Mixcloud and enjoy an enormous following. I've always been willing and happy to revisit old mixes, especially the ones done before I started using digital technology; it's fun to rebuild them "as is" and even more interesting to REWORK them given that I have a larger music collection now. The material shared with the Soul Cool folks generally falls into this RWRK category. In addition to "Saving My Soul" (rescued by ripping from a moldering cassette tape and then reconstructed digitally), I reconstructed an older, digital-original session -- one of three I did in 2006 to curate some of my favorite 80s music.
As noted above, I really began curating mixes during my ten years in the music business, helping run a small indie label and music distribution business, Adelphi Studios & Distributors. We worked the smalls -- the independent blues, folk, and jazz labels -- but we got to hear everything. Even after I left Adelphi in 1978, the curating continued. The bug had bitten me hard; once you have made your own radio station -- no commercials, no songs you dislike -- it's hard to go back. My mixtapes were collections of whatever I found beguiling or emotionally resonant. Once I got my divorce from commercial radio, I stopped having any sense of whether the music that interested me was 'popular' or not, although I'm sure lots of it was: who didn't like the Eurhythmics, Prince, Talking Heads?
Could I hear them TOO MUCH, though? Well, *I* couldn't, but once I started to assemble sets more for public consumption, I did feel the pressure of using tracks that might have been 'overplayed' out in the world. Even in the very tight world of downtempo and triphop, for years I wouldn't include any tracks from the epic 1998 2 CD Kruder & Dorfmeister release The K&D Sessions, because I felt the most iconic tunes sat uneasily in a set, like some king pretending to be a commoner....
But by 2006 I was certainly ready to hear my favorite (and therefore grossly overplayed) tracks from the 80s ... It was interesting to see what made it across the great divide, the shake-out where the lighter-weight tunes disappeared and all that's left is the gold. Not necessarily gold based on sales (not if you knew anything about how sales were achieved back in the day before the internet) but on the quality of everlastingness. Two of these 80s celebrations were Roxy Music-oriented collections: More Than This; The Main Thing -- representing for the British Glam side of pop music.
Version Girl, on the other hand, focused on reggae and dub-influenced rock & disco, from The Police to Grace Jones. Plenty of these tracks were hits, but there's definitely an influence reflecting the particular cultural colony I lived in at the time -- would it clarify things if I noted we tended a small weed plantation in the suburbs, and our favorite music station was home to Doctor Dread's reggae show?
More to say on this subject as additional RWRK projects come online!