July 30, 2004

Sartre's record collection


On this chart discussion bubbling up at blissblog and Koons: the quote below from J-P Sartre . It was in the forties, I think, and Sartre had just been to the US and returned to France aghast that such a thing as the record charts existed.

'If he listens to the radio every Saturday and if he can afford to buy
every week's No. 1 record he will end up with the record collection of
the Other, that is to say, the collection of no-one ... Ultimately, the
record collection which is no one's becomes everyone's collection -
though without ceasing to be no one's.'

Sartre was recoiling from horror at the world that Baudrillard - and we - were born into.

Sartre's response is salutary, since it illustrates how strange something that is (for us) taken-for-granted appeared at the time.

As to the charts = market forces. I'm not convinced of this; I think it connects with the markets-anti-markets issue endlessly being debated (and for good reason) within ccru and currently being rehearsed over at hyperstition. The extent to which the charts are gerrymandered now because of domination by a few big players means that they are more of an anti-market than a market IMHO.

Posted by mark at July 30, 2004 11:11 AM | TrackBack

I have no problem with that Sartre quote, even though I interpret it as being diametrically opposed to how he intended it - socialism at work, innit?

Anyway, as I've said elsewhere, that doesn't assume that everyone's collection consists SOLELY of everyone else's, or that everyone's reaction (emotional/aesthetic/Pavlovian/individualist) to the contents of said common collection is necessarily going to be equal or interchangeable, though they are usually connected by standard social interface means.

Of course, if the majors are gerrymandering the charts - and let's be honest, when haven't they? - then the challenge to find punctum within that enclosure is doubled and therefore enriched.

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at July 30, 2004 11:51 AM

what does punctum mean in this context? i've noticed that word used quite a bit recently.

gerrymandered is a good choice of word.

Posted by: luke.. at July 30, 2004 11:55 AM

the whole chart-not-chart issue is a bit of a red herring, as far as i can see and always has been. marcello's opposition to "the massive" as a cliche also falls down at the same point as any anti-pop argument - the point where you realise that (to nick a reynoldsism) "alternative mainstreams" play a vital role in capital-P "Pop". the simple fact is this discourse is not reducible to simple oppositional terms of "underground" and "overground" (WAVES PLACARD READING: "I AM NOT A WOMBLE!!!") it's very easy to straddle these schools of thought without fence-sitting when you consider that cahrtpop is a nebulous category at best and that your "S.O.A.C.A"s can achieve immense popularity. throughout researching a piece wot i wrote on Desi last year, i was stunned to find out just how much this music sells. in marketing speak, the amount of "units" shifted is phenomenal, but this and other styles, like dancehall, sell in outlets under the corporate radar and thus never enter Morley's kinda "Chart" yet still exert a fuck-off influence upon them. also taking these facts into account and recognising just how arbitrary and subjective the officially ratified stats are, my own position becomes a lot more tenable - that it's possible to be a staunch populist but still not a popist.

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 12:05 PM

But "controlled" would be a better one, given that the majors have pretty much controlled the charts from the time of their inception.

"Punctum" is a concept devised by Barthes - he explains it fully in his book Camera Lucida. Barthes uses it in terms of photography, but essentially he draws a distinction between a photograph which is nice enough to look at, nothing wrong with it, but not particularly outstanding with nothing of special note in it; this he calls "studium." Punctum, on the other hand, are those ingredients which almost seem to emerge from an especially good photograph; elements which leap out through the paper (or puncture it; hence "punctum") which somehow leads you into identifying with the world, or the life, that the photograph depicts.

For me it's all about finding that special moment in a piece of music - it could be a microsecond's absence of a beat, or (as an example) the way the letter "t" seems to be accentuated when Beth Hirsch sings "weight" in Air's "All I Need." The whole weight of that song hangs on that double-stranded "t" - it's about what makes a piece of music different, the elements that make it stand out, make it worth loving and retrieving. The parts where you feel that almost subliminal tingle in your hands or neck, or when you're just provoked to stand up and exclaim "MY GOD!" or similar.

You might consider it as the difference between a two-dimensional and three-dimensional work of art (and by dimensions I mean emotional dimensions, not necessarily just spatial ones).

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at July 30, 2004 12:05 PM

It goes without saying that there's no such thing as a free market, sure. Sartre's quote is surely Orwell-era prole-ph34r rendered in nicely paradoxical terms? Marcello OTM.

Posted by: HKM at July 30, 2004 12:09 PM

Dave I will hear nothing said against the Wombles and the glorious albums that Mike Batt made with Chris Spedding and several British avant-jazz improvisers of note!

You're oversimplifying my argument if you think my argument's that simple!

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at July 30, 2004 12:12 PM

(y'see, this is where I go into my rabbit-out-of-the-sleeve look how the overground feeds the underground in return routine!)

Posted by: Marcello Carlin at July 30, 2004 12:14 PM

Dave S: no-one calls themselves a Popist (yet) as far as I'm aware. This is likely because no-one seems to know what it means (yet). Thus far it remains a number of straw men with wildly different straw faces.

Interested viewers who haven't been checking Freaky Trigger lately shold have a glance at Mark S's last two postings on the subject on mylpm, and maybe Tom's cocktail posting.

Posted by: Tim at July 30, 2004 12:15 PM

You're oversimplifying my argument if you think my argument's that simple!

perish the thought! i'm just picking up on one point of your argument and one point of simons, then trying to prove them both right/not right in equal measure. in reality you need, both and pop can be many, many things, not just whatever's at number 1 at any given moment - coz if the right numbers were crunched no 1s could be very, very different indeed.
incidentally, no womble hate here, either. got album out of my dad's garage last time i went home and have listened to it a couple of times since, so i have them on the brain. (just so this isn't totally irrelevant to k-punk, there was a big glam rock influence on that record, but with added fur. fluffy schaffel music, you can't beat it).

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 12:20 PM

Links for the lazy:

Mark S #1: http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/nylpm/2004_07_01_nylpm_archive.html#109085365016663459

Mark S #2: http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/nylpm/2004_07_01_nylpm_archive.html#109104145625234822

(The comments boxes on both of these are pretty good too, I think)

Tom on the cocktails: http://www.freakytrigger.co.uk/nylpm/2004_07_01_nylpm_archive.html#109109978381481144

Just trying to help, like.

Posted by: Tim at July 30, 2004 12:20 PM

"The Official Charts 'Defined Universe' is any store in the UK which sells in excess of 100 pieces of audio or video product per week (excluding garages and record/video "clubs").

Sales information is supplied by 5,600 retailers that are members of the Official Charts Universe. This is approximately 99% of the total UK singles market, 95% of the total UK albums market and 80% of the total UK video market. These retailers include all the major high street chains such as HMV, WH Smith, Virgin, VShop/Our Price, and Woolworth's, supermarkets, such as Tesco and Asda, as well as approximately 600 independent shops and a number of Internet Retailers. Every shop is fitted with either an EPOS or Epson machine. The barcode of every record/video that is purchased is downloaded direct to Millward Brown, the research agency commissioned by The Official UK Charts Company to compile the charts.

The raw sales processed are weighted up from a 'sample' 4,700+ stores to the universe of 5,600 shops. This produces the Defined Universe Sales figure. In practise the industry prefers to estimate how the whole market has performed, so 'multipliers' are used, which are average guide figures calculated periodically for each format and applied to the D.U.S. figure to give an approximated total market figure."

Posted by: at July 30, 2004 12:53 PM

where is that from and who posted it!? 600 independent shops doesn't sound like a lot at all

Posted by: stelfox at July 30, 2004 12:56 PM

phew, i thought you were going to tell me to read barthes for a minute, thanks for saving me the trouble.

Posted by: luke.. at July 30, 2004 12:58 PM

I posted it, sorry!

It's from the Official Charts Company's website, the OCC being the record industry body which commissions the charts (currently from Millward Brown)

Posted by: Tom at July 30, 2004 12:59 PM

bands i stupidly omitted from my s&s glam piece:
a. the wombles
b. the wurzels

Posted by: mark s at July 30, 2004 04:25 PM

>that Baudrillard - and we - were born into.
steady on, Baudrillard's about 75 isn't he!

Posted by: undercurrent at July 30, 2004 07:14 PM

well, give or take a decade!

Posted by: Mark at July 31, 2004 09:20 PM

600 indie record shops isn't bad but... it excludes people like Juno, Blackmarket, Big Apple and especially the corner shops and comunity stores that sell Desi and punjabi Garage (the latter of which I still believe will be the next big thing, one day).

Never forget that to get their chart placings, tracks like Sweet Like Chocalate had a very deliberate channel strategy of selling the main volume through the chart return multiples. Even then the big crossover tracks never did anything like the volume of say Independent Women.

Posted by: paul "Relentlessly Middlebrow" meme at August 2, 2004 08:12 PM

that's exactly what i mean - the 600 independents won't be the specialised places selling niche genres and actually shifting HUGE amounts of music...

Posted by: stelfox at August 2, 2004 10:36 PM