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Posts Tagged ‘self-reflection’

Ground & Sky: not meeting its original aims

Friday, January 6th, 2006

In the spirit of the new year, here are a few thoughts on how Ground & Sky is inadequate in many different ways.

Originally, the intent of Ground & Sky was twofold: one, to offer me (and others whom I recruited to write for the site) an outlet for writing about my CDs, and thus to help me in understanding them better. The idea being, of course, that in order to write about a CD, you have to listen to it, and listen to it not just casually, but attentively. Secondly, Ground & Sky was intended to be a comprehensive database of progressive rock albums of all eras, a la the GEPR, but with more information.

Obviously the second goal has proven impossible. It could be possible with a far, far more focused effort to review everything and a far larger reviewer staff. However, it’s even strayed from the first goal, at least for me. In the beginning, Ground & Sky reviews were short capsule reviews, basically a paragraph where I (or another reviewer) would give a brief opinion about the album. Period. Now, Ground & Sky reviews tend to be longer affairs, and I at least put a fair amount of research and careful thought into each of mine. This is fine, except it precludes me, for the simple reason of limitations on free time, from writing about all of the CDs I’d like to write about. Thus, there are lots of CDs that I’d like to write about, but I don’t have enough time to dedicate to listening that carefully to them or researching them deeply enough in order to write full-length reviews of all of them.

(Interjection: interestingly, this shift in style from capsule review to full-length review, so to speak, was completely unintentional. It does not represent any conscious shift in mentality, only a gradual, structural change. I could write an entire article on how and why this happened.)

Another way in which Ground & Sky is “inadequate,” per se, is that the entire idea of a music review is a fundamentally synchronic one. This is not how music is experienced. By posting a review of an album, the message is that the experience of an album is a one-time thing, and that one’s attitude towards that album never changes. Obviously this is false; the experience of music is a diachronic one, with feelings, opinions, and understandings changing over time with further listening. Therefore any review site offers a distorted view of how music is experienced. Certainly most of the reviews I wrote a year ago (to say nothing of those I wrote five years ago) are not necessarily accurate of how I feel about the albums in question now.

I think Mike McLatchey, with his private Other Music Diary, is on to a better model of writing about music: an ongoing, thinking-out-loud blog of sorts, in which he and other participants post brief paragraphs about what they listen to each day. Gradually, and especially as albums are written about over and over again each time they are listened to, this offers a more accurate picture of how a listener’s experience of a given piece of music is constructed.

I have other thoughts, but that’s enough for now. However, a disclaimer is probably in order: I still believe that Ground & Sky does fulfill certain important needs, for myself personally and hopefully for our reviewers and even more hopefully for some nebulous general public of regular readers who get something out of our writings. This is merely an effort to reveal some of my underlying feelings about the site and the way that it is presented.