Arie Altena

Owning, hoarding, circulating and recombining sound
Some remarks on the late birth of mp3-blogging

Arie Altena

Arie Altena Jan van Eyck Academy / Sonic Acts

This is the draft text for a paper I delivered on the occasion of Close Encounters, 4th European Biannual Conference of the Society for Science, Literature, and the Arts (SLSA), in Amsterdam, 13th June 2006. I was on a plnnel with Tobias van Veen and Trace Rendell. I never prepared the text for publication, it is not edited, the references (especially to Wikipedia) are dd. May 2006, my English not corrected nor made more elegant. I present it here nonetheless for the record, and because there are a number of interesting points. Also it gives an impression of mp3-blogging-culture in early 2006, a field I researched for the Ubiscribe research at the Jan van Eyck Academy, but also to replace my LP-collection and cassette-recordings of jazzrecords.

Although since the introduction of digitization music lovers in general own more music as before -- as gigabytes on hard disks -- the importance of owning music has largely disappeared. And although a large part of our musical culture is based on the spatial inscription (storage) of sound, music is again predominantly a temporal event: it takes place in the moment. Only in the second half of the 20th century -- when the economy of music was constructed around selling stored music -- "owning music" was considered to be important (culturally, for the construction of an identity, for "memory's sake"). What is important for musical culture in the 21st century is the listening experience, the sharing, the circulating, sampling and remixing of sounds. The hoarding of MP3s in order to own them is absurd (if only because the life-span of a contemporary hard disk is about 10 years). Collections of sounds are no more than libraries to be used. This change in music culture is reflected also, in a different way, in the culture of MP3-blogs. MP3-blogs seem to be just another way of sharing music, but if we interpret blogging as an activity of constructing an identity, and as the activity of "memorizing," MP3-blogs become the place where the formation of an identity takes place by sharing, circulating, combining and re-combining musical culture in an era when "owning" music doesn't mean much.

A word on methodology & context
The thoughts that I develop in this paper are based upon my experiences of reading about 45 mp3-blogs regularly over the past six months. A few of these (specifically Jace Claytons Mudd Up) I had been following since long before that. Apart from regularly visiting and reading these blogs, I have clicked on many more links to other blogs, radio-programme-sites, music-sites and, perhaps more important, I have followed the development of

I am mostly interested in two closely related issues: the ongoing development of internet-related technology and the (larger) cultural transformations that are taking place -- in which technology, more precise internet-technology plays a major role. I am specifally interested in the development of what one can call personal publishing, (which also means: writing, development of interests, research, even knowledge), a field to which the genre of the weblog, or blog, has been central for I'd say 7 to 8 years now.

I try to think through the current situation, and sketch an outline of culture as I (and others) are experiencing it now, evidence for my outline and the ideas I propose, can be found in the world of bloggers. Bloggers are part of a transformation of culture, but many of them reflect on new cultural possibilities, while using and shaping them. My paper is not a scientific report based on large amounts of data that is meticilously analyzed by software -- something that I myself have become to expect when reading academic papers on blogging.

Sketch of context
The days in which 'the monologue of standardized, stereotyped music' that 'accompanies and hems in daily life in which in reality no one has the right to speak anymore,' should be over. That culture, belongs to an era in which mass-media are dictating the sounds of the day, in which the whole world is one world in which the ideal -- the parody of it -- is that we all drink Coca-Cola. Although the big 'firms' have not given up at all, there is no reason, for anybody, to give in anymore to that monologue. We have our own private soundspace, with personalized audio.

The problem, for the future music culture might not be fighting such a monologue, but the formation of communities, the communication amongst different communities, and the mapping of communities of interest on spatial communities. It is all very nice that we fill our harddisks and iPods with gigabytes of music from all over the world, and that these gigabytes are the source for our daily, personal sound-ambience, but it's questionable what this exactly means for a society. What are the ways in which we communicate with, and about music in this world? What are the ways in which interests connect, and translate into a culture -- what culture? How does listening influence our perspective on life? Is it more than just a sound-ambience? Should this listening behavior not be transformed into other activities, or translate into other areas, from the virtual to real-life space?

Short rewind: thanks to the internet, and the efforts of thousands of individuals, there is an enormous availability of music from all over the world. 'Free' to grab. (We'll forget about the legal issues for a moment). Looking back to the 20th century, and even further, it seems that the period in which music culture was centered around making and selling records was ridiculously short. The conception of music culture that is tied to both the idea of masterworks and to the selling of recorded music, is young, compared to the history of music. Copyright and the idea of the individual genius composer, or the genius performer (Beethoven, Paganinni) goes back only 200 years. Before recording technology, music had to be performed live to be heard, music culture was a praxis, a social, communal event mostly.

The culture of recorded music is based upon the premise that consumers buy and own recordings of music. For some consumers the record collection was a visible externalisation of their identity. "These records are who I am." Internet, mp3's, large harddisks and iPods have imploded the notion of owning music. Is one's mp3-collection like a picture of one's identity? If it is, there's not a lot to show.

But there is more to throw in the mix, if only to sketch a field of references that indicate how music culture has been redefined in the 20th century, for some areas at least. These are redefinitions that foreshadow possibly a 21th century-theory of what music culture is.

First, all sounds can be music. 'The tape recorder played a crucial role in blurring the lines of distinction between music and its others', and digitisation made this into one of the building blocks of music culture. Any soundfile can be changed, worked upon, re-used, mixed at will. All digital sounds are sound material, environmental sounds just as well as a recording of a certain song. The musical paradigm of mixing, re-use, recombination and the DJ as a musician, is what we have inherited from digitisation. This has not only broken up the border between music and its others, but also constantly 'threatens' the borders between individual works as well.

Secondly there is the redefinition of listening that one can find in for instance the writings (and works) of John Cage's, Pauline Oliveiros, blending over into new age spheres with Murray Schafer, or, sound art with Francisco Lopez. What counts there is not listening to a certain musical composition, but the listening itself.

My last reference brings in the notion of performing music oneself. No, I do not mean the DJ, but the redefinition of music culture that Cornelius Cardew at the end of sixties and early seventies tried to bring about with his Scratch Orchestra and compositions like The Great Learning, pieces in which performing music became a communal thing, instead of a performance of a 'master work'. But these are just some references that I'm hearing at the back of my mind when I think about the transformation of music culture on and under the influence of the internet.

Let's, for the fun of it, quote Glenn Gould on the transformation of music culture and art. In 1966 he wrote: "It is my view that in the electronic age the art of music will become much more viably a part of our live, much less an ornament to them, and that will consequently change them much more profoundly. If these changes are profound enough, we may eventually be compelled to redefine the terminology with which we express our thoughts about art. Indeed it may increasingly in appropriate to apply to a description of environmental situation the word "art" itself -- a word that, however venerable and honored, is necessarily replete with imprecise, if not in fact obsolete, connotations. In the best of all possible worlds, art would be unnecessary. Its offer of restorative, placative therapy would go begging a patient. The professional specialization, involved in its making would be a presumption. The generalities of its applicability would be an affront. The audience would be the artist and their life would be art.' Gould sees a return towards a pre-Rennaissance situation in which musicians created and performed music for their enjoyment; a situation in which the distinctions between composer, performer and listener are much less clear cut.

Issues of definition
Music culture is changing, with the abundance of shared mp3's, audiostreams, podcasts and recommendation services. One small instance of this transformation is the mp3-blog, and that is what I'd like to focus on a bit in this paper. The mp3-blog is interesting because it combines the sharing of music with a written reflection on music and music culture, that also brings to the foreground tensions inside this new music culture, tensions between holding on to an old world and a new world.

According to wikipedia an mp3 blog is: "... a type of weblog in which the creator makes music files, normally in the MP3 format, available for download. They are also known as musicblogs or audioblogs. MP3 blogs have become increasingly popular since the beginning of 2003. The music posted is normally hard-to-find, often has not been issued in many years, and selections are often restricted to a particular musical genre or theme. Several MP3 blogs offer music in Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) or Ogg formats, as well as MP3."

This definition, is more or less correct -- certainly with regard to the situation in the first half of 2006. Yet there a a few remarks to be made. First of all I think a difference could be made between mp3-blogs, music-blogs and audioblogs. Music-blog refers to weblogs that focus on writing about music. Music-blogs do not necessarily link mp3-files. An audioblog is a blog in audio-format, which makes it rather a synonym of podcast. Yet, here I am not so much concerned with a precise definition of a genre, be it mp3-blog, audioblog, podcast of music-blog. The borders between genres are fuzzy, and for the instances that are close to those borders, we will never be able to decide once and for all on which side of the border they belong.

Secondly the sentence "The music posted is normally hard-to-find, often has not been issued in many years, and selections are often restricted to a particular musical genre or theme" is correct as long as one emphasises the word 'normally'. It also describes the mp3-blogging scene in a favourable way, and is, again, more or less correct for the situation up until early 2006. Now that mp3-blogs are also used as for marketing purposes, both by independent musicians as well as by the recording industry, it becomes more difficult to see mp3-blogs as places ware 'hard-to-find' music is uploaded. (And what is hard-to-find when the internet is the first place where people search for music?). Also aggregators like the Hypemachine, that have been around now for a few months, could change mp3-blogging. Aggregation might turn mp3-blogging into 'food' for services, that look like recommendation-sites (like or but that in fact function as streaming audio or internetradio.

Thirdly mp3-blog is indeed not a correct term, since the linked audiofiles might be in another format, like ogg, or aac.

But more important is the recognition that the mp3-blog is simply a subgenre of the weblog. It characteristically consists of postings that combine text about music with a link to a music-file. Updated a few times a week, mostly, by one person, sometimes by two or, even rarer, up to six people. The postings are ordered anti-chronological (last added item on top), and the mp-blog for the rest shows all the by characteristics that blogging-software imposes on the blogger (time-stamp, permalink, author, categories, comments, automatically generated archives, et cetera).

The late birth of the mp3-blog
The first mp3-blogs began to appear in 2002. This is astonishingly late. When the first mp3-blog was created internetradio had been around for at least six years (in the Netherlands vpro's 3voor12 started in 1996), massive peer-to-peer filesharing had been going on for four years, on a smaller scale up- and downloading of mp3 had existed seven years (1995). the Napster case (1999) was long forgotten. Weblogs had been identified as a genre, and continued to grow since five years (1997). Music journalism had already been going through major changes, as had radio.

The mp3-blog is clearly not a prime driver of the transformation of music culture. Is it possibly better interpreted as a reaction to it? A response, and a way a dealing with it -- which, in its turn contributes to the transformation of music culture? Why did mp3-blogs appear as late as 2002? Why was 2002, or maybe rather 2003 the kairos of the mp3-blog -- the right and opportune moment? What explains the late birth of the subgenre of the mp3-blog?

Technological potentialities
The first possible explanation is almost banal and concerns technical potentalities. Mp3-files are rather large. One needs quite a bit of server space to upload mp3's. Most people did and do not have that server-space available prior to 2002, when 20Mb was a normal amount of server-space for a paid account with an internetprovider. Still, in 2006 the majority of internet-users do not have their own server-space, not even bloggers. Most mp3-blogs therefore rely on uploading services like, to name three Rapidshare, Yousendit and Megaupload -- basically server-parks that operate in a legal grey area. With Yousendit files automatically expire after a week. Rapidshare will delete any file when anybody complains. These services, that are indispensable for many mp3-bloggers, did not exist prior to 2002.

But concluding that mp3-blogs did not arrive before 2002 because there was no way of uploading mp3s is a too easy conclusion. It begs for instance the question why there was (and is) hardly a connection between the p2p-filesharing environment and the blogosphere. Apparently nobody made any succesful applications that connect a blog to files distributed by p2p-protocols, neither did bloggers point to where one would be able to find certain music. Still in 2006 the blogosphere and the p2p-communities seem to be largely seperate worlds, which is not so strange, since each comes with its own characteristic social behaviour. Blogging, although often seen as a distributed conversation, stays, as an activity, firmly connected to the performing as an individual voice; sharing is a much more a social and sociable world. It attracts different personalities, ties into different social behaviors.

So although the technology to start mp3-blogging became ready-at-hand as late as 2003, this is not enough as a explanation of its late birth. One could have designed or used the technology before, if the need would have arisen.

Cultural patterns
The birth of the mp3-blog does coincide quite nicely on the other hand with the availability of the iPod, the mp-3 player that became the embodiment of the change to mp3 & mobile, personalized listening. The very first iPod was released on 23d october 2001, the hype became to take form in 2002, when iPods became Windows-compatible. IPods do not make sense without the availability of mp3's, and it is largely thanks to the iPod that legal mp3-stores are beginning to be succesful. This coincidence in time would suggest that mp3-blogs are, culturally speaking, more connected to the 'upper-world' of iPods and iTunes, than to the underworld of mp3-swapping. Although intuitively it feels right to suppose a connection here (mp3-blogs are defintily more upper-world than p2p-file-sharing), and I could speculate about it, I must say that I have seen much mention of iPods in the mp3-blogs I read. I have seen much more mention of buying new harddisks to store all the available music.

Rhetorical conventions of former genres
Qua rhetorical genre the mp3-blog is most closely related to the music review that we know from music journalism. This is mentioned often by mp3-bloggers; but they add that the blog gives them the opportunity to delve much deeper into their personal appreciation of certain music, focus on a specific track, make more links, and, most importantly, releases them from the rules that the review formula in a music magazine or a music site imposes on them. But recognizing how the mp3-blog relates to music journalism, and that it is the child of weblogs, explains not much about its late birth, although, looking at the weblog as a genre, sheds some light on the reason to keep ann mp3-blog, that might furnish us with secondary reasons for its late appearance.

The history of the subject
Why do people have a blog, and why do they keep going on? "I suppose there are only three motivation for maintaining one [a weblog]: information sharing, reputation building, and personal expression," so says Rebecca Blood in her well-known handbook. She also writes: "If you are going to keep a weblog, it must be for the joy of writing alone", and I can only agree. In their paper on weblogs as a genre Miller and Sheperd conclude: "Bloggers, however, seem less interested in role playing than in locating, or constructing, for themselves and for others, an identity that they can understand as unitary, as "real." " Which I like as a description of how blogs play an important role in constructing and understanding who you are, by performing yourself in public. I would stress the performance of a self, (which is not role-playing), but it is a self which is not necessarily to be understood as unitary.

So why do mp3-bloggers blog and upload mp3's? You find statements about sharing the love for a certain kind of music. Some bloggers rip their old LP-collection and upload those; others buy all the music of their youth on cd and uploads to share; another one buys strange records on flea markets and makes those available. Others like writing about music, and link one or two mp3's to their text as an illustration. Again others would like to make readers aware of a larger musical field, and also showcase their own mixes or their own music. Most interesting are maybe those blogs where a musical vision is shaped, and however messy his blog is, I think mudd up of jayce clayton (dj /rupture) is doing exactly that. Some mp3-bloggers see themselves as DJ's -- as in radio-DJ's --, carefully selecting what others should hear. In one -- problematic -- case the bloggers state their aim as building a library of jazz. Most mp3-bloggers seem to be of the type that in the past would have bought too many records to store in their own house, or who would have meticulously shaped their own collection, as an expression of their personality. During the second half of the twentieth century there was a short time when, for certain groups, one's record collection was a clear sign of one's identity, of the group one belonged to.

The development of the weblog, and of weblogsoftware have largely tended towards constructing blogging as a conversation, where other bloggers and readers may join in. Links, trackbacks, comments, automatic blogrolling, 'incoming links', all these features that have become embedded in both 'blogging as a way of writing and in the software, weave a web of texts and discussions that are spread out in several 'threads, dispersed along blogs. Many bloggers mention the contact with friends or other readers as a reason to blog. This is certainly true -- and I know from my own experience how nice it is to get comments on a posting -- yet blogging is still something you do on your own. Mp3-blogging seems to be mostly about sharing love for music with a community (that one might not know), and focus on one's own musical interest, as a the discovery of the person that one is. This can be done professionally (by bloggers who are for instance a DJ, a radiomaker, a musician or a music journalist), or as an amateur, a music collector. Again, in this sense mp3-blogging does not differ from blogging in general.

On collecting and the absurdity of hoarding
Many of us, still tend to not only download, but also save and sometime back-up, yes, hoard all these mp3s. Most people will still buy an extra harddisk when they run out of space on their computer, although probably we could just as well delete a bunch of mp3s. Also when we know we will never listen to them all. Ask yourself: when are you going to listen to the complete cantates of Bach anyway? -- in 20 years time?We have too many, are hoarding mp3s, yet, on seeing these gigabytes one begins to sense that it is listening that count, circulating the music, doing something with it, and not copying it onto another disk, to save. We still hang on to owning mp3s ourselves, I assume, because we are not sure yet, that all this music will be available easily to us in the future. (This is our window of opportunity). And some of us also still hang onto the idea that we it is ethical to own, or buy, the music we listen to.

In the meantime with all these harddisks and selfburned DVDs full of mp3's we are going towards a situation in which it is more realistic to take all music that one listens to as a stream -- this stream could be a podcast, an mp3 from one's own harddisk, an mp3 from a nearby laptop, a realplayer stream, It is a stream that everybody connects to, and adds to, by circulating, re-circulating, maybe also remixing and re-using existing tracks.

It's the moment of listening that counts. And listening only becomes of any significance for a music culture, when one joins in, by using and re-using the sounds, by playing oneself, making a mix, a re-mix or, simply, uploading some music. How else to acknowledge the importance of music in one's life?

Another thing has to be mentioned: mp3's on harddisks and iPods have much of a visible existence. It is difficult to remember what one has available -- in times of the LP and even the cd, there's the materiality of the carrier that is a constant reminder. Blogging functions for many bloggers as a way of keeping track of one's browsing behaviour, it is like writing public notes to oneself "remember this" (where the publicness of it ensures the self-discipline to do this well), it is a way of not losing oneself in a sea of information. I think that this is the case for many mp3-bloggers as well: over time their blogs becomes the archive of who they are, of what their musical taste looks like, of what has crossed their mind or attention. It becomes the record of self-discovery.

Now record collecting was a predominantly (if not exclusively) male activity. Mp3-blogging is done by men (between 17 and 70). When we assume this it becomes possible to theorize the mp3-blog partly as a somewhat confused and troubled response of those 'record-collectors' to the new situation in which the collecting of all these records does not make so much sense anymore.Mp3-blogging become a tool fro those 'collectors' to remember, and present their own personality (identity) through music in the absence of material carriers of music. Blogging then is one way of dealing with this change from 'owning music' to 'just tune into an audiostream'. It becomes a way of dealing with a new situation, maybe a getting used to, that also uses the opportunities of the new technologies (although they are quite late in picking it up -- they are no early adopters), an in its turn helps to shape the transformation of music culture. Mp3-blogs are a place where, at least at this moment in time, a tension becomes visible, between two different music cultures.

Conclusion -- to get used to, too...
It is clear (to me) that just up- and downloading, massive swapping of mp3's, filling one's harddisk, hoarding lots of recorded music, is a very unsatisfactory activity. One does not even have the chance to listen to it all; this absurdity of hoarding (of which many mp3-bloggers are conscious), only stresses that music is about praxis, is about doing. What counts is the moment when one listens, when one re-uses the music, making new mixes, or when one brings back into circulation the same piece of music that one has listened to. In that sense, we might be a little bit closer to the idea that Glenn Gould sketched. We are certainly getting further and further away from some massmedia-idea where everyone listens to the same tune, transfixed by the image of a celebrity.

Mp3 blogs, apart from being one instance of the transformation of music culture, also show the tension between an old world, in which record collecting was an important form of identity shaping, and the new world in which owning recorded music does definitely mean less than listening, using and sharing. One way of looking at mp3-blogs is to see them as a way to perform (and shape) an identity, in a way which refers back to an old practice (and sometimes ironically refers to that as well, it is self-conscious of doing this). It's those male record collectors who both profit most of this situation and are suffering from it. At the same time the activity of bringing a piece of music into circulation, or re-circulating it, by uploading it and referring to it on one's own blog, is also a small gesture of attaching significance to that piece of music, to remind oneself and connect it to other files in a larger network.


-- I am thinking for instance on the work in knowledge management, see: Anjo Anjewierden ( and Lilia Efimova (
-- Quote see: Audio Culture p. 8
-- Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the "right or opportune moment". It is now used in theology to describe the qualitative form of time. In rhetoric kairos is "a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved." (E. C. White, Kaironomia p. 13). See (10-06-2006).
-- Quote: see Audio Culture, p. 7
-- Anecdote: at some point, while listening to mp3's, I realized that I never heard a clear beginning or ending of a track. I wondered if this was a characteristic of the superficial listening behavior at that point -- playing music to block out irritating sounds for instance -- until I realized that somehow the preferences in Itunes were set to blend tracks...
-- Glenn Gould, The Prospects of Recording, in Cox & Warner (eds.), Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music, Continuum, New York, 2005, p. 125 - 126, see also:
--, 06-06-2006.
-- An example of a music blog might be the weblog On an Overgrown Path ( by the music critic that goes by the name of Pliable.
-- I'm taking the term kairos from a paper on the weblog as genre by Carolyn Miler and Dawn Sheperd. They write: "Kairos describes both the sense in which discourse is understood as fitting and timely -- the way it observes propriety or decorum -- and the way in which it can seize on the unique opportunity of a fleeting moment to create a new rhetorical possibility". They conclude as follows "We see the blog, then, as a genre that addresses a timeless rhetorical exigence in ways that are specific to its time. In the blog, the potentialities of technology, a set of cultural patterns, rhetorical conventions available in antecedent genres, and the history of the subject have combined to produce a recurrent rhetorical motive that has found a conventional mode of expression." Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd, 'Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog', in Into the Blogosphere, 2005,
--"Illegal files will be removed immediately after notice. Furthermore we will add them to our file-filter, so they can't be uploaded again. Just write an e-mail to our abuse-management and give the exact links to the files." This means giving free reign to trolls, and also giving the recording industry the possibility to delete any file they deem 'offensive' to copyright.
-- Yousendit exists since 2003,, Rapidshare as far as I could see since 2004.
-- None of the mp3blogs that I followed posts links to torrents, they do not refer to soulseek. It might be different in other niches.
-- Personally I've never felt at ease in file-sharing environments like Kazaa or Soulseek, but, a blogger myself, I love mp3-blogs.
-- Blood, 2002, p. 27.
-- Blood, 2002, p. 98.
-- Characteristically he mentions that Wiley Kat's new cd is the first cd he bought in a long time, not counting illegal arabic cd-r's -- This shows the extent in which musical cultural nowadays is not about cd's see:
-- See: 'The Internet DJ', The Guardian 14 april 2005,,11710,1458706,00.html. Simon Pott, main contributor to Spoilt Victorian Child is one of those.
-- This was the case for, now dead, hijacked, and all links killed by Rapidshare.
-- Is a look at one's playing list an analogue? I doubt it. The recommendation services as and -- they do a much better job at showing, by use of statistics and relationships where one belongs in the network of music lovers. There's no need to own anything, one only has to sign up for an account.
-- Amongst the 45 blogs that I've been visiting quite regularly not one is by a woman; and I have clicked on many more links to mp3-blogs, yet I do not remember one to be by a woman. (Although sometimes one isn't sure because of the nicknames used). Well, so far for the Internet confirming gender.
-- (also if this is only for oneself, one's own pleasure as a personal archeology as a friend of mine, the writer Omar Munoz Cremers calls it)

Some references
'The Internet DJ, The Guardian 14 april 2005,,11710,1458706,00.html
Rebecca Blood, The Weblog Handbook, Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining your Blog, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge MA, 2002.
Cox & Warner (eds.), Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music, Continuum, New York, 2005.
Glenn Gould, 'The Prospects of Recording', in Cox & Warner (eds.), Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music, Continuum, New York, 2005, p. 125 - 126, see also:
Carolyn R. Miller and Dawn Shepherd, 'Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog', in Into the Blogosphere, 2005,
Mike Milliard, Get it While You Can, The Phoenix, May 12th 2006,
Michael Nyman, Experimental Music, Cage and Beyond, 2nd edition, Cambridge UP, 1999.
Bill Werde, The Music Blog Boom, 8 september 2004,

Draft of paper for the SLSA Conference Close Encounters, 2006
(Interestingly, the SLSA used the webdomain in 2006, dd June 2009 this is taken over by a Polish firm.)
The program can still be found at
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Arie Altena