I’ve been an obsessive collector of books and recordings for over thirty years. Fifteen years ago, someone I had been dating claimed I would never be able to read, listen to, and/or watch everything I had acquired up to that point, and in order to prove it did a few mathematical equations involving what was in my apartment and my life expectancy. We broke up shortly thereafter. The piles have continued to grow astronomically ever since.
While I do my best to keep all of my things meticulously organized, it requires semi-regular resorting. The books and video recordings have required the least work in recent years, though admittedly the shelf space has long been exhausted and tons of things live permanently stacked on their sides. The audio recordings are another story entirely, since it is not healthy for LPs to live on their sides. In the last four weeks of 2008 I managed to move all my LPs (well more than 6000 when last counted) in order to consolidate them with what I had picked up over the past year. I also attempted to deal with the CDs which in the last couple of years have grown at a much faster rate than I can keep up with, both because people send me things and I continue to shop in stores as well as online whenever I have any spare money and discover something I’d like to learn more about.
Of course, part of the reason for all of this largesse has been my ongoing desire to experience everything that is out there without the filter of personal taste. I often say that I eventually will listen to everything I get, no matter where it comes from, and I’ve been doing my best to remain true to my word. Therefore, reading Terry Teachout’s list of his 25 favorite classical recordings—in which he acknowledged that he only owns “2000 classical compact discs” due to the “rigors of apartment living”—really depressed me. I’ve been my collection’s supplicant roommate for all my adult life. It is the source of most of what I know—as well as my own creative muse and the lens through which I look at the outside world—which is part of why I want it to be as inclusive as possible. But that said, there is something to this “rigors of apartment living”: I’ve run out of available walls.
But don’t expect a giant yard sale anytime soon or even a massive change of heart about mp3s and iPods—they’re not for me. We’re only six days into 2009, and I’ve already bought eight CDs and been given another six. And I’m looking forward to the first LP I track down this year. But what might have to happen from here on in is a more astringent form of selectivity even if it’s not aesthetically based, since every recording I acquire theoretically requires cash, space, and time—none of which are infinitely replenishable.
Cash doesn’t serve as a particularly effective filter since recordings that are given to me don’t cost me anything, even though lugging them home has required cab fare some of the time. But space and time are always a problem. If I stay in my current apartment, that means I ultimately have a finite amount of cubic feet to play around with, especially considering that I don’t want to wind up like the Collyer Brothers. (I’m still amazed that real estate brokers don’t use cubic footage instead of square footage when marketing spaces, since vertical storage is such a premium.)
And then there’s the time factor. Despite my horror at my one-time girlfriend’s tabulations, here goes. Even if I were to live 100 years (Elliott Carter gives us all hope) and listened to music 24 hours a day, seven days a week until my 100th birthday (which is a physical impossibility) that would mean a maximum total of 483,216 recordings I could listen to. (I’ve averaged recordings to an hour a piece since LPs are mostly slightly less and CDs are mostly slightly more.) Listening to only five hours of recorded music a day—which is more realistic since it allows for other things like hearing live music, creating my own music, and simply living my life—yields a mere 100,670. And that number doesn’t account for taking time to listen to something more than once, which I find crucial for a deeper understanding of whatever I’m listening to.
I probably have about 15,000 recordings, which means that even if I were to stop acquiring more recordings from here on in, I’d still be able to listen to what I currently have less than seven times. So while part of me is curious to hear all 823 symphonies of Franklin Morris or even the 50 CD Merzbow box, it’s unlikely that I ever will. But I’ll do my best to at least make a dent one of these days.