I remember walking home from high school one afternoon six years ago, listening to Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine on my Discman. Somehow, despite the insistence of all the press I had read and the recommendations of my friends, I hadn’t really been into Daydream Nation, the band’s landmark album that is supposedly its most influential, if not its best.
I had this odd habit at the time that I feel other people might understand. When I’d get a new album, if it was good, I’d only listen to the first half of it for months. At that age, I would get obsessed with new music easily and, honestly, the first few tracks on my favorite albums kept me busy for weeks. Anyway, at this point, six years go, I hadn’t actually gotten around to listening to the last track on Washing Machine, “The Diamond Sea.”
What took me over at first was the simplicity of the composition. The characteristic mirroring of the vocal line in the guitar and the simple drumming were absolutely beautiful. The guitars were restrained and almost gentle. I continued listening and was probably daydreaming about something unrelated when I suddenly started paying attention again: Around six or seven minutes into the track — the piece is about 19 minutes long — I realized what I was listening to. It was noise. A straight-up wall of distorted noise. There was no melody, no vocals. This was the first time ever that I truly enjoyed listening to noise.
Since this incident, I’ve learned two important lessons about listening to music. First, albums may contain hidden treasures. It is my duty as a seeker of awesome sounds to find these treasures if they exist. Second, foreign genres of music are just like vegetables. You hate them when you’re young, refuse to try them, and hate them when you do. Then on some odd day you randomly eat something with broccoli in it, declare it tasty, and recoil in horror at the sudden cognitive dissonance.
One of my favorite places on the Internet to get served up musical vegetables is www.muxtape.com, a sort of online mix tape simulator. The premise of the site is simple: You get one username and 12 MP3 uploads, none of which can be over 10 megabytes large. After uploading songs you can change their order and share your username with your friends who can then get on the site and stream the tracks you put up in their browser. There are no comments, no stats, and no contact info for the muxtape makers. The front page of the site has links to a random selection of tapes, which I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring. Since they’re all made by people, the track selections are often very eclectic and fun.