I have a nice Ngaio Press publishing project at the moment – a history of Charles Begg & Co, a company which bestrode New Zealand’s musical scene for over 100 years from the 1860s. The manuscript was written by the original Charles Begg’s great great granddaughter Clare Gleeson (née Begg) and is adapted from her history masters thesis at Otago University.
It is an assignment after my own heart, given my own musical background and the fact that I’ve written a book of my own about New Zealand musical history, Piano in the Parlour.
This afternoon I’ve been preparing illustrations for the book, and as I worked on a photo showing Begg’s Dunedin phonograph department in 1911, it occurred to me that there was some heavy irony going down. While peering at what was almost the dawn of recorded music (wax cylinders and boxes with blowsy flower horns), I was listening to music on my computer that was streaming through the Internet from the Grooveshark website.
Back in 1911, I might have owned, after much scrimping and saving, just a few horrid sounding (but still thrilling) cylinders or disks. Today I have an endless supply of Internet music, through streaming radio services, online music stores such as iTunes and Google Music, music clips on YouTube and, (nudge, wink) … I’m told you can download ‘free’ music via filesharing services. I can choose from thousands of CDs in shops and the public library. I can ‘rip’ them on my computer and store the albums on my phone and MP3 player. Then I can listen to them anywhere I like.
There is absolutely no shortage of music today at nil or negligible cost – particularly as I no longer care about keeping up with current hits. Short of an apocalypse, I won’t run out of recorded music.
But though I still love them, I don’t treasure recordings as I did when I only owned half a dozen LPs and a few singles and played them on a crappy old portable record player. My grandmother may have treasured her cylinders from Charles Begg & Co even more.