I have set up three sets of tracks on my SoundCloud.com account. These are places for me to bookmark for public consumption, for shared listening, tracks of other people’s music that I come upon in my regular SoundCloud listening. The experiment is sort of a cross between the “social bookmarking” of delicio.us and the “music discovery” of last.fm.
Each of these three sets is focused on a different listening experience. There is one that is broadly defined as “ambient,” there is one that features music comprised of “beats” (think instrumental hip-hop and minimal techno), and there is an “other” category, which is a mix of outward-bound contemporary classical, sound installations, and various experiments that don’t fit into the other two categories. The first two are intended to serve as background listening, while the third is anything but. I’ve labeled them all as “carousels.” There is the Ambient Carousel, the Beats Carousel, and the Other Carousel. They’ve each launched with about an hour of music, and I will, as time passes, remove some tracks from them and add other tracks.
I tried for some time to think of a playful term for these collections: stream, channel, zone, station, feed. Eventually I did what many sane people might, which is I posed the question to Twitter, Facebook, and app.net: “What’s a good term for a collection of rotating related tracks?” Among various responses, a Twitter interlocutor suggested “pinwheel,” which made me think of “carousel” — more the carousel that old-school slide projectors employed, not so much the carousels with the painted ponies going up and down. “Carousel,” more than any other term, seemed to get at what I was trying to get at: a format in which there was no strict, formal list of constituent parts, but in which things change as time progresses. I thought of art history professors in those pre-PowerPoint/Keynote days, their carousels of examples of paintings slowly changing from one semester to the next, one exemplary Bruegel exchanged for another, a Longo replacing a Basquiat, only for Basquiat to later on make a quiet return.
This iterative listening format became attractive to me when, over the past few months, I was working to focus on releasing a regular podcast associated with Disquiet.com. (Major thanks, by the way, to Boon Design for having developed the three carousel logos, which are based on a logo Boon put together for the yet-to-be-launched podcast.) A funny thing happened on the way to the podcast. The podcast is still in the works, but in the process of considering what would constitute a solid podcast — a mix of music and sound, some commentary, a framing context, theme music, graphic identity, infrastructure for delivery and archiving — I spent a lot of time thinking about listening to music amid music. Because that is, ultimately, what distinguishes a Disquiet podcast from writing about music at Disquiet.com: how a podcast places a track in the context of other tracks. This “carousel” approach exists somewhere between the radio broadcast (ephemeral, with an ever-shifting mix of core and temporary track rotations) and the podcast (fixed, variable in length), with a fair bit of my dissatisfaction with the inherent one-track limit of ThisIsMyJam.com thrown in. The idea of a “set” has long been part of the SoundCloud offering, but only recently has it been the case that someone can create sets that include music other than one’s own. These sets also give me a format to focus attention on streaming-only audio, since the daily Downstream entries on Disquiet.com (which increasingly feature SoundCloud-hosted music) by definition only focus on freely (freely and legally, that is) downloadable music.
I remain interested in the podcast, and plan to launch it in the next month or so, but a podcast still strikes me as being a straightforward digital version of a pre-recorded radio broadcast — much like how a “netlabel” is, ultimately, a record label without the physical product. These “carousels” seem, in contrast, like a useful step forward, much as the collaborative efforts of the Disquiet Junto have been, in part, an attempt to nudge forward the idea of a record label.