When asked where I took my vacation, I used to joke with the answer: Google Reader. It’s the same joke these days, with a different answer: Soundcloud.com. The sheer density of music on the site, all uploaded by musicians themselves, as well as by some small labels, provides an interesting spin on Jorge Luis Borges’ idea of an infinite library. When listening to music on Soundcloud, one can have the impression that none of this music might have existed had Soundcloud itself not existed in the first place — it’s like the sound-library equivalent of Field of Dreams: it was built, and now the musicians are coming. That’s in contrast with Myspace, which, all negative assessments aside (which are largely about over-expansion and a chaotic visual interface), often feels like the music has all been uploaded from actual CDs that are sitting in a box somewhere gathering dust as they wait for someone to purchase them.
Now, Soundcloud has a long way to go in terms of making the most of its interconnectedness, but you have to admire what it’s accomplished so far: a bare-bones architecture and interface that has managed to provide musicians, a vast number of them electronica-ly oriented, a home base. Not only do the musicians post, but they comment on each other’s music, and a Twitter-like Following/Followers system, along with Groups, helps organize everyone into fluid communities of interaction. Through the Following/Followers system, you can make your way through a maze of associations — who likes what, and then who likes them. Unlike Myspace and Bandcamp, another great music community, Soundcloud has figured out how to best include music-followers (i.e., folks who don’t actually make music, but whose listening habits serve as a guide to others). My own experience is not anomalous: I’ve never uploaded anything, yet have 105 followers, who I suppose occasionally give a listen to what I’ve “Favorited” (how recently did this word enter our vocabulary?).
Here’s one recent favorite — well, recent to me; it was uploaded half a year ago. Through some such maneuvering I came to two tracks by Patrick Cavanagh (aka Scherzo), who’s apparently pursuing a PhD in aeronautics and astronautics “with a concentration on the development and design of unmanned spacecraft.” That little biographical tidbit makes it difficult not to hear “ells,” one of Cavanagh’s Soundcloud postings, as an audio sketch of the emissions of just such a future machine. (Yeah, there’s no sound in space — but there is imagination.) At about four and a half minutes, it is all rumbling synths with little gear-like machinations that slowly build and fade.