Harkive diary 2015

Features

Harkive is an annual, online music research project that gathers stories from people around the world about how, where and why they listened to music on a single day. Specifically:

“The Harkive Project wants to find out how and why you listen to music in the way that you do, and how the devices, technologies, formats, services and time available to you are combined to create your personal listening experience.”

This is my listening diary from 21 July 2015, the third Harkive event.

Morning

iPhone mounted on a car dashboard

iPhone on the car dashboard

I commute between Birmingham and Coventry each weekday. The hour-long drive is the bane of my workaday life, but necessary, and music plays a big part in making this part of my day more enjoyable.

My choice of what to listen to depends on one or more of the following motivations:

  • Waking up and staying alert – loud, abrasive, punk, hard rock, blues shouters, brass sections.
  • Discovery – hear new artists or new songs by artists I follow.
  • Matching mood to the season – playful, energetic and summery, or perhaps more thoughtful and autumnal.
  • Replay at high volume – the car is the ideal environment for me to listen to loud music and practice backing vocals with an occasional air grab.

Spotify playlists, either curated by me or others, are excellent. Particularly in the mornings, I appreciate how selecting a playlist means I don’t need to actively choose to listen to particular songs or artists. With minimal input on my part, technology takes over, and the music starts. I can drive off and battle through the congested High Street (Europe’s busiest road section, apparently) with listening decisions in hand.

Discover Weekly playlist in Spotify mobile app

Spotify app for iOS devices

Apposite considering today is Harkive, I read in the news that Spotify has released a new feature called ‘Discovery Weekly’, a personalised playlist of 30 songs. I choose this playlist to accompany today’s drive.

With almost seven years’ worth of listening data in last.fm, much of it scrobbled via Spotify, I’m hoping the personalisation algorithm delivers. It does – Americana, roots, indie, rock and a mix of tempos. Highlights include Home (Leave The Lights On) by Field Report, First Air Of Autumn by Drive-By Truckers and Lock All The Doors by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.

What I like today is how the music feels familiar yet is mostly by artists who are new to me. Also, there’s a little push outside my typical selection. This is important, mainly to expose me to new influences and help me discover more artists. Spotify’s recommendations, at least on this first listen to Discover Weekly, are satisfying.

Daytime

Listening to music through headphones at work helps me to concentrate and reduce distraction. I settle on Spotify’s Electronic Concentration playlist as the songs are all instrumental, turn off scrobbling and knuckle down. Later, I check out the album Marigolden by Field Report, an artist discovered earlier.

Evening

For the return drive home, I choose the album Chasing Yesterday by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – a new discovery thrown up by the personalised playlist today.

Oasis featured heavily in my teenage listening. I was 16 when they released Definitely Maybe, and I grew up a few miles down the A34 from Burnage. Oasis’ music – and Liam Gallagher’s annoying race-to-the-bottom, swaggering badditude that created legions of gruesome impersonators – permeated the city. I was a fan though, particularly of those songs sung by Noel such as Acquiesce, Talk Tonight and The Masterplan.

I also loved Brian Cannon’s cover artwork. I bought all the 12″ singles through the first to third albums, even though the vinyl contained three tracks compared to the equivalent CD single’s four, as the records were such beautiful packages of music and design.

It strikes me as ironic that after deliberately choosing to discover new music this morning, I’m now listening to an artist who featured so heavily in the 1990s and my teenage years. I catch myself singing the chorus to You Know We Can’t Back and chuckle at the irony.

But it’s great! The album’s final three songs in particular – The Mexican, You Know We Can’t Back and Ballad Of The Mighty I – are a superb trio in different styles. There’s groove with a hint of Stones-soul, the expected straight-ahead guitar-led pomp, vocal harmonies, plus a surprising a disco beat anthem with house piano and soaring guitars to close. This is not the standard Oasis fodder I remember. It’s so much more interesting, varied and fresh.

There’s an incident on the roads causing tailbacks, and it takes almost two hours to reach home. This is when I wish hands-free technology, and the iPhone in my particular case performed better. The iPhone is locked. Siri is nowhere to be found (probably on her summer holiday). Noel, the trooper, is still putting in a shift on his third repeat of the album.

However, it does make me appreciate having the chance to listen to an album in full, and in the artist’s intended song order. Precious times.

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