Mixing It Up: Is Curation an Art?

| November 8, 2013 | 2 Comments
photo credit: Kino Praxis via photopin cc

photo credit: Kino Praxis via photopin cc

I was given my first mix CD in February of 2012, and I loved it. I loved the idea that someone had taken the time to create something specifically for me—to select the songs and organize them so that they sounded like they belonged together. Since then, I’ve become quite a fan of the mix CD as a thoughtful but inexpensive gift for almost any occasion. The first mix I made for someone was a fairly well-rounded sampler of songs I enjoyed and that I thought the recipient would like as well. I’ve since branched out and embraced the idea of a mix CD as a concept album, a statement of sorts. I’ve made mixes to celebrate special occasions, to commemorate past events, and to look back on the progression of a friendship. I’ve made mixes intended to deliver messages:

I am here for you.

You matter to me.

I’ll miss you.

I’ve also made mix CDs without a having a particular recipient in mind. Some are fictitious narratives—for example, a dialogue between two people, one of whom is mentally ill. Others are attempts to capture the atmosphere of a certain time or location—the month of December or the summer after high school, a long train ride or lake in the Adirondacks. I’m currently working on a mix about an abandoned house, although I haven’t decided whether I want it to be organized chronologically or just atmospherically.

Over the last few years though, I’ve stopped purchasing individual songs from iTunes and started taking a more holistic approach to listening to music; I now prefer to buy an entire album (ideally a tangible CD and not just a digital copy) and listen to it top to bottom. That’s not to say I never just hit shuffle when cleaning or make a quick playlist based on my mood or activity, but I do think the act of really listening to music (as opposed to just putting something on and letting it play in the background) is more valuable when the album itself is experienced in its entirety, exactly as the artist intended.

So then I wonder about the place of my mix CDs.  I’d like to think that they’re more artistically valuable than thrown-together playlists or <shudders> Genius Mixes. I spend a borderline-ridiculous amount of time selecting and ordering songs, obsessing over transitions, “test-driving” the completed mix, and sometimes even creating original cover art. But I’m still essentially taking individual components of a work of art and removing them from the context of the whole.

Album art for a mix I made last winter.

Album art for a mix I made last winter.

Then again, I suppose that same concept could be applied to almost any kind of compilation. If mix CDs are a violation of creative integrity, what about art galleries? What about poetry anthologies? I’m not trying to make a point here; I’m asking because I’m genuinely unsure.

So I’m interested to hear what musicians and music-lovers have to say on the topic.  To the listeners: what do you consider to be the best way to enjoy your favorite sounds?  To the artists out there: if a song of yours were to wind up in one of my mixes someday, would you be flattered or offended?

feature photo credit: downhilldom1984 via photopin cc


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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Music

Emily Hurd

About the Author ()

Emily is a special education major from a tiny town in southern Pennsylvania. She's a firm believer in the virtues of art-making, rambling discussion, and consuming excessive amounts of both coffee and tea. Her other interests include reading and writing poetry, poking around in abandoned houses, and procrastinating indefinitely. Her proudest moment involved replacing the word "oil" on construction signs with "fish" so that the signs in question read "fresh fish and chips."

Comments (2)

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  1. DS says:

    you probably have heard of a beatles album called “sgt. pepper’s lonely hearts club band.” it was ground breaking not just because of its unique sound but also because it was the first music album with a theme, a connection throughout each song, instead of just a random collection of music. you likely have heard of “dark side of the moon,” by pink floyd. one of the best-selling albums of all time and with a strong theme about people who become lost, indifferent, and separate themselves from society. another strong thematic album is “born to run” by bruce springsteen. its basically a rock opera about young people facing different crossroads, some emotional, some financial, some fatal.

    compare that to justin bieber, who is currently releasing songs on itunes not in an entire album but one at a time, each monday, over the past couple of months. each song is barely distinguishable from the next, just whiny crap about how much he likes a random girl or how much she should like him. i suppose he is more interested in how much money he can rake in through the individual releases instead of the discounted price of buying the whole album, should it even qualify for that name.

    i don’t know if current artists understand or care about what albums used to be. i can’t listen to most new music, and by “new music” i mean what i am forced to hear when my kid gets in my car. i’m old, and new music is an assault on my ears. it punches me in the ears and yells at me for something i haven’t done or at least am not aware of what i may have done.

    music from my era had nuance, power, and flavor. today’s music seems full of anger and self pity. most new music can be summed up with “i’m fabulous” or “how dare she dump me.” i suppose if i had not lived through the orchestral rock of the 60′s and 70′s, i might accept today’s music more easily – but we only know what we know. if all we eat is oatmeal and never try a blueberry pie, we can’t know what we’re missing.

  2. Kate Conroy Kate Conroy says:

    First of all, that cover art you made is bad/ass/. I love it.
    Second, I think it all depends on what a person’s reason is for listening to music. I personally really like to sing (even though I’m entirely tone deaf), so I like songs with strong vocals that I can sing along to. And in that case, whole albums as a piece of art don’t matter as much to me.

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