Recently, my hard drive crashed. One morning, I booted up my computer, and rather than being greeted by welcome whirring and a startup sound, a cold grey screen appeared. Disk Utility gave me one option: Reformat without backup. Do not ask me how. My computer works again - better, actually - but my files are gone. It’s fine. The movies I never watched which were collecting dust in my Downloads folder, I still do not watch. Thanks to Google Drive, most of my important documents are on the web. My iTunes library was pulled from the Cloud, a collection of the 15 albums I’ve purchased from Apple over the past few years, mostly lesser known Canadian and indy-ish bands, about a 10th of the quantity of music I used to hoard on my hard drive. For the most part, I don’t miss the rest. What’s left is a surprisingly concise curation of some of my most strongest sonic experiences, short and intense dalliances, feelings I’d forgotten about.
I’ve been playing them back carefully, slowly letting myself get transported back time without dissolving the capsules of memory held in each song.
For example, if I ever want to remember the dusty summer days and lonely nights I spent house sitting my cousin’s house in Pointe-Claire, which I’ve written about, I put on Cold Specks’ I Predict A Graceful Explosion and let a wave of sensory echoes from that era crest over me. I close my eyes and remember padding across the bearskin rug in the basement, running my fingers along the spines of my uncle’s old books and picking up dust, the hushed silence of their overgrown backyard where I sat alone with a beer in the darkness of midnight in the suburbs.
I’ve never been to the Berkshires, but I used to work as a blogger for a travel site whose headquarters were about ten minutes from my apartment in Little Italy. I was into the band HIGHS then, and listened to their six-song EP compulsively and repeatedly while I wrote travel guide after travel guide on towns in Massachusetts; event highlights on Tanglewood, spotlights on quaint historic inns and hiking routes that take you to the heart of small rural villages in the mountains. With my headphones plugged into the light harmonies of their two lead singers and simple, ringing guitar, I can navigate the Berkshires of my imagination, more idyllic than reality can offer, of full autumn foliage on undulating mountains, and quaint bed and breakfasts along country roads.
Each album has a place in memory for me: I remember a club in Brixton, south London, as the room swelled and pulsated with the ethereal sounds of Karkwa, on tour from Montreal, hot after winning the Polaris Prize that year. We had dinner with them and they remarked, how refreshing it is to meet other Montrealers so far from home; we later drank mini-fridge Heinekens and ate their tiny Mars bars on the tour bus as the lead singer stood by the entrance, holding court outside. For the rest of the trip, and once again now, they are in my head, gently crooning,
Dans les jours de rock,
dans l'épais brouillard
J'allume ton visage,
un phare dans la nuit
There are other songs. Not many, but enough to bring me a small amount of comfort from semi-forgotten memories when I least expect it. What’s more, they’re accumulating. I sing along shamelessly to Lianne La Havas as I putter around my Hong Kong kitchen. On my way home, I feel the weight of my footsteps as I move past throngs of people under awnings, between buildings slicked with rain and flickering with neon, each step reverberating with the snare beats of One by Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, swept up in a surreal aural frenzy. Right now, as I write this, I am producing a small grain of memory, one which will be shaped into a fully grown sensory immersion, and wrapping it up in a song.
I can’t wait to find out what it’ll sound like later.