Found my old mp3 player the other day. I was restoring order in my life by emptying one of several ‘junk’ cupboards in my house and there it was, at the bottom of a shoe box, under a Ziploc bag of bulldog clips and a knot of power chords for devices I once cherished: a tape recorder, a Nokia mobile phone and a ‘portable’ video camera the size of a half-loaf of bread. There it was, like buried treasure, my pre-smart-phone, 2004 Creative Zen Micro, purchased the same year I moved from Vancouver to Melbourne.
Apple’s release of the iPod Mini that year had bred a swarm of competing micro hard drive music players. I chose the Zen. If Apple’s sleek design for the iPod envisioned a future of clean-lined minimalism, then the Creative Zen was its aesthetic counterpart of chunky, Soviet pragmatism. Stout and blocky, the Creative Zen anticipated a more violent future for itself, a life of bumps and scrapes, of falling off bar tops and spilling out of bags onto busy city sidewalks.
My Zen was ugly and weighed a pocket full of nickels, but I loved that mp3 player. Its boxy design accepted me for who I was, rather than coax me towards achieving a higher version of myself. I could live with it, didn’t feel the need to live up to it. Zen was a music player. Its creator, Singapore-based Creative Technologies, made no further promises.
I’d had many portable music devices before it: a Walkman, several Disc men, but this was different. 1,500 songs in one place! Wow! I could now leave the house confident I’d have enough musical variety to harmonize with whatever emotional peaks and troughs the day threw up.
I spent weeks pouring my CD collection into my Zen. People I met topped the device up with songs they wanted to share with me. I wasn’t just building a music library, I was keeping a personal record, a catalogue of my tastes and social interactions.
Over the next few years, the music in my Zen became the soundtrack of my young adult life as a new migrant to Australia. Imperceptibly, those songs also grafted themselves onto the mis-en-scene of those memories.
Now here they were, waiting to be re-heard, re-seen. If it still worked, my Creative Zen was a tangible link between myself then and now. It wasn’t just an mp3 Player anymore. It was a time machine.
I plugged it in. My eyes widened as the familiar blue glow behind the 1.8 inch touchless video screen came to life. The artists names scrolled across the display: Tosca; Radiohead; Blind Willie McTell. Their songs continued in the random order they’d been set to when I last put my Zen down.
The old songs took me on a journey, a wizard’s Pensieve, reanimating dormant memories, filling the lacunae of remembered experience.
Hilltop Hoods and I am on Swanston Street, heading to the Melbourne Town Hall where I work as a caterer; Modest Mouse and I look out the tree-lined window of the office I share with three other postgraduate students in the John Medley Building at the University of Melbourne; Blur and I melt back into the liquid androgyny of my early twenties; Gotan Project and I’m out for dinner with a German international student I’d hoped would become my friend; The Shins and I’m drinking beer with a former colleague I promised to keep in touch with but who, like so many others, receded into my personal mist of ambition and domestic responsibility. That’s how time flies.
I needed the music to be reminded of this time, these people. I miss them. And the idea of them. And I miss all the possibilities of what I then imagined my life could and would become.
Yannick Thoraval is a writer, teacher and freelance communications consultant. He holds a PhD in creative writing and teaches professional writing at RMIT University in Melbourne.