Yesterday, as sometimes happens, I suddenly wanted – no, needed – to listen to Ricardo Villalobos's track Waiworinao. But how? It's not on my iPod, so digging out the Alcachofa album would have taken ages (my house is full of music, none of it organised). So, I did the obvious – I searched for it on YouTube.
I mention this because I don't want you to think I am unreasonably precious about music. I listen to it while I work, while I'm running, as I read the paper, and I'm happy to play my music through crappy computer speakers, on the TV or via a DVD player. I might listen to an individual song, a random selection of tunes, a full album: whatever.
Consequently, I find Classic Album Sundays – a London club, covered by the BBC today, where people gather to listen to vintage albums in their entirety – just a little bit uptight, a little bit Luddite. Sitting with a group of thirtysomethings, listening to classic 70s albums (on vinyl of course), great as they may be, is not my idea of fun. You can just imagine the conversation in the bar afterwards: about how that grimes music and the dubstepping is all young people are interested in nowadays. With their Facebooks. And their MP3 machines.
Yet Classic Album Sundays makes one important point. Not about the sacred format of the album, but about the way we increasingly treat music as a disposable lifestyle accessory. When organiser Colleen Murphy talks about making people turn their phones off, shut the door and give these "works of art" some "heavy listening", she is surely on to something.
We are all busy people and, as music fans, we now have unlimited musical distraction at the end of a broadband connection. We have increasingly little time to listen to a reserve of recorded sound that is growing exponentially every day. I find this can easily lead to drive-by enjoyment, a kind of panicked attempt to absorb as much music as possible – but without truly engaging with it. This is not the way to navigate your way through what Murphy believes to be profound art.
You might have read Patrick Kingsley's hymn to slow reading in the Guardian last year. I'm not sure what effect it has had on my reading habits, but it made me make a conscious effort to listen to music properly. That is, sit there, do nothing, listen – and play things that might not strike you as brilliant, but which are clearly interesting, more than once. It's unfashionable to say so, but sometimes good music is hard work and you have to steep yourself in it before it begins to make sense.
You get through a lot less music that way, but since when was it about quantity? I would rather take the time to appreciate Marcel Dettmann's Dettmann – an initially forbidding monolithic chunk of dub-techno – than rattle my way through numerous cosily familiar minimal techno tracks that I could enjoy in the same time.
I realise you need a cut-off point. The KLF used to rail against the album format as a self-fulfilling con. People would invest heavily in albums and would train themselves to like them. I can believe that, too. Years ago, I worked in a record shop where we were forced to play the top 10 on a loop. Listen to Simply Red's Life often enough and eventually you even begin to pick out favourite tracks (Fairground, of course).
So how are you listening to music in 2011? Do you still see the album as superior to the single? Can you multi-task and take all you can from a song while cooking, cleaning or writing a blog? Or is time to sit down, turn off the laptop and engage in some serious Slow Listening?