Back in the 90's, before the DVD revolution, collectors of movies on home video were an elite bunch of proud cinema snobs who collected enormous and cumbersome artifacts called laserdiscs. I was one such, and made it my business to throw "cinema nights" for friends. The goal of this was not to float a keg and laugh ourselves silly over grade-Z crap and limp comedies (which really takes no imagination), but to expose people I liked to movies that were genuinely cool and good. So I showed a lot of Criterion stuff, and when I had a horror night it usually concentrated on giallo classics and obscurities like Bava's Black Sunday. Nowadays anyone and his dog can do this, so the gilt is off the lily, kind of.
But some friends of mine and I came up with an idea a couple of years ago that allowed this whole notion of exposing oneself to new and different works of art to thrive. We took to calling it by the stuffy academic title of Music Appreciation Night, or music night, since the only other name we could come up with (that I liked) led to all sorts of non-PC humor. One of the masterminds of this party meme was my friend Thad Engeling, who owns something like 5,000 CDs and is essentially a one-man music education (though I have never yet managed to inculcate in him an appreciation of jazz).
It goes like this. We get a small group together; I've found the optimum attendance is 4-5 people. Every time we've done it with more than five, it hasn't worked. People do what they do at regular parties: clump off into pairs and socialize, with the music no longer being the focus of the evening and instead serving the function music serves at any other party, that of background noise. We pull our chairs into a row in front of the stereo, dim the lights, and everyone plays a song from the stack of CDs they've brought in turn. Thad keeps a running playlist of the entire evening's tracks, and each attendee also burns a compilation CD of their own playlist for the other attendees. We go home with expanded horizons.
I can honestly say I've been exposed to more variety and more brilliant music this way than by any other means in my life. The sumptuous melodies of Vas (who pick up where Dead Can Dance left off but with even greater authenticity), the rhythms of Midival Punditz, the ambient soundscapes of Ishq, the gentle acoustic/electronic pop of Hungry Lucy; all would have gone unheard for life by me had we not had these little soirées. It goes without saying commercial radio will never do this for you.
I'd love to see if this little party meme makes its way through the blogosphere. Schedule your own music night and discuss the results. Maybe even post your playlists (not the songs itself, that'd be, like, illegal and stuff, Mr. RIAA Man). Then we could all expand our individual horizons even further.
And as soon as I get my living room in shape, I may start throwing cinema nights again, too.