Here’s a short story about my endeavours to find an album that seems to have disappeared from the face of the internet. I’m a bit of a sucker for original sound tracks, particularly instrumental ones. One that I remember being very good is the music from The Private Life of Plants, a documentary series from David Attenborough made in the mid 1990s. It was one of those sound tracks that occasionally popped into my mind, particularly when looking at lovely autumn leaves or other scenes from the show. But it has been a while since I last watched it, and I never though to look at whether an album of the sound track actually existed.
It was only earlier this year when I discovered that this was a possibility. I was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and one episode featured a scene which had the music from the documentary series in the background. I recognised it immediately and after some quick searches online, I discovered that there did exist at one point an album of the sound track.
I started looking around to see if it was available to listen to. I started with Spotify, the music service that I’m subscribe to, but searches there did not return any results. I then went to the other streaming services that were available, like Apple Music and Amazon music, but there was no luck there either. I then started looking to see if I could get the physical CD. I looked on Amazon, eBay, JB Hi-Fi and even Sanity, a music shop that is still operating here in Australia. None of these sites turned up anything indicating that this album was available. I then tried my local library, the online ABC shop, and the BBC shops, but those turned up with no results as well. It looked like this album was no longer available for sale anywhere.
I then started making generic web searches on Google and DuckDuckGo. There were very few hits, most of them referencing the documentary series itself. It was here that I started venturing into the abandoned areas of the web, with old pages, riddled with ads, that are barely functioning at all. I found a last.fm page for the composer with looked to have the track list of the album, but attempting to play the tracks through the in-browser player only produced errors. Going further through the abandoned web, I found an old download site which looked to have links to some of the tracks on the album. After following the links however, it looked like the site has since stopped operating: the links only produced 404 Not Founds, and attempts to go to the main site only produced a page indicating that the domain was for sale.
It was then that I remembered Wayback Machine, and I went there to see if it was possible to get to the archived version of the site. Sure enough, there existed a snapshot of the site from 2006. The site itself looked to be an old online music store that at one time offered the album for sale. The album page was there and was indexed by Wayback Machine. Better still, the site posted 5 of the tracks online, I’m guessing as samples, which were also indexed by Wayback Machine and were available for download. Success! I was able to download the 5 sample tracks from Wayback Machine and play them on my computer.
I don’t know if there’s a moral to this story. I guess if it’s anything, it’s that preserving these archives is important, especially for media under the control of gatekeepers that can pull it from distribution at any time. It’s certainly made me appreciate the important work that the Internet Archive does, and I have since made a small donation to them to allow that work to continue.
I think it’s also fair to say that this story is not yet over. I don’t care how long it will take me, I’ll continue to track this album down until I’ve found it and be able to play it in it’s entirety.