May 16, 2019

An Unexpected Portal to Prog: The Austin Public Library

Did you know that Austin Public Library (APL) has all kinds of resources for progressive music and beyond? Physical items such as books and CDs remain available but APL is increasingly using electronic borrowing services. A library card is free if you live in the city limits, just apply at a nearby branch using your ID and proof of residency such as a utility bill. Note that you can place a hold on a physical item at another location and it will be delivered to the branch of your choosing.

CDs: APL has a remarkable collection of music CDs scattered across its many branches. For example, if you search for Steven Wilson you will find solo albums such as his recent Hand. Cannot. Erase. plus In Absentia by Porcupine Tree along with some of the remixes that Wilson has done for Jethro Tull, ELP, and so forth. You’ll find plenty of CDs like classic Pink Floyd and newer Dream Theater. Jazz­rock fusion is not as well represented as progressive rock but there are Mahvishnu Orchestra and Jeff Beck titles.

Books: Sure, any library has books, but this library has two books with the words “progressive rock” in subtitles! As you might expect in music­-heavy Austin there are many instructional books in the collection for guitar, synthesizers, drums, and more. Most sheet music titles are located in the downtown Central Library with coverage from Pink Floyd to jazz fakebooks. I haven’t found many biographies of interest other than well­ known artists such as David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

DVDs: While major films find their way to streaming services such as Netflix I find that concert videos and music documentaries get little coverage in that world. Fortunately, APL still acquires physical DVDs. The movie about every prog­rocker’s favorite tape-­based keyboard is available: Mellodrama, the Mellotron Movie. There are a couple of Rush concert DVDs (Clockwork Angels and Snakes & Arrows) but you’ll also find Moogfest 2006 featuring Jordan Rudess, Jan Hammer, and Keith Emerson.

Online: Like libraries in other large cities, APL has been expanding online “borrowing” of materials using a growing number of services. One such service is named Overdrive and focuses on ebooks that can be temporarily downloaded to Kindles, Android devices, or iOS devices. More recently the library added a service named Hoopla Digital and it is a winner.

Hoopla Digital: Hoopla seems to be focused on movies, TV episodes, and music but the service does have ebooks such as Mountains Come out of the Sky­­the Illustrated History of Progressive Rock. One of the movies is I Dream of Wires, a documentary about modular synthesizers. Where Hoopla really shines is in the breadth of music. Much of the Kscope label catalog is available such as Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief, Nosound, Blackfield, and many more. Independents such as Austin’s own Descendants of Erdrick are represented by their Advent album. The local Modern Outsider label is on the service such as shoegaze trio Moving Panoramas and post­rockers The Calm Blue Sea. Progressive rock, prog metal, and fusion artists with multiple albums on Hoopla include Brand X, Dream Theater, The Dixie Dregs, Camel, Steve Hackett, Ultravox, Soft Machine, Fates Warning, Brian Eno, Be Bop Deluxe, Bill Nelson, Kate Bush, Jethro Tull, Marillion, Mike Oldfield, Yes, Ozric Tentacles, Gong, and Mick Karn.

The APL site includes a How do I get started with Hoopla page. Once you have a library card you set up an account with Hoopla, link your card, then download an app to your device (or just use the service in a computer Web browser). Some albums can be downloaded to a device for a week, other albums must be streamed. The problem is that you are limited to six items per month! Fortunately, a multi­-CD title counts as just one item.

Walter Daniel
Written by
Walter Daniel