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Column: Where does the music go?
You can really tell when you’ve lived in one place for a long time when you start replacing things you thought would last either the house’s lifetime or your lifetime when you built them.
Even though I won’t be doing the work, just paying for it, I will soon have to have a roof replaced that was put on our house almost 30 years ago. When the roofer put it on he said it would last for 30 years. “Let’s see,” I remember thinking at the time, “in 30 years we will have either moved or I’ll be dead.”
Well, we haven’t and I’m not.
When we did the first renovation of our living-dining room area in 1989, I recycled a tool closet from our barn into a “music closet” that would house several musical instruments and a giant collection of cassettes, compact discs, vintage vinyl recordings, and all the equipment with which to play them. I spent endless days making shelves, running electric, stringing speaker and antenna wires and cataloging and arranging recordings.
Except for the musical instruments, everything in the closet is now obsolete. Well, except maybe the Dual turntable which, if I want to get a Phono pre-amp and proper connections and download the software on to a computer and spend countless hours learning how to use it, might be able to rip all my vinyl recordings onto iTunes where most of them exist already anyway.
From what I can remember of the ‘60s and ‘70s, one of the things I really enjoyed about “records” was reading the liner notes, and admiring the artwork that was part of the album package. But as each successive format was introduced, the liner notes got smaller and smaller, requiring a jeweler’s eyepiece to read them. Now, there are no liner notes at all, because there are no liners. As a matter of fact, you can’t even hold the recording. It’s only in the air.
I used to like XM radio. It was sort of a playful, cool way to listen to music, supposedly without advertisements, for a small subscription fee. XM has now become more serious since it merged with Sirius. Even the name now says it, “Sirius (read — no more playful) XM.” Since XM has become more “Sirius” the fees have become more expensive and way more complicated. For instance, even though I have an account that enables me to listen to SiriusXM in my car, I need a whole other account costs extra and requires another password and user ID to add to the hundred or so I already can’t remember. And just forget about the “no advertisements” ploy that was used to hook you in the first place. Not only are there advertisements for a wide array of products and services, SiriusXM spends a huge amount of time advertising itself, trying to get you to listen to any of the 150 or so stations it has, like Elvis and Springsteen.
So instead of SiriusXM I now find myself listening to much more music that I like on Pandora. It too has advertisements, but not nearly as many and it’s free. It’s different in that you select a song title or artist you like, and soon you’re listening to lots of songs Pandora thinks you will like, and pretty much they’re right. I know there are others, like Spotify and Allmusic, but for now when I’m cooking or tearing out previously useful closets, I’ll just run Pandora from the iPad through the pretty decent-sounding portable radio, which is not quite obsolete yet.
But there is a problem with Pandora, too. Ironically, it’s the liner notes that accompany each track as it plays. In prehistoric times when we only had vinyl, part of the attraction of the successive formats was that you didn’t have to stop what you were doing every 20 or 30 minutes to flip or replace the LP, and during the playing time you could read the liner notes. But now, when I’m working and hear something I really like, I have to stop and run over to the iPad to see who it is, and then I immediately get sucked into the really interesting bio and esoteric information about the artist.
Now it may be that each successive way of listening to music has an increasingly short half-life. But the happy part of that is the human voice, along with all the instruments that make the music, the raison d’etre for all of the aforementioned formats, are not extinct — yet. Digital shmigital. There might be some little bytes out there that think they can replicate the warmth of a bluesy alto in a cozy jazz club, or a virtuoso violin performance, but sorry, it ain’t happenin.’
Once I watched a performance of the Django Reinhardt classic “Nuages,” by jazz guitarist John Jorgensen, who politely asked the sound engineer to turn off all the amplification. He then transported the audience back in time for just a few minutes, and they savored a rare acoustic treat.
So now that the music closet has been cleaned out, the classic vinyl and the surviving CDs have been joined by the guitars and mandolins that in one form or another have been around for more than a millennium, with better and better ones being made all the time.
Take that you silly MP3!