Friday, July 29, 2011

Head In the Cans, Head in the Clouds

"Cans" is music speak for headphones. Clouds is music speak for a coming disaster. I am trapped in a headphone galaxy fallacy and have been for almost a decade. So are you. Well, most of you. A storm is coming, and the Clouds are ugly. The entire music listening experience has been evolving in tandem with shrinking systems and the manipulating manic-ness of multi- tasking..(anybody out there still have floor speakers or even GASP! a receiver?) The devices that the actual music is stored on and "played" get smaller. Soon you won't even be able to touch them. Time and space have collided and music gets ditched. Pitched into the black hole and replaced with consumption and coercion, and now the Cloud.  Why oh Why?

Let's look at the reasons. Well isn't the reason for ditching one product for another pretty much the same across the board? " This one's faster. This one's smaller. I've got to get rid of all of this to make room for a pack n' play. The dog chewed through my Infinity woofer. The neighbors complain every time I put an album on at noon, at 3pm, at 8pm. All of my friends are doing it. I want to have all of my songs available all of the time attached to my soul and flickering by in clear digital filofax next to my cortex, a slave to the vertex perplexed. I want the fucking cloud to hover over my head like a supple storm coming, raining songs I don't need or won't listen to, so I can pluck them out like soundbites and instantly shape my soundtrack for the following five minutes until it shuffles on to the next mood. I don't have the time to put a cassette in and press play ( 4 seconds), I don't have the time to turn the stereo on and put a cd in and press play (3 seconds), I don't have the time to plunk the needle down delicately after sliding out this album from a clean sleeve and softly placing it on the record player (11-15 seconds). Look at that slim shiny thing that fits in my pocket and does everything but wipe my ass.

Remember this...You can only listen to one song at a time.

You can't multitask music.  You can multitask while listening, yes. Cleaning, commuting, working out, fucking, thinking, writing..etc. Bullshit distractions that break up the purity of the experience. Our lives forced into a Steve Austin/Jetsonic landscape of get it done yesterday and fill the left over space up before your friends and neighbors do. Keep the kids occupied. keep the bluetooth humming.  But what about merely listening?  Does anybody just plain listen to music anymore? As a stand alone activity?  People read books to read books. People watch movies to watch movies. Seems like its been downgraded to a supplemental activity hitched to the teet of the daily grind. A soundtrack to our lives, a fucking movie trailer rather than a listening experience.

And now a cloud??? What is it? It's yours, you own it but it's not really there. You can't see it, but you can ask it to do things for you. "Open the pod door Hal."  "Play Get off of My Cloud from Decembers Children(And Everybody's)."  Put everything you begged for, bought, borrowed or stole on it  for a nominal fee. Give somebody else at Google or Apple or Spotify your entire musical LIBRARY, your entire musical life to hold on to for you. So you can not only clear your room, and clear your can clear your HARD DRIVE too. More space for multi- tasking. Pay for your own digital ether. 

And I'm stuck between these two worlds. I have friends who fit into some of the above and I don't know what to do with them. I get it. I may be waxing nostalgic, but I would like to enjoy the lost art of reaching out and touching something gently, maybe a button, maybe a cd, maybe the arm of a stylus...and getting some live loud music slammed back into my face through speakers!  Bud out!  That Buzzcocks song suddenly rises to my sonic surface - "

Then it looks so real I can feel it
And it feels so real I can taste it
And it tastes so real I can hear it
And it sounds so real I can see it
So why can't I touch it?
So why can't I touch it?
Yes vinyl junkies and purists will always be around. but Jesus, it's almost like  subscribing to an outsider- like existence to claim to still use anything for listening to music that's not stored in a hard drive and plugged into your ears. DJ's excluded I guess,  but for the most part even the days of the milkcrate have been replaced by the mac.

Last night, I looked at my milkcrate full of dog-eared vinyl and my old pioneer turntable sans stylus. I looked at the piles of plastic islands made of compact discs, my drawers full of cassettes meticulously pieced together as pre- digital mixTAPES. I plugged my ipod into my stereo feigning progress in a retroactive way, and played the freshly downloaded deluxe version of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

I laughed. I cried . I looked outside and it was overcast.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I sometimes feel caught between two worlds myself. I still love going to a music store, perusing the shelves, making a selection, taking it home, unwrapping it, inserting the media into a device and pressing play. All of that, the anticipation, is part of the experience. I still do all of this but just as often I find myself wanting new music and because of the sheer convenience of it I simply fire up itunes, point, click and listen. Yes the music is still good but something is lost in the whole experience for sure.

  2. One thing to remember that's often lost is that recorded music has only been around for 100 out 14 billion or so years, and much like us, it's constantly evolved, and will continue to.

    Vinyl - however, has stood up to many a foe valiantly. Reel-to-Reel, 8-Track, Cassette, and CD have all fallen to its sword - and now even with Digital Music - it's faring quite well. It's doing a little too well for me, as my wife isn't the happiest with the cost of the obsession - but it's surviving, it just will never be like it used to be - but in reality, what is?

    The music freak will hopefully continue to find the true forms (like my nephew), and most of those will be musicians themselves. Like the reaper, I don't fear the cloud or digital music, it's just another tool. I'm anal as an accountant with my iTunes meta-data, and my collection is mix of converted CD's, digitally bought, and pillaged music. I love my records to death and alphabetize with intense pride, but if I DJ out it's digitally, and if I'm on a quest for new or unheard sounds, I do it to the dirty glow of the monitor most of the time, out of connivance and cost.

    I still dig manually, circling the new arrival section at 4 local shops like a ravenous Great White, once or twice a week - it's an art I've spent too long perfecting, but I love getting in a digital K-Hole just as much, although I do fear the art may be dying as well.

    And there I go, talking myself in circles, coming out in fits.

    Per aspera ad astra.

  3. I am in two camps at present: 1) 10,000 + songs in virtual world (much time spent in headphones, though Pete Townshend said don't fucking do that to your hearing, kids) 2) Turntable, amp, a sub-woofer and two speakers. The amp is twenty years old. I keep the turntable hidden as my son would destroy it. When it does come out, so does the vinyl collection, along with a few tears shed over how much better the analog listenng experience is.

    Any big surprises on the deluxe edition of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath?

  4. Call me old fashioned if you what, I don't even own an I-pod. Guess I'm still stuck in the 70's/80's/90's timewarp. I still enjoy picking out that vinyl and listening to it out of my Pioneer speakers. I want the feel the atmosphere of the album, not the digital individuality of a disposable track.

    It just seems it is more and more evident these days, that listeners have no clue or care to whom they are even listening to.

    Thanks for an excellent post!

  5. Derek, well said from 1)a music nerd 2) a DJ... Great perspectives on both fronts. Now let's talk about the weather. Is the cloud really another tool? I can see the benefits for clubs, restaurants, doctors offices who need playlists at a touchfree moment's notice.

    I'm worried about the general public. Not the seekers and keepers of the flames. Not the bin diving DJ. I'm intrigued as to why the need for a smaller ,faster and NOW invisible, non tactical library for the kids and busy moms to never get to touch or look at. I'm actually considering that the reason (some) kids are so lazy and entitled, and attention spans are shrinking globally is because of the value tech places on the quick, easy and painless. At least when we sat down to listen to something, it was a process. Now it's an afterthought, an endless easily digested menu full of data.

  6. My stereo system - which was awesome - was stolen when I was moving out of an apt. I left with a load of stuff and was coming back to get my stereo and albums and THEY WERE GONE. I went into mourning for months and regret that I never replaced them. It was the dawning of the CD and I went in that direction :( I do however love my iPod and the experience of having the music with me everywhere, excellent sound and every tiny sound picked up inside my head....

  7. Seano, I've always been worried about the general public! lol

    Seriously though - I'm waaaaaaaay more worried now then I was with my original comment.

    I'm in the Google Music Beta and LOVE it. My iTunes library is a thing of absolute beauty that I've spent the better part of a decade organizing, adding to, etc. and now have that all on the my personal cloud which I can access while working and via my Android while walking about. 25,000+ hand picked songs of mine = love. That's pretty rad.

    Spotify? Not Rad. Not rad at all.

    My friend just gave me an invite and there's basically no reason to buy music if you're part of the general public and not a music freak. It's basically every song and album ever made at your finger tips. It's making personal digital libraries obsolete and that's scary as all hell. Digital Music is eating itself.

    Spotify is awful and is the first piece of tech I fear. You can't drink out of a firehouse.