Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Real Sea Change

As fellow poster Veronica Fever pointed out, the Beatles remasters have spawned a good amount of discussion about the demise of the CD format, quite possibly making this release and its campaign a marker for the end of the CD era. But what's happened to recorded music is so much more than just a format change. With tongue firmly implanted in cheek (which is quite possibly its permanent location in Veronica's oral cavity), she describes the process of listening to the new remasters as such:
There I was, loading an actual compact disc into a player and then, after a bit of furniture-to-speakers alignment, pressing 'play.' Whereupon tracks proceeded sequentially and I paid real attention. It was all quite novel.

Chuckle as we may, Veronica has actually hit upon the more dramatic change in music consumption over the past few years with that very observation. This morning I went through the same exercise in order to listen to a few of these new Beatles discs, and was similarly struck by how truly rare it was for me to go through such exacting, solitary measures, and give recorded music listening such focused, undivided attention.

Ultimately, this has lead me to conclude that buying this new set of Beatles CDs when I already owned the previous generation was actually a waste of money. After A/B'ing these new CDs against my mp3 versions of the old CDs, I can say, yes, there is greater definition between the instruments, and yes, often the instruments and vocals are more life-like. But to be honest, it's really not a dramatic difference, and more to the point, I'm only going to be hearing that difference when I'm completely focused, listening to the music on the best system in my living room with no other distractions. Frankly, that just doesn't happen much anymore.

Portable mp3 devices such as iPods have made music consumption not just fully mobile, but they have also contextualized music as just another in a wide range of competition for time and attention, often from things on the very same portable device. Perhaps as a direct result, these days when I've got music on in the living room (or anywhere in the house), I'm almost always multi-tasking, and rarely giving the music my complete and undivided attention. For most of us, the days of sitting in a dark living room listening intently to music with no computer, cell phone, TV, newspaper, magazine, book, etc. are largely past. It does still happen for me, but it's rare.

Yes, the CD format is very much an endangered species. So is the "long form" album format, and maybe, now, the endless "re-mastering" of albums folks have already bought 3 or more times over.

(Interestingly, this may be another way that live music has role-reversed with recorded music... it seems more likely now that a person would invest an hour of their full focused attention listening to music, cut off from all other stimuli, at a concert in a quiet venue such as The Cedar, than they ever would by listening to a recording in their living room. For rock and pop music, the live concert used to be the more social experience of the two, but I can't say, for example, I've ever seen either of my teenage children make it through listening to even 30 minutes of music listening at home without texting or taking a phone call).

And so... while I'd love to go into the finer points of the differences between "Taxman" on the new re-mastered Revolver CD against the old mp3 on my iPod, I'm afraid I just blogged through it...

1 comment:

Modica said...

Good job on this post! It's nice to see somebody who knows what they're writing about.