Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Pocketful of Pflug

This reporter's final post in the noughties included a Top 10 list for 2009. Ever more, this seems a ridiculous exercise, mostly for its timing. So much of music appreciation has to do with full absorption and staying power. If one happens upon a perhaps game-changing album during the Thanksgiving holidays, how best to rank it in a year-end compendium?

The same holds true for end-of-decade retrospectives. How does one know where to rank 2009 musics among the prior nine years' releases?

(And let's not get started on what constitutes a decade. We already know that December 2000 marked the end of two thousand years in the Gregorian calendar and, therefore, the end of a millennium. To compensate, we'll agree that there was no year zero and that the 'first' decade had only nine years. Prolly muted the Times Square celebration leading into year X, but I can't be sure as Google Images has little commemorative evidence of the event.)

My suggestion? A year-end retrospective at the end of the *following* year, and a decade-end overview at the end of the *following* decade. This way passing fancies are weeded out and the music with real gravitas remains.

So. Best of 2008? Fleet Foxes. Best of the 90s? Toss-up between James 'Laid' and Massive Attack 'Mezzanine.'

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Much has been made lately of the cable TV wars and the fees paid to the content producers...the latest flashpoint being the just-concluded battle between Time Warner and The News Corporation (Fox). An interesting overwiew article (which I won't link to from here, as it is rather off-topic) appeared in the Times the other day. It went on about the power of the consumer to resist relentless rate increases. Here is Alex Dudley, spokesman for Time Warner:

'They're the ones who are going to resist these price increases that the programmers are trying to push. One need look no further than the music industry for an example of what happens when consumers feel taken advantage of by an entire industry.'

Lots of pot-shots have been (and are) taken at the music biz, some fair, others not so much. The music consumer has gotten 'revenge' due to tools and choices simply unavailable to them ten years ago. Piracy might be lauded by its exponents as a stick in the eye of The Man, but it's also stealing (which would still merit a police visit at Target, say).

That said, as a former industry type I can cite one avenue via which the consumer has gotten sweet, justifiable, retaliation: the rebirth of the one-song-at-a-time model.

Remember the 45? Or even the cassingle or the CD single? I sure do. My hundreds of 45s eventually translated into hundreds and thousands of LP purchases. It was a cheap gateway into Candyland, and it made me a habitué for life.

Somewhere along the line some bean counters and their overlords decided that singles (as a standalone product class) were evil: they were unprofitable and worse, Donner Partyesque. And so, the push intensified to coerce the consumer into spending fifteen bucks to procure the one or two songs he wanted. Dopes.

Mmmm. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and a la carte.

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Going back to EOD overviews, here is a dandy Sunday Times article about the prior ten years' changes in music consumption and production:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/arts/music/03tech.html

Lots of grist for commentary, but the bit I zeroed in on was the author's first mp3 player, the Diamond Rio PMP300. 32 megabytes of storage, capable of holding 12 songs ripped at 128kbps. That woulda been a toy for the quintessential early adopter.

My first such player was a 2001 model, the Archos 6000 6GB 'jukebox.' Bought it in anticipation of an autumn European vacation. All that summer I cherry-picked songs to fill the player's advertised 1500-song capacity...while knowing nothing of bit rates and their respective sound quality.

After painstakingly choosing and ripping the perfect 1500, I was in for three disappointments. First, the capacity turned out to be closer to 1200, given some of the longer tunes and classical pieces I favored. Second, the sound quality was crap. And third, crucially...I had no knowledge at the time of noise-reduction headphones. My 12-hour flight featured perfectly vetted music that had been reduced to vaguely tuneful white noise.

Much of this was forgotten about during the course of the trip, which took place in early October of 2001, a noteworthy time for air travel and overseas attitudes about Americans. Two snapshots: descending into a Paris Métro station and seeing a just-disembarked passenger aim a laser pointer squarely at my forehead, and walking alone on a quiet London street while three people directly across applauded me. Until then I had no idea I looked so 'American.'

And my first ripping misadventure? Written off (and subsequently not restarted for three years). I assuaged my disappointment with an armload purchase at Tower Records Piccadilly, the finest record store I ever visited.