Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Bipolar Biped's iPod

Humankind has gone from walking to and from everywhere, to riding a horse, to traveling in a horse-drawn carriage, to sitting for hours each and every
day in an automobile. The consequence of this is that our bodies will slowly degenerate and atrophy. Humankind has gone from learning to read and write, to writing down
everything we know, to reading everything we study, to watching television, to absorbing bits and bytes of information on the internet. The consequence of this is that our minds
will slowly degenerate and atrophy. But worst of all, humankind has gone from creating great works of music over the last 500 years, to attending live concerts, to
reproducing music through recordings, to listening to music at home on vinyl, tape and now CD, to walking around, dead to the world, playing music
through crappy little white ear buds on an iPod. The consequence of this is that our souls will slowly degenerate and perish.

From the heights of musical and artistic accomplishment during the High Renaissance, to shuffling through bytes of digital compressed files on an iPod are two bipolar
extremes that defy explanation. How could we have gone from one extreme to the other. Over the last century alone, we've tried many times, through the advancement
of recording techniques, to reproduce as well as possible the sound and feel of a live symphony orchestra, a live opera, pipe organ or piano recital. And the sound quality
of an iPod is what most of us are willing to settle for? Five years ago, on April 9th 2007, it was announced that 100 million units had been sold, and that by September
2009 that number had ballooned to more than 220 million units sold. And if these numbers aren't scary enough, back in 2005, the creator of this insidious device was
presented with awards and honors for engineering excellence from the Royal Academy of Engineering. In the past, attending a live concert was not only a musical event
but also a social event. It was a communal experience that would lead to lively discussions of either the music itself or its performance. Walking around listening to a
device strapped to your belt is anti-social to say the least. And are you really listening, or is it simply a distraction?

Hold on! I know what you're thinking. You are convinced that whoever is writing this must be a rich, elitist snob who believes that classical music is reserved for only a
privileged, exclusive group of well-educated people. Well, guess again. I'm just a blue jean wearing working stiff that simply cannot abide to see great musical masterpieces
devalued and bastardized that way. And I am also the first one in line when it comes to convenience, but not at the expense of the efforts of others. Let us take, as an
example, a symphony by Gustav Mahler. It would sometimes take Mahler, with page after page of musical notation, revisions, orchestration and so on, anywhere between
one to two years to completely finish composing and editing a symphonic work. A conductor spends weeks if not months pouring over and studying the score of that
symphony in preparation for its recording. The orchestral musicians spend weeks, going over their individual parts to prepare for the actual full orchestral rehearsals that
take place before the recording sessions. The recording engineers and technicians take great care in not only setting up the microphones and equipment to capture the
sound at its best, but also spend lots of time and energy on post-production of the recording to ensure as close to accurate reproduction of the original take as possible.
Graphic designers work on the cover art and writers do extensive research before the liner notes go to print. The record label executives spend money, time and energy,
advertising, promoting and marketing that new recording before and after it hits the streets. So after all that, how can anyone justify downloading (probably for free) that
Mahler recording to their iPod, shuffling it around, partially listening to it once while jogging or running errands, and then deleting it (probably because it sounds like
crap due to the medium its on) to make room for whatever else piece of music strikes their fancy. I'm sure your internet service provider loves you because by doing all
this you're supporting their business, and offering absolutely no support to anyone involved in the production of that recording. Have our lives become an overload of information, work, stress and
time commitments to the point where we cannot indulge ourselves anymore in the enjoyment of good music?

There is nothing wrong with solitary enjoyment of music. In fact it's amazing that we can sit in our favorite chair at home and bask in the glorious sounds of a Bach
Fugue, a Beethoven Concerto, a Mahler Symphony, or a Chopin Nocturne, but not to the detriment of the artistic and human value of the music itself. I know, I know,
a CD itself is also simply a digital copy of a recording, that by its own convenience can be played in the car, at work, on the PC, can be copied and/or thrown away. But
at least while you are listening to it from your favorite chair, booklet notes in hand, you can give that glorious music your undivided attention and the respect it deserves.
Music is the only art form that exists and functions through the dimension of time. That aforementioned Mahler Symphony does not really exist before the first note is
played, nor does it realize its full raison d'ĂȘtre until the last note is played, eighty minutes later.

Music has the power, if not always physically in the same space, to bring us together. The Woodstock festival was an amazing example of that. The music industry is
slowly dying because we, as a collective group, have stopped supporting it. And yes, I agree that record labels and playback equipment manufacturers have often confused
the issue by switching formats or embracing new technology too quickly, forcing us to adapt or get left behind, the iPod and the mp3 audio format a case in point. Stop
downloading and sharing music files, forget where you've put your iPod, and buy CDs again. Maybe the industry will follow us for a change. Give music the time, respect
and attention it needs. Prevent the soul from leaving humankind.

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