in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Golden Age of Wi-Fi (Listen like Thieves in the Night of the Long Files)

Once upon a time, whole families would gather around the wireless, rapt in radio plays and hanging on every word – Goon Show in dumb show: awestruck, pipestoked and slippered silence.
Not long after that, recorded music became affordable. By the seventies it was possible to listen to an entire symphony of your choice without having to tune in at an appointed time, without even getting up off your poof more than three times to change sides. These days we can call upon any of those ‘good ol' days’ at will, complete with snap, crackle and pop captured as perfectly as flies in amber.We can download a record collection that would have taken an entire family a decade to amass, and we can do it in a matter of hours and listen to any parts of it in any order, at any time, in any place. A revolution by any other name, surely. But what are we losing?

Apple calls their proprietary compression system ‘Apple Lossless.’ It’s the ultimate promise of something for nothing (or nothing from something). Even mp3 sounds pretty good now, good enough to allay the fears of the majority of music lovers and even fool some DJs – so what if you lose those frequencies, they’re inaudible, right? Maybe they are. But what we have lost, what is more significant, is an entire way of listening. Is it such a bad thing?

I’ve just spent the past week at my dear lady’s house, minding all four walls from robbers and silence while the mamas and papas get all B&B in the rurals of Taswegia. Brother younger meanwhile was most definitely home, and I’ve been watching him listen. Ryland, the son of an accomplished musician (and no bastard trumpeter in his own right) has almost never heard the end of any of his tracks in his downloaded music collection. In the midst of waiting for something to happen – a meal, a phone call, a knock at the door – he skips. Not with a rope, but with a minute of each track, enough to get the intro, the hook, the chorus, then onto the next one. I tried to tell him that the best bit at the end of Van Halen’s Jump was where Eddie has a spack attack near the end of the nine minute skat solo. I was justly disbelieved. But the point stands – the days of sitting down and listening to a complete piece of recorded music from start to finish or even (shock, horror) a whole album by an ensemble artist are over, rover.

It’s a sign of the times – bye bye bitdepth, hello bandwidth. Like all our communications, we’ve forgeone quality for quantity, bit by bit. More and more communication that says less and less.

‘Are you there? What? I’m on the train... You’re breaking up... I can’t hear you... I’m losing you...’

How perfect that our mobiles can now play AV files. We’re all Jazzy Jeff Mills and the Fresh Prince of Dexter Flex now. No sooner were the theoretical implications of sampladelic flava savoured than they’ve been downloaded and incorporated in to the collected habits of millions of listeners. Hell, I do it too. In an audible sense, mp3 is about cutting out the stuff you don’t need. But the way it allows you to control music is the same in another sense – you piff the riff that leaves you cold, you skip the dud track, you delete the version with the guest rap that doesn’t tickle your fancy. Same goes for friends, family and love, so I’ve heard. You live and listen like that asshole testing their ring-tones on the choo-choo train.

And believe it or not, that makes you a DJ.

© Peter Chambers 2006

No comments:

The Author

[almost nothing] about me

My photo
PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.