2 Apr 2011

Listen in Colour

Just because something is more technologically advanced doesn't mean it's intrinsically better, in a lot of cases this can be true however we had a recent discussion about the Kindle and I won't lie, I hate the things. For me a book is more than the mere words it contains, I treat mine as respected artifacts and can't imagine reading (for leisure) from anything else. Digital text is cold and transient (and where do you put your bookmark?). 

The conversation logically moved on to music with a retrospective aside on how we used to play one side of an album and physically turn it over to play the other, a completely different listening experience from absently flicking across disjointed audio tracks, plucked randomly as we do these days from a monolithic vat of faceless data.

Of course it’s a different world, a different lifetime, a different set of rules and yes, a different listening experience. I’m (mostly) as guilty as the next man and although I do endeavour to keep one foot in the past for the duration of a full album with all tracks played *as the artist intended*, my conscious commitment feels increasingly flayed by an abundant overload of available data combined with self imposed modern day constraints of time for listening to any of it.

The listening experience is one thing and although potentially disjointed can be reeled back as was with a bit of self control, and although music is music there used to be other contributing factors which made it all the more special. For example there was the build up and anticipation of the release date combined with attainment of the physical product on the day. I vividly recall teenage excitement on collecting the latest pre-ordered 7″ from the UK-Subs, a Saturday morning purchase verging on the religious and doubly enhanced by the brown paper bag it came in, sealed and labeled with my name hand written on it in biro by an adolescent fantasy in the shape of one of the (then) coolest girls on the planet who served behind the counter of Thirwells record shop in Northallerton High St, at 14 years old it couldn’t have got any better. But there was more, and it’s the more which no amount of  innovative iTunes timed releases, podcasts, pod-concerts or free album downloads and accompanying newspapers from Radiohead will ever, EVER replace – I’m talking about coloured vinyl, yes, the absolute unequaled, unrivalled and never to be repeated pinnacle of music related collectability.

My first ever self bought music was Cool for Cats by Squeeze on pink vinyl (I proudly still have a 12″ copy) and it went on from there to include most alternative and punk from the charts of ’78 to 82′. I’d kill to have that collection now, but as was the case with my stash of 2000AD comics they were moved on to make space for, and fund, the next thing, and in this case after records came motorcycles (the 2000AD’s previously went to fund the records).

The uniqueness of collectability seems to be missing in the digital age of audio. How could there ever be an MP3 released in coloured data format which you could frame later in life after re-discovering it in your loft, it’s completely impossible, those days have passed and with them the buzz of the collectable special, a collectable MP3? It’s just not going to happen. It’s all just data, lines of code, and with the advent of online storage not even magnetic states on our own personal media anymore. We stream 0′s and 1′s from the cloud, listen to a few snatches of a few tracks of something in our iPhone earpiece, switch off and it’s gone again…….what was even there?

New technology provides us with a lifetimes collection of music in our pocket, digitally enhanced to (allegedly) sound better with gadgets and applications to stream it when we want and where we want, but I still lament the loss of vinyl. It’s self admitted mid life nostalgia for a bygone age of adolescent dreamy evenings spent racking up a stack of 7″ singles on my mono box record player and having all the time in the world to play them over and over again, but equally I miss the loss of concept for the physically present limited edition gate-fold sleeve you could hold in your hands whilst listening to the audio, mainly for itself but also because there can be nothing to replace it, it’s gone, a full genre of interest and history from my youth is extinct.

Digital music, enhanced it may be, and it may be true that it sounds better (debatable), with the advent of the iTunes LP we also get video, but although hugely convenient (I love my iPod Nano) I do feel that todays music plays from a faceless and colourless format.

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