Friday, October 26, 2012

Playback Time

Playing music with "lasers." That would be cool. Not accompanying the music, like "Laser Floyd," but actually using a laser beam to make the music play. Digitally. Somehow, all those ones and zeros get translated into light and then sound. And best of all, you can carry it around in your pocket. If you've got a real flat, wide pocket. No more cassettes. No more albums. Compact discs. Little. Shiny. Compact. Finally science delivers in a way we can all agree on.
That was thirty years ago. We didn't actually all agree back then, either. The first Compact Disc I owned was given to me by my older brother, who helped replace the first album he ever gave me: Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." The second, appropriately enough, was Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," another case of upgrading to the future from an album he had given me in the past. At the time, I was the proud owner of several crates of vinyl. On the one hand, I was carting around hundreds of pounds of plastic and cardboard full of treasured sounds. On the other, I was carting around hundreds of pounds of plastic and cardboard. What did I have to lose by switching to a package that was primarily plastic and a little bit of space age aluminum? How about fidelity? Debate still swirls about in audiophile circles about the purity of music delivered by friction versus the sterile quality of digital playback. I shivered at the notion of having to replace all of those records.
I proceeded cautiously. It took me years before I started buying my music exclusively on CD. I was stuck on the price point: It cost me around six bucks for a new LP, but fifteen for a CD. If the important thing was amassing a collection, it was going to be financially clever to stick to vinyl. But my mind kept wandering to those snaps, crackles and pops that could be found in those crates. In the summer of 1986, I bought my last LP. Sure, it meant that I had to really want that new music. There weren't a lot of impulse buys for CDs.
More than twenty-five years later, those crates of albums have gone away. The bins of compact discs still follow me around, even as I evolve into an mp3 collector. Sometimes I burn those songs to a disc, but since my fancy new car allows me to play digital music through a wire that connects my digital music player, the CD is just something that can get lost, or scratched.
This past weekend, we lost one. Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. The Pastoral. I've had that one for more than twenty years. It got a little nick in the last movement, and if that's ever happened to you, I think you know how extremely painful that can be. My solution was to download Von Karajan's best with the Berlin Philharmoniker and melt it onto a plastic coated wafer. Ah, science.
As the CD approaches middle age, it is being phased out. The iPod is eleven years old. How much longer before I give up all my file space for a more virtual way to store music?


Anonymous said...

"How much longer before I give up all my file space for a more virtual way to store music?"

A long time if media licensing continues its move to a model that's subscription, cloud and stream-based, ala Comcast, Netflix, Rhapsody, Rdio, Pandora, Hulu, Spotify, et al.

Krs10 said...

I remember the first time I heard an mp3. Thanksgiving, 1999. Felix told us we could soon put your entire crate of albums onto a tiny drive no bigger than your thumb. Blew my mind. And now, it's routine.

But I do miss album sides.