Author: Campbell, Bruce

iPod, YouPod, we ALLPod

The posting of Steve Almond’s article “The trouble with easy listening” started the most thought-provoking thread on the CBA Message Board in a long time.

The author of the article decries the effect that the proliferation of iPods and downloaded music has had on the music lover’s listening experience. His premise is that the experience itself is rendered shallower by the combination of the easy access to music song by song, and the disjointed aspect of songs without the context of the album.

I think it’s important to notice that the author is writing a book called "Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life”. My formative music listening years were spent listening to rock albums and I spent hours enjoying the whole experience. I would ride my bike to record store, plunk down 2 or 3 hard earned dollars to get an album, then take it home and devour it.

When I say devour it, I mean I listened to the album numerous times, while poring over the splendid record jacket. – often a full square foot of artistic masterpiece. I heard the album through my speakers (massive 15” JBL’s – I still have them) AND through earphones. I also eagerly read the liner notes, and got to know the names of producers, background singers, studios, publishing companies, session players and songwriters.

The height of my album enjoying years were the mid-to-late 1970’s and albums by then were, in and of themselves, sonic works of art, greater than the sum of their parts. In the mid 1960’s, albums were just LPs with a few hits and filler, but by the 70’s, the best rock and jazz artists strived to make each cut mean something in the context of the album. The song subjects, their order on the disks, even the amount of space between the songs were meant to work together. Clearly, this type of art simply isn’t possible in a “download your songs one at a time” scenario.

But did bluegrass music ever treat albums like this? I don’t really know. I think bluegrass was always song driven. I have seen many bluegrass albums with a unifying theme (gospel is a pretty common one), but the album doesn’t suffer as a whole if you only heard one side or the other. I see many bluegrass artists will recycle their best songs on several albums, without seeming to worry if it “fits” with the new disk or not. I also don’t know if the artists’ involvement with the recording process was as artistic director of the project or just the band leader.

An exception to this would be a good live bluegrass album – there, you could grow to love the flow from song to song, and your enjoyment of one song might be diminished if the song you expected next didn’t arrive. To divvy this up song by song might provide some enjoyable songs on an iPod, but it would deny the listener to larger pleasure of the representation of the live performance.

I beefed a little about the sound quality of Mp3 music as well, and Rick Cornish raised an interesting question: would I be willing to bet $1000 that I could tell the difference between a song from a CD and one from a docked iPod coming through my own stereo system. Well, I wouldn’t bet $1000 that the sun’s gonna rise tomorrow, but I believe I could tell the difference if the song were one that I had grown accustomed to listening to on my system. I could be wrong (I’m pretty used to that by now), but it’d be a lot of fun to test this out.

Maybe my anti-iPod bias is due to my own failings to get mine to work the way I want (I won one years ago). I see the iPod as a digital storage device, but when I plug it into my computer, it won’t let me “see it” as just another drive. It wants to “sync” to “libraries” using that infernal iPod software, when I just want to move files from one directory to another. I refuse to be MacIntoshed!!!

Posted:  3/31/2010

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