Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Last Flight of the Digital Dodo Bird

There was an interesting recent article by Ian S. Port in the SF Weekly about the looming death of CDs, and the author posits that the romance of listening to music dies when the physical recording disappears and is replaced by digitized information on a hard drive.
As a person over 30 who has spent an inordinate amount of my life in record retail and working for record labels, I am of a similar mind. I am a devoted enthusiast of what the protagonist in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity referred to as “fetish properties” – someone to whom the physical manifestation of an artist’s statement is still valuable and worth paying actual money for. Things like artwork, track order, credits, even the smell of the printing is part of the experience that is increasingly unknown today, at a time when it seems that everything ever recorded is available instantaneously, effortlessly and freely. I like that Port calls the process of choosing a record, putting it on and listening is a “declarative act” of intent. It requires effort, and by design places the music in a more active, foreground role, rather than something passive to be chosen by a shuffle function and relegated to the background.
Port argues that the endangered discs are portable, fairly durable and sound better than any format that preceded it, let alone the common digital formats available as downloads. There’s no question about the inferiority of standard bitrate mp3s. You lose data anytime you compress a digital file, so in terms of audio quality, mp3s are as regressive a technology as 8-tracks and cassettes. But, I take issue with the argument about CDs sounding inherently “better” than LPs. That’s a long-fought battle that’s completely subjective, and an argument beyond the scope of this little screed.

But the ultimate point here is about the aesthetic of the physical media. Certainly, there are legions of music fans – well-heeled audiophiles, DJs, indie rock hipsters, nostalgia freaks and others that treasure the LP, enough that vinyl is still being produced in limited quantities and rare recordings still fetch astronomical prices. Considering the resurgence of interest in vinyl, Port asks why there isn’t similar reverence for the CD, and I’m afraid there’s no comparison in terms of romance. The LP has a history dating back to the Edison Cylinder at the turn of the 20th century that the 1980s retro-tech of CDs can’t match, and besides, you can’t miss something if it hasn’t gone away (yet). Regardless, it would be a shame to lose the CD, the last mass-produced vestige of the physical product, for the personality-free convenience of downloads. To hold the actual physical representation of a great album, in whatever format, still means something to me. Despite the dwindling sales numbers, I have a feeling there are a lot of us who feel this way.

Here's the link to the article: click.
— Rusty Aceves

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