Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Life and Tragic Death of Recorded music

I've already decided on an early New Year's resolution: listen to music. Seems so simple, right? In truth, it is deceivingly difficult, maybe impossible.

I mean, does anyone listen to music, for long stretches at a time, without undertaking any other distracting task, except in a concert setting? Put on a CD or turn on your ipod or other cloud-playing device, sit down and just listen with no other short-term goals in mind?

I suppose maybe most people never did this; certainly very few people, if any, do it today. But I used to do it all the time.
It used to be a treasured activity of mine, something to which I would invest real energy and effort. The sort of joy of getting a new CD—or, way back in the day, cassette tape—used to be one of those things I looked forward to like nothing else. I might suspend all other endeavors, putting it on and listening obsessively for a day or two until I had memorized every phrase, every note, every nuance.

Even as recently in college, before I had a laptop, I would go to the music library, check out music, and just listen to it, and it was awesome! I also owned a turn table in college; once I had gone to the trouble of cleaning, and then putting on, an LP, I was damned well going to appreciate it fully.

Once I did get a laptop, it made it so easy to go to the library and just download all the music I wanted, but once I didn't have to listen to it there, and could save it for later, it became that much easier to put off the actual listening indefinitely.

These days, it should be easier than ever to unleash the joy of hearing new music! Instead of waiting for the gift of a new CD or shelling out 15 precious dollars, or even going to the library, I can listen to almost any piece of recorded music for free (or really cheap) on the internet. But because it's perpetually available, listening to it now never quite seems justified. Ironically, the availability of all that music has contributed to the death of listening. It's impossible, in our busy, frenetic modern lives, to sit down and appreciate one recording of music, when there's so much else to do, and we can just listen to it some other time anyway.

So when I decided two nights ago, to try to listen to some new music that I didn't know, I found it to be a much more difficult and anxiety-ridden task than I anticipated. I'm used to listening to new music while driving, cooking or working, maximizing efficiency of the task, but reducing my appreciation. I kept fidgeting about, wanting to open some new page to read on the internet, wondering whether I should be doing something else more productive.

Someone close to me recently contended that recorded music is all but useless next to live music. I agree that hearing music live is, all other things equal, the best way to experience it. But the fault of recorded music lies just as much with us as it does in the recordings themselves. We've essentially chosen to really listen to music only in live settings, thus confirming and fulfilling our existing bias.

But recordings are so great that I'm gonna have to give them another real chance. So there's my resolution; listen to music, straight through, undistracted and uninterrupted, for 30 minutes every other day. Can I do it??


  1. response soon to come at (shameless plug)(assuming you have more of an audience than I do)

  2. great post from Post. I tweeted it.. . .would've even if I weren't a relative...though I guess not possible to assert that since can't imagine non-relatedness to Post....

  3. This is a great piece Sam. I totally concur. Frankly, I think it is harder and harder to do any activity with absolute focus.