Much of the sanctimonious preaching I do on my teaching blog is meant to emphasize the idea that artistic substance, not shallow devotion to technology, is the right direction to lead our creative energies. I preach that you can’t buy mastery, you have to earn it.
I thought of this core concept as I began to assemble tonight’s entry, which itself is struggling to find substance in the midst of exploring what might be considered one of my shallowest enterprises: audiophilia.
Wheels started turning in my head when I posted my last entry, about making mix tapes. The piece was well-received, with several people leaving very positive comments.
Several commenters on the mix tape blog entry said they still possessed their mix tapes, but no longer had any devices on which to play them. Hopefully they migrated the music if not the mixes themselves to newer media and didn’t lose anything truly valuable. It did remind me, though, that I actually still own two very nice cassette tape decks, a Sony TC-KE500S, and a JVC TD-V531. In addition to having incredibly pretentious model numbers, these machines had several vague, probably meaningless, feature descriptions printed on their faces, like Closed Loop Dual Capstan Mechanism, Half Shell Stabilizer, Headroom Extension System, Ceramic Cassette Holder, and Two Motor Transport Mechanism. I assume these were displayed on these tape decks to give them showroom appeal, so you could be impressed by these features without having to talk to a salesman.
Who Were They? Stereo store salesmen, and they were almost always men, were, like auto parts clerks, only in the business because they were devoted to the mechanics of their craft, and were universally impatient snobs who just wanted to tell you how much more they knew about audiophilia than you did. It is doubtful I ever met anyone in a stereo store I liked or who knew anything about the soul of music.
I got into the stereo scene in my senior year in high school, when I started hanging out with kids who were heavily into both home and car stereo. When they talked about it, they always talked about equalization curves and bias settings, sometimes arguing about them, but never about well-written lyrics or amazing guitar licks. Their stereos were badges of validation, not vehicles for being moved by music.
I carried much of this devotion to the audio scene into my adult life, though as time went by I was less and less interested in the machines, and more into the music. As I write this, I am tapping my foot and bobbing my head to the newest (and last) Third Eye Blind album. I don’t care how it was recorded and on what machines using what microphones. I am listening to the music and its message.
In the present day I listen to music using the machinery of the current tech, without thinking about it much. I don’t particularly crave the latest Sennheiser headphones, or speakers with clean bass. In fact, I never play music over loudspeakers. At work I plug into my computer or my iPhone’s MP3 player. At home, Abby and I either watch movies or just talk, though when I am at work she likes to play country and western music on a boom box next to her recliner, since I don’t care for the genre.
Recently I have pondered getting something that would allow me to listen to music while I mow. Presently I use earplugs. I would entertain suggestions about that.
Abby is away this weekend, which is one reason I was able to spend time digging these tapes decks and tapes out of the attic and photographing them, which was very fun. It was also fun thinking about the nature of the way I listen to and enjoy music, more or less every single day of my life.
Well-written and thought-provoking. It seemed that at each line, I instantly thought of a comment to write, but then the next line would inspire a different one. Here’s what I’m going with:
Of the many personality traits I share with my father, one that I noticed early and have always appreciated was a dual ability to enjoy music as art while also being fascinated by the science and technology of the various media used to bring music to our ears. Given the choice between being a fanatic gear-head or a closed-eye, nodding-head parishioner of music, we both chose the latter. I remember many hours-long sessions with my Dad, each of us taking turns playing music for the other, pointing out what we liked about each song — the punchline lyric (think: ‘went and named me “Sue”.’), abrupt tempo change (Turners’ “Proud Mary”), or cracking emotional vocal.
I come from the era of playing cassettes on boom boxes as a kid. This was in the eighties, when cassette tapes had just finished replacing vinyl and 8-tracks as the delivery systems of choice for music. Of course, I still owned quite a few vinyl albums (the Star Wars soundtracks, “Urban Cowboy,” “No Jacket Required” by Phil Collins, CCR, “Thriller”), but by 1984 I was almost exclusively listening to cassettes.
I remember in 1985 buying the first “clear” cassette tape sold at my local Walmart, which was “Agent Provocateur” by Foreigner (single: “I Want to Know What Love Is.”). I thought it was really cool and began actively paying attention to groups that put out music on clear tapes. Those who did were instantly cooler than those who didn’t. Yeah, I was geeky that way.
I had a little boombox that had a “danceable” light display though I had no idea what those little lights indicated.
My uncle had the ultimate sound system though it was mostly for playing vinyl albums. It of course included a turntable, and he had Pioneer speakers. I always wanted a sound system as large and sophisticated as his but never came close to approximating it.
About 10 years ago, I got my first iPod, the “classic” that held I don’t know how many hundreds of songs. It made me shift into a more private and internalized method of listening to music in that I tended to listen only on headphones. The iPhone was a real game changer in terms of not only technology but how I consume music. Today, I own very, very few CDs: Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Garth Brooks’ “No Fences,” “The Force Awakens” soundtrack. I own no U2 CDs. Though I no longer have access to liner notes or album cover art, I’m rather grateful for the freed-up space. Today’s microchip-based sound systems fit my lifestyle in a way boom boxes and turntables never could.
I spend far more time listening to music, usually while editing pictures, than I do watching the mind-numbing box. My progression of media reflects my age having traversed through records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD’s, iPods, and eventually writing my own program to track, sort, and play over 40,000 mp3’s.
The one piece of music I’ve owned through all the media types was Pink Floyd. Even the double disc “Another Brick in the Wall” album that was painful to purchase because of the double price.
I still have 10,000 or so of those mp3’s on my editing laptop and with headphones on often just hit the random play although I find more and more its just easier to hit up Amazon Prime Music for its ability to instantly play something that pops in my mind for no apparent reason. Where is Harper Valley anyway?
I am not particularly genre specific. My two favorite songs, at least for the lyrics, are Skynards “Simple Man” and Brooks and Dunn “I believe.” Country and country rock. I’m always good with the Eagles, Santana, The Who and periodically will venture into the Johnny Cash (who I met once as a kid) and Hank Williams (Sr and Jr).
When I put on the headphones I generally tune out most of noise of the rest of the world and always enjoy the trips down memory lane.