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.