iN Defense

iN Defense

Back when I worked in a record store that specialized in classical music, those creepy audiophile dudes totally annoyed me—they still do. It’s just not in my makeup to discuss the superiority of this recording versus that recording of the exact same piece. Luckily, thanks to digital distribution, I no longer have any reason to encounter this particular species of music fanatic. Besides marking up the edges of their CDs with green markers in order to improve sound quality—yeah, and babies come from storks—these guys still insist that analog recordings are far superior than anything digital. Even if they’re right, the hissing and pops inherent to the medium can detract from the suspension of disbelief situation which recordings ultimately raise: Is it live, or Memorex?

Personally, I prefer live music over recordings. When I’m sitting (or standing or jumping for that matter) with an audience, I get to physically soak in the entire aura of the performance, which is far from audio-only. But whether or not you prefer live music, CDs, LPs, or MP3s, it seems that a lot of classical music junkies are in cahoots with the audiophiles to create some kind of angry lynch mob and burn their latest heretic, the iPod.

As for me, I wish these things had existed back when I was kicking around the international music festival circuit; I could have packed a hell of a lot lighter. The sleek little devices aren’t just MP3 players—you can store up to 80 gigs of data: audio, video, PDF scores, Sibelius files, Max/MSP and Jitter patches, and even better-than-CD-24-bit audio if you, for whatever reason, needed it (granted, the iPod won’t play these files, but you can transfer them to your laptop). Basically everything you’d possibly need to facilitate a performance or give a lecture about your work fits nicely into your pocket—not to mention a vast collection of albums, including cover art, on top of it all.

New York City has excellent tap water, which makes the first question you get at every single restaurant a moot point: Bottled or tap? No, it’s not some ploy to make money off the tourists, some folks really feel bottled water always tastes better. And to me, the difference in quality between various recording media is a similar question: Water or water? When you’re really thirsty, the difference is negligible no matter what. But when you’re talking about recordings, I think tethering yourself to the gourmet variety ultimately limits you. It’s just a recording after all, a documentation used to signify a performance or rendering of a piece of music. If your ears are so damn sensitive, why not use your sonic prowess to fill-in whatever it is you’re missing?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

7 thoughts on “iN Defense

  1. Chris Becker

    This is so sad. NYC has such a rich tradition of eccentrics obessed with sound, history and other strains of culture…Joseph Cornell is one of my heroes, he was certainly very obsessive…there was a great film on PBS not too long ago about a man who was going from subway station to subway station documenting all of the tile artwork for a large archive he had printed on his own printing press…

    Wouldn’t the world be boring without these “creepy” audiophiles that you’ve gone out of your way to demonize? I love creepy people..and I love the perspectives they can offer us…just when you think say “mp3s are wonderful…” someone comes along and says “NO! I ONLY BUY VINYL!” And then shows you photos in their wallet of their record collection…

    …I think that’s beautiful…forget if you disagree with the weirdo…the outsider offers you a window to another view you might have missed otherwise…power walking to work with the earbuds on…

  2. randy

    point taken…
    …but not all iPod users run around with ear buds inserted at all times. even if they do, the details that you think they’re missing are just re-focused on other weird details.

  3. philmusic

    I agree-I prefer live music. My issue was with the marketing of a product. By the way doesn’t the I-Phone make the I-Pod obsolete?


  4. JJeffers

    To me the difference between listening to, let’s say, a piece for large orchestra in concert and on my iPod is like sitting in front of a hot, delicious meal in a restaurant and seeing a picture of it on the menu. Of course, there are so many factors involved in the live performance, not the least of which is the space it’s presented in, but my experience may be colored slightly by my local concert hall. Listening to a piece through my computer speakers (with the cd in the drive) lies somewhere in between those two extremes.

    I will say that I tend to find headphones invasive (earbuds) or stifling (regular) and I enjoy tweaking the positions of my speakers and hearing how it sounds in the room. Maybe I’m some sort of mild, subconscious acoustics freak?

  5. philmusic

    For a different audio view:

    The sound page

    I also have a friend who swears by wax cylinders–he says that the recording-by direct pressure –bring a live aspect that is uncanny to hear.

  6. glennfreeman

    it all depends on what you are listening to and how you choose to listen … this also applies to so-called “live” music. based on circumstances, there are instances where a “live” experience might not sound as good as a recorderding. again, it all depends on what you are listening to and how you choose to listen … there are never absolutes.

  7. siconesis

    It’s a funny thing reading post after post here in NMB about how new music is discriminated and minimized while almost simultaneously this medium is used to criticize and discriminate against others’ preferences. We all have preferences and may not like other people’s, but that doesn’t justify thrashing them. What if someone is an audiophile? Maybe they have a better-developed sense of hearing or they just rightly confer aesthetic value to sound quality, which is a part of a musical experience. What difference does it really make how people choose to hear their music (iPod, vinyl, CDs…) and what they choose to listen to (relationships, sound, tonality, everything…)?

    We should be careful, for this kind of intolerance springs from limited minds.


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