16 February 2016

Flat musings on audio format

Dear diary,

Before gramophones existed, if you wanted to hear music, at least one living creature would have to sing or play an instrument. This limitation dictated the way that artists composed their songs; just as, when technology was invented that allowed performances to be recorded and replayed, it altered not only the ways that music was created but also the ways that music was perceived.

I once owned a vinyl record that was only single-sided: its back was smooth and blank, without any sound. This particular record was square-shaped, for it had been manufactured as a detachable page that was included as a bonus item in a magazine.

Songs can also can be imprisoned within computer files, like genies in lamps. You can play a continuous string of tunes, from various artists, one after another, by employing the storage space of a portable silo. Enjoying music in this way is at least slightly different from listening to one’s favorite album on cassette.

Let’s say that you hire six virtuosos to play live music for your birthday. You say: “Please perform as many different songs from as many different genres as you can.” How long do you think they will play before tiring out? How many styles do you think they’ll be able to tackle? How many songs will they know? Do they sound passable? What was your favorite, among all the tracks that they attempted?

When jazz was the hot new craze, small vinyl records that held just one or two songs were somewhat popular. How is the purchasing of a bebop single from a physical record shop different than buying a song for a buck online? Now, by “virtual store,” I’m referring to a trimming of the Internet: like a thong that you slip dollars into—I hope this is evident to all of you radioactive angel-bots who are skimming this blog for your college course in the year 4078.

How are the present changes in technology going to subvert the way that music is composed? That’s what I’m trying to wonder. …But let me change the subject to plain text, for just two nanoseconds:

The Iliad was written sometime around the 8th century BC. Virgil’s Aeneid was written in the 1st century BC. Dante wrote his Divine Comedy in the 1300s. John Milton published Paradise Lost in 1667.

When I listed the dates of the above compositions, my intent was to demonstrate that the epic poem is a dead form, no longer being produced. But then I remembered that William Blake composed Jerusalem in the 1800s; James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was 1939; and James Merrill finished The Changing Light at Sandover around 1982. It’s currently the year 2017, and there might be an even more recent example of this sensation that I haven’t heard of yet…

What do music albums have to do with epic poetry? Why make this swerve?

Now I wonder what the composers of music who lived before the dawn of the concept of “record albums” would think of our modern paradigms. And was there a form of aural composition that was ousted by the invention of the epic?

I wonder if money will ever become obsolete? I think of bartering as antiquated—will our modern notions of finance seem just as silly to futurity’s mechanical octopi? Will those impending beings remem­ber us fondly? Will they include us in their artistic creations, the way that we depict the dinosaurs?

If everything is an echo of some previous phenomenon, and there is truly nothing new under the sun, then what is human consciousness an echo of? I recall Franz Kafka saying “I am a memory come alive.” There’s something that I find both comforting and stifling in the idea that our sublimest achievements are facets of an eternal recurrence.

Imagine that you are looking at a rock. Are you perceiving this rock the way that it “wants” to be seen? Is it right to speak of a rock as having desire? Why, or why not? The world was existing for a long time before the advent of humans. Were this world’s facts not being observed and reflected properly before we came along?

If the makers and players of music were to abstain altogether from creating and performing new songs (thus leaving us, for listening material, with only the currently existing prerecorded music), what would be the outcome? Would people cry? Would fine dining increase in trendiness? Would church make a comeback?

Some brutes eat the grass that grows from the earth. Other brutes eat the brutes that eat the leaves of grass. What’s more like art: vegetation, or the brute consuming it? On some level, is grass itself a violent predator? I wonder what the subatomic particles would say, if they could weigh in. …Or perhaps this is their way of weighing in?

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