A fairly regular conversation regarding the use and function of the iPod occurred between family over the holiday. At the onset of the conversation, talk centered around the respective merits of types of iPods (video, mini, nano, regular etc.); a perfectly banal, bourgeois thing to talk about especially getting close to Christmas. Soon the question was whether to own an iPod at all, given certain people’s particular habits regarding listening to music. I remained largely silent for most of this, mostly because I was really thinking about why the format for music is of such a crucial importance right now, particularly with regards to portable and transferable digital music, but as well to the dubious vitality of live music, the amorphous identity of concert spaces and the ever broadening personal taste that the speed and ease of digital culture promotes. Why should we care what type of iPod to own, it’s just music, can’t we listen to it any way we want?

Of course, one could make the easy Marxist swipe by condemning each new version of the iPod as simply smart marketing (i.e. stupid buyers falling into a consumer trap). On the other hand, iPod’s are a very real cultural signpost for upper class success. They mean cool (if to be cool is to be rich, fashionable, tech-savvy, and into ‘good music’ which invariably means current pop in all its genres and forms). Furthermore, they allow for a type of listening which is demanded by a vast audience. This type of listening (headphones, the ability to change tracks on a dime, totally unencumbered storage, the ability to view relevant production information, and now to watch videos, store photos etc.) is increasingly the dominant form in America. Chalk it up to on-the-go lifestyle, a voracious appetite for new media, or a decline in interest in other performance norms (specifically that of the virtuoso), it is simply the case that listening to recordings on-the-go using the hippest of robots is what the kids want.

The other response, however, is, well, what if you’re not single, don’t walk or travel alone, don’t like headphones, or just don’t have the money? What if you have kids, or better, babies? So it’s really a sociological point: the fact that the iPod retains the cultural currency that it does is a result of the way people require music in this country (fast, alone, and in short spurts – thank god for the 3 minute song-form). Maybe more people are single, maybe more people have smaller attention spans, and bigger wallets, or listen to downloaded music because it gives you the feeling of control and freedom. The iPod is democratic, it says ‘you only need to listen to me as long as you want and furthermore you can accessorize me!’ What does this mean for music though? If Apple is dominating the format for music, do we, the music-makers, have to kow-tow to the robots? I think yes and no. Yes, if you want to influence middle to upper class youth/single/urban culture. No, if you have other intents (like, writing music longer than 3 minutes, or for the theater, or for space-specific pieces, or for people with babies). Is the CD obsolete? Yes. Does that mean we won’t still listen to CDs as we do LPs and Cassettes? No. Are we headed for personal robots that give us total control over media in all its forms? Totally. Does that say anything about music? Only sociologically, which means, hell no. Music lives in a different space. It operates in a web of influence defined by the infinitely complex relationship between human beings, and their relationship with the universe. If people with iPods want to listen to crappy music, that’s just a demographic actuality. But that crappy music, however brief its life may be, has a immutable uniqueness that transcends sociological determination. In the end, its important how we listen to music, but that represents only a small portion of the larger event called music. And it seems almost silly to have to say that what’s really special about that event is the music itself, not the apparatus.
'till next sunday,


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What online mags do you read and would recommend?

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