Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We Need to Talk About Our Relationship (With Music)

How is your relationship with music these days?

London Telegraph journalist Lucy Jones fears we are losing our respect for music. "Our listening is often quicker, shallower, and of lesser quality, through tiny computer speakers and low bit-rate streams and downloads. It is in danger of degrading and trivialising what we’re hearing."

[Image: 8,730,221 Suns from Flickr (Partial)]

But is sound quality really the issue? Generations have grown up discovering new music through a low bit-rate source — radio — without detriment. Eliminating computer speakers and earbuds from consideration, the majority of home listeners unfortunately are still listening to music using a variety of mediocre, mismatched, incorrecly installed and improperly operated audio gear. Yet they somehow find enjoyment.

I believe we are losing respect for music, as a side effect of losing respect for knowledge in general. In the words of self-described futurist Gerd Leonhold, "Access [to music] is replacing ownership, like it or not. Participate or become insignificant." When mere access replaces ownership, it also replaces understanding and appreciation.

Culture is predicated on shared knowledge and experience. Social networking is predicated on sharing links, passing one's access to information to others without really transferring knowledge or understanding. More "media outlets" exist to re-blog and re-tweet the news without further comment than to report it originally. Status on discussion boards is conveyed based on a person's number of posts, not the validity of their arguments. Klout scores equate influence with volume.  Social networking is our new shared experience base; books have been supplanted by bookmarks.

What is the solution? Reaffirm your relationship with music. Become an active filter again. Don't just share or like something — tell us why. The above image is taken from an extraordinary work. Starting in 2007, artist Penelope Umbrico has systematically searched flickr for photos tagged with the keyword "sunset," processed them and added them to an evolving collage. The title reflects the current count (over eight million). The least we can do is actively curate our dematerialized music libraries with a fraction of that source material.

But, if you must break up with music, upload a farewell playlist of kiss-off songs to Spotify. I've given you access.

            Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #28           

Artist: Jaco Pastorius
Title: Word of Mouth
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1981

Recorded in 1981 at the height of the bassist Jaco Pastorius' career, while still with Weather Report and six years before his untimely death, Word of Mouth showcases his compositional skills, as well as a starstudded big band including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, and Jack DeJohnette. Muscial networking at its finest.

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.


  1. Do recommendations from music services (Pandora, Spotify, et. al.) really influence your listening or purchase decisions? Please leave a comment.

  2. "Ownership" of music is an interesting concept. Until recorded music became avaiilable, the only way people could "own" music was to play (or perhaps write) it. Does possession of an lp in a box I hardly look at confer more ownership than my teenager streaming music regularly from the web?
    Interesting question. Thanks for the blog.


  3. You own the experience by having chosen to bring a particular LP into your collection. Your teenager can equally own the streaming experience by not limiting himself or herself to "access" provided by, for example, Coke and Spotify.