Tag » music

The Social History of the MP3

The Social History of the MP3 is a Pitchfork article that puts MP3s in the context of previous technological  revolutions. It’s full of interesting nuggets:

When radio came along, its broadcasts created communities of music-listening strangers, physically distant from each other but connected through the knowledge that they were listening to the same song at the same time. Where radio brought listeners together as a listening public, the LP started splitting them apart. The LP and 45 rpm formats took the phonograph, which had been in existence for over half a century, to the masses, right as the American middle-class was going suburban and privatizing their lives. We could then use musical objects like we’d been using literature and art for centuries prior: as collectibles, and signifiers of personal taste. The emergence of the cassette–the first sturdy, re-writeable music technology– allowed us to “manufacture” our own music in the privacy of our own homes and recirculate it at our will, through mixtape trading and full-album dubbing.

How the telegraph created commodity futures:

Weirdly enough, this particular effect of mp3s and peer-to-peer networks– that information travels much faster than physical goods– most closely resembles that of the telegraph on the 19th century commodity markets. Before that innovation– the Internet’s great-grandfather– individual markets based in major cities were separated by hundreds of miles, and goods could only travel as fast as railroads could take them. Yet because information about crop conditions could travel via telegraph exponentially faster than the actual crops, the exchange of money for physical commodities was largely replaced by a futures market, based on what would happen.

On the pace of online music

The ideal would have been that a new network of independent music lovers would have elevated different types of music, or even found new ones, the way nascent rock’n'roll, honky tonk, bluegrass, and R&B benefited thanks to the 45. But online, new genres risk being strangled in the crib before anyone knows they exist, and people are “done” with new albums before the cover art has been approved.

Thanks to Noah for the link. Also, for those of you who have Spotify, I can warmly recommend Pitchfork’s 500 Best Songs of the 2000s playlist.

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13-year old reviews Walkman

You’ve got to love this story of a 13-year-old kid reviewing an original Sony Walkman:

It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

There are a lot more great paragraphs in there, and the article really shows how quickly technology has evolved over the past 30 years. You’ll find some more thoughts on the virtues of the walkman in this article, including a picture of the gorgeous blue model.

Compression artefacts

Chairlift Utensil

This music video uses compression artefacts for stunning effect. I would embed it, but you really have to see it in HD. This is more creative than 99% of the video art I’ve ever seen in museums.

The future of music is now

Shazam Listening

Image by ipresents via Flickr

The future of music is now:

None of this would have been possible a few years ago. At least sometimes, technology does make our lives easier and more magical.

Pixel videos

Pixel videos

Many of you will have seen The White Stripes’ brilliant video made out of legos. Here’s another clever pixelated video, this time with dice:







In related news, Beck also made a cool ASCII-art video.

Some creative music videos

Some creative music videos

I rarely post music videos, but I collected a few creative ones: Justice’s Dance, Shit Disco’s OK, and finally Max Tyrie’s hand made Modest Mouse video:

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Her record player

Her record player

Another example of retrostalgia from Frog Design’s Samantha Holmes in this wonderful essay about her “love affair with the record player”.

At first, I was fascinated by the odd tension this might pose: the possibility of experiencing a pang of nostalgia for a past that never belonged to me – the establishment of a new period of time, outside the bounds of either a relived past or a fully embraced present.

Also check out the great picture by Bashed

Digital Album Art

Digital Album Art

Album art is perhaps the greatest casualty of the digital music revolution. Nowadays, a CD bought is quickly ripped and stuffed in a closet, or perhaps hung on the wall (as an aside, I really want some of those).

And yet, as Adrian Shaughnessy remarks in his excellent piece about the future of album art:

There is an undeniable sense of completeness when music comes with handsome packaging and engaging graphical material.

Luckily, there are also promising signs that alternatives will emerge in the digital world. Apple’s CoverFlow technology, which they acquired from a shareware developer, brings back some warmth to your iTunes library, and the iPhone has it too (scroll to the bottom). The labels are apparently interested as well, though I’m worried that they’re going to come up with something horribly kludgy. There’s something nice about the constraint of an album cover.

However, I’m most excited by physical representations of digital album art. David from Ironic Sans suggests a Digital Jewelbox, basically an LCD screen that displays the artwork from the currently playing song and acts as a remote control.

My all time favorite is Michael Kennedy’s i-Deck prototype. I love the retro-gramophone look, and the way the album art is displayed on the “cd”. The i-Deck has a physical charm that is impossible to match with pure software, and I would pay a lot to have one of these in my living room.

A matter of context

A matter of context

A few months ago, the Washington Post organized a little experiment in the subway: they had violin prodigy Joshua Bell play incognito for 45 minutes. Along with a detailed account of the event, the article offers some great analysis of why we like art and the importance of context.

This article provoked a real storm of posts on the blogosphere, so I expect many of you will already have read it. However, I wanted to highlight a few posts that I found particularly interesting:

  • An actual subway musician explains that, while Bell is a great musician, he’s not very good at being a subway musician.
    when you play on the street you can’t approach it as if you are playing on a stage. Busking is an art form of its own.

  • Frog Design makes the broader point from a design perspective that Context is King:

    No matter how good your idea is and no matter how well you execute on it, if you get the context wrong you will miss your audience entirely.

  • and Diego Rodriguez offers some refreshing thoughts on the virtues of thinking like a child.
  • This sense of “beginner’s mind” or “mind of the child” is a pillar of design thinking. It’s the ability to see things afresh. To see deeply and to sense the truth and the beauty.

  • The author Gene Weingarten also published some responses to emails he received — don’t bother reading them all, but definitely check out the first few.

A little meta-comment here: some of you may have noticed these longer “link summary” posts. It’s a new format I’m experimenting with: rather than try to post everything as soon as possible (which I’ve clearly given up on), I’ll occasionally accumulate a few articles on a given topic and tie them together in one post. This not only fits my posting habits better, but hopefully makes for more interesting content than just links. Let me know what you think!

Songs To Wear Pants To

Songs To Wear Pants To

The highlight of the first session of GEL was Andrew, the composer/songwriter/artist behind www.songstowearpantsto.com. People send him goofy song requests, such as “a song about snails who eat people”, and he creates the ones that most inspire him. Andrew’s presentation was basically just a collection of his favorite songs, but his amazing musical range, wicked sense of humour and contagious enthusiasm totally won the crowd over. Besides, who can resist a song called “Reverse Escargot”.