Minimalist Listening – Did digital get it wrong in more ways than one?

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Lots has already been written about the problems with digital music. As a musician, while digitalisation has made many things easy, it has also made other things lame. Digital means low cost, high quality recording with no loss of quality as you over dub, redub and reproduce tracks. It means you can very quickly bring your music to the finished product with very little equipment in your bedroom. (An iPhone app called StudioMini gives you a 4-track recording studio that fits in your pocket!) It also means that artists can very quickly sell and publish their music via digital music stores. And via social media it’s possible for an artist to develop a following very quickly without leaving home.

Of course there are issues – no soul, loss of feel and the over “machined” vibe of digital music gets some musicians and fans cranky. But there is one big problem which I think defies the simplicity of a NoXS Minimal lifestyle by making music more complicated than it should.

Digital allows you to pick which songs you buy from an album and which you don’t.

“But what is wrong with that?” I hear you ask? Well, on the surface the idea of choosing our tracks and deciding to not buy the songs we don’t like seems good on the surface. But yesterday I had a revelation which made me think that perhaps digital has made listening to music less the experience it once was…

Over the weekend, I had to drive for some time and threw a few CD’s into my car which has (shock horror) no iPod port or dock. It was to be the first time in a long time that I had listened to a non-“Best Of” album from beginning to end. (For the record, if was Def Leppard’s Hysteria one way; Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge coming back). What I noted was that the album had a story. Neither of these is concept albums, but stories began to emerge that obviously resonated with things that were going on at the time in the world and the lives of the artists; and the producers had spent time placing the songs in an order that takes you on a journey and in fact gives more meaning and insight to the songs you are listening to.

When you buy the CD (or the LP or the cassette), you get this. (That said, with the CD you miss the A-Side/B-Side that vinyl and tapes provide which also adds to this). But with digital, you have options to mix it up and leave bits out and in doing so lose a part of the story that is a complete set of work (hence the name “album”) as opposed to individual sound bites stuck together.

And in some ways, listening to music like this is very much out of sync with a minimalist view. The minimalist ideal would just put the work as it is provided by the artist on and enjoy it for what it is as opposed to the complex and narcissistic idea of taking the sound bites (songs) I like and rejecting those I don’t as if they have no value at all.

Doesn’t mean we reject digital distribution. Just that instead of pick and choose we just click “Buy Album” and keep the tracks in order and listen to them in that order in one sitting and take in the full complexities of the artists work.

I have learned from experience this weekend that the old way – the minimalist way – really does give one much more listening pleasure. Methinks that in moving to “NoXS Minimal listening” of music, some of my complete albums are going to get quite a bit more of a run from now on in.

Live Simply, Simply Live,

Mark G

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