Meaning and the medium in music

From vinyl records to mp3s, music has changed.

But does how we listen to music effect what we get from it?

Elizabeth Sullivan – The Aquinian –

What does music mean to you?

Don’t just think about the individual artist or the genres. What does having music on your computer, having CD’s, and having digital downloads mean to you?

In only a century, we’ve come from recording single songs onto gigantic vinyls, to storing thousands of songs on a device no larger than a playing card.

Our perception has to be skewed because of this, right?

Willis Noble, choir director and music professor at STU, has had a lot of time to think about his favourite way to experience music. He’s been around to see the recording industry come into it’s own, and despite the popularity of mp3s, Noble still finds himself attracted to vinyl.

“They have more depth and reality, much more than I’ve heard on CD or DVD format. So I’m a fan,” he said.

When the iPod was introduced in 2001, people got caught up in the craze of converting old CDs to mp3s, as well as frantically downloading music from the internet.

Matt Clarke likes music – so much that most of the digital real estate on his computer is consumed by his passion. At one point, he had almost 300 gigabytes of music on his hard drive, with no space left on his iPod.

This convinced him to slow down his collecting.

He stopped buying CDs and downloading mp3s, and soon made the switch to collecting vinyl. Now, he can’t imagine collecting music any other way.

“They have a little bit of weight to them,” he said. “When I pull one out and I put it on, I feel like, I’m actually, I’m making an effort to listen to it, so I pay more attention, rather than having a mixed CD, or just mp3s in the car or on the computer.”

Clarke’s reaction to vinyl is similar to Noble’s.

Both of them swore by the cracks and pops vinyl, saying that it added character to the music.

“It’s a way of saying that this is imperfect but it’s mine and it’s mine because that’s what it sounds like and nobody else’s recordings sound like that,” Noble said.

For some, making music their own is important, but for others, it’s enough that iTunes and media players make music accessible.

Jeremy Boudreau’s MacBook Pro is attached to his person almost 24/7. He even wistfully listens to his computer’s iTunes while he sleeps.

His fierce brand loyalty is only overshadowed by his love of music. For Boudreau being picky about where is music comes from just doesn’t matter.

“I don’t really care for material possession,” he said. “I don’t care about touching it, all I’m gonna care about is that I have the content itself.”

However, Boudreau said the only reason he doesn’t collect records is that he does not have the space for them.

“I don’t like that they take up space,” he said. “ I mean I’m a child of the 90’s and I will completely attest to loving having everything in one small little package, which is my computer. It’s all right there for me.”

The idea of having thousands of songs at your fingertips is pretty enticing. The idea that you have personal recordings, by incredible artists is something that we can find ourselves taking for granted.

For Noble, this advent of the recording industry, and personal recordings are a gift.

“100 years ago, even 75 years ago only kings and queens would have that gift, whereby a complete symphony orchestra would be at your disposal and at your hands,” he said.

And where has this great gift led us?

You’ll find Eric Hill on any given day sitting behind the counter at Backstreet Records. They sell used CDs and vinyl and Hill isn’t apologetic when he says that he doesn’t own many records. He’s simplified his reasoning down to the old adage, ‘you don’t shit where you eat.’

When it comes to music, Hill’s had enough time to watch his buyers over the years and make some interesting conclusions.

“I think it’s just some people’s DNA,” he said. “Where you start on a particular path, and you get a few of one thing, and then it becomes kind of an obsession. Music I think has just an extra element of aesthetic satisfaction because it’s something you can collect but it’s something you can kind of use too, in a day to day basis.”

Hill has had the opportunity to watch vinyl sales fall and rise again from the ashes of a generation that didn’t care.

“There has been about a decade where collecting music hasn’t been something that people, teenagers, when they turn 13, hasn’t been something that they’ve done.”

Where some might blame technology for this problem in the first place, Hill credits it as a saving grace. But while it created interest in music, Hill said buyers tend to go back to mediums with historical roots.

“They want to get it in the format where it actually existed at the time of its creation more so than someone’s reinterpretation if it which was what a lot of people see CDs as.”

So, Hill is cozy in his shop above Radical Edge on Queen Street, Boudreau’s content to rock out the Rheostatics on his iPod, and Clarke’s still trying to find an Arcade Fire album because he wants to experience it on vinyl one more time.

And then there’s Noble – keeping himself busy teaching a class on music and meaning, where he tries to drive home the idea of not taking music for granted.

“I think that its greatest danger as well as its greatest benefit,” he said. “We can collect, and hear, anywhere now. We can walk along and jog and hear great symphonies.”

“I think it’s important to recognize the source behind the recordings, and know as much as we can about the artists, because music will always remain a human activity.”


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