As ever, someone manages to better express what I was getting at. And yet again, they’re over at k-punk. Mark’s correspondent, Jonathan JD2, nails what I was (flailingly) trying to grasp:

“If an iPod can contain 4000 songs, and improved download times, mp3 availability etc are adding to that number exponentially, who is going to have the time to notice which of the songs are the 40 or so truly jawdropping ones? Even if the vastly accelerated and expanded access to music of which 99% is and always has been shite, hasn’t irreparably blunted their critical faculties … What is being heard is: The size of the iPod’s database; the sphincter-clenchingly rapid download time; the timbre of our relationship with the screen [Paul Virilio explains this far better than I can in what he says about horizons in ‘Open Sky’]; the conflation of music with data [and its continuous arrival], such that the listener has no more a connection to a song or its performance than they have with their recycle bin.”

That’s the thing. The very nature of MP3s mean that one’s respect for them (and the poor buggers who actually make them) disappears. I tend to listen (OK, too strong a word, I know) to my iTunes stuff in the background when I’m working, usually on more-or-less random play. At the moment I’ve just had Kid606, followed by Lutoslawski, followed by the Sea Ensemble. And I do this because it’s a way of seeing the music from every possible angle, and it’s fun, and it’s easy. Yes, I’m injuring the integrity of the original full-length CDs by dislocating tracks from one another (although interestingly these three people/groups probably wouldn’t lose too much sleep over narrative discontinuities…), but hey, they’re my tracks, on my computer, and I can manipulate them how I like…

And that’s the ‘risk’ with MP3s, as I see it. Whether it’s ‘fetishism’ in the most thorough sense of the word is by the by, I think (although plenty of interesting stuff has been written on this already). What is the real issue is that the download speeds, the contemptuous ease with which iTunes can erase the narrative/structural arch of a work by redistributing its fragments (every so often I get a 2-minute chunk of Penderecki’s St Luke Passion), damage, as I say, the respect for the original work (as excess porn damages respect for contact with actual women). Jonathan’s friend who no longer plays his records through his hi-fi has lost that moment of connection with a piece of music; that moment of deliberate selection, deliberate cueing up, deliberate play.

And as I sit here, I can only hold my hands up with him – guilty as charged.

Update, 12 Sept, 2003: Jonathan now has his own blog, quarks and charms. Pay him a visit!


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