If you’ve checked out my Insta, you know I’m an Indian Peaks Wilderness junkie.
My half-fox, half-squirrel dog and I are up there every weekend poking around, looking for moose and avoiding other people.
But one thing I don’t enjoy up there is good tunage. Each week, I seem to remember that I forgot to download new music to my phone right about the time that I enter “no service” land.
It’s crazy to think that among so many other invisible signals flying through the air at any moment, almost all produced music is available to stream now, provided you’re in range of the towers.
As I discussed in the past few weeks, music underwent a sea change when digital was introduced. Before digital, music actually had a physical representation.
In the case of the vinyl record, you can see the physical representation of the music if you hold the LP at the right angle to the light.
On analog tape, the physical evidence is less visible, but it’s still there. Magnetic particles contained in a very thin layer can move and change their positions when recording, and stay put during playback.
Physical manifestation of music is the analog world of old, and we have been swiftly exiting it since digital burst onto the scene in the 1980s.
There are two major gains we receive by encoding music digitally instead of through analog means onto a physical medium. First, what does the Bible say about grass and flowers — they wither and fade? Entropy is a part of life in this world if you’re not a perfect crystal at absolute zero.
Every time you play a record on a record player — unless you’ve set the tracking force and azimuth and a few other things perfectly right and you have a flawless needle — you’re ruining the record. Literally.
In fact, most of the laborious setup of a record player is aimed at limiting the damage, and the best tonearms and cartridges damage albums the least.
Even digital music on CDs is held hostage by the limitations of the plastic protective covering. Scratch that baby enough, and it’s no longer music. In the ’80s, with the advent of the first CD players from Sony and Phillips, we were guaranteed “perfect sound forever.”
But really only now do we have that, and the CD didn’t give it to us. Modern digital streaming of music is that apex they were describing — provided you’re in range to receive the stream.
The second benefit of switching to digital is also tied to digital music transcending physical media. If you want to send or receive music, you don’t have to account for its physical bulk anymore. This is huge, and really it’s a blessing and a curse. CDs were a lot smaller than records or tapes, yet they would still pile up in my car and in the cars of all of my friends.
But now, when I find myself with no signal on my phone and no CDs in my car, I’m left with a new and unfamiliar sonic environment: silence.
It’s a crazy modern world, indeed.