B.B. King previously sang “The thrill is gone,” (sounding better on vinyl album) and when it comes to the present state of music, I have to agree. Music is an art form that must forever evolve whether we’re admirers of those changes or not; I’m not one to assess one period to another and state either better. When I say the thrill is gone, I’m speaking about the way we, as enthusiasts, interact and use our music. Let me make it clear.
I’m a member of a unique generation. I was born into what some people only a few years younger might call a world of Luddites. Vinyl LPs and turntables were the norm, but as technology marched on, our music became portable. What we sacrificed in matter, we compensated in handiness, as is normally the case.
But then again, what makes my generation unique is that we entered a world with technological limitations in spite of that, embraced any and all advances. At present, I love my iPod. I admit it. The prospect of thousands of songs at my disposal is fantastic. And let’s face it, hauling crates of records, not to mention turntables, amps and speakers along with me is just plain unfeasible. Even so, soaked in a sea of MP3s, torrents and burned CDs is the very lore that made music such a primary part of my life.
Vinyl Albums – complete with the cover art, jackets and linear notes – were more than just a collection of songs. They served a personal introduction to countless artists, doorways by which you felt a deeper connection to their music. Every vinyl lp was a case study where you’d follow along with the lyrics in that perfect marriage between the written word and melody. You discovered who wrote the songs, who produced them, where and when they were recorded and any other tiny information you could store away in your memory banks. Even that little nod from artist to listeners that said, “This is how I’d like you to hear my music”, the sequencing was crucial. Listening to music was an active pursuit, hardly a passive afterthought.
Now we’ve traded titles for track numbers, cover art for skins and probably the worst of all, quantity for knowledge. I’ve encountered various records in the previous year that I’ve absolutely appreciated. Even so, beyond a name of a band and perhaps the name of the vinyl album, I don’t have much for you. I can relate to you which tracks are my favorites but to name them would be just an educated presumption. I couldn’t single them out of a magazine. I can’t even tell you their names. They are faceless, nameless, a mere collection of riffs. I can pick and choose the songs I like, destroying the lost art of the album. The thrill, B.B., is without a doubt gone.
If this is the tragedy of digital music, then it is a sad ending: the lost sense of a combined culture that we experience through music. The boasting of our iTunes libraries and the mere analytics of bit rates contradict the reason in sight. They’re a red herring, a path that only leads to true heartbreak. I want my music to have heart again, to have a soul, to be mine. I desire it to be human once again.
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