Sunday, August 27, 2006

If a Tree Falls in the Forest....

According to Daniel Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music (Dutton, 2006, $24.95), if there's no one to hear it, no sound is made. Why? Without the sound waves finding a receptor--like the flutters and vibrations and fluctuations around a tiny membrane in our ear-- no pitch results, thus no sound can be registered. I suppose even if a recorder was placed there, no one could know if it had worked properly until the playback confirmed what possibly a seismographic-type of inscription had scrawled. Levitin claims that our musical taste is usually formed by 18-20, as adolescence ends. But I tend to agree with Layne; she thinks it's more like 14, and I'd say closer to 16, but then both of us were music fanatics from early ages. Alzheimers' patients, curiously, can often remember their favorite tunes from when they were 14. Poignant.

KZLA, the country-music station, went over lately as so many have to Spanish-language programming. The reason, as stated in the LA Times, was that the 'demographic' in LA liked more rhythmic music; 98% 'Caucasian' KZLA's listeners did not apparently have the beat. Classical music critic Mark Swed, in the same paper (all three articles I think Aug. 20) has a long piece on the changes in technology and how the on-line experience of sampling and then buying music is replacing CDs in the same way as our long-discarded cassettes, 8-tracks, and LPs of various speeds. Sony tailored the CD's length to allow for the duration of Beethoven's 9th. Swed notes how music has shifted from a social to a solitary pastime. He observes that the vinyl record duplicated in its bobbing as it traced the wave form the very pressure of sound waves (as Levitin explains too) hitting the ear and the electronic impulses carried to our brain for practically instantaneous conversion into what we call music. Lasers hitting shiny discs at least replicate this activity. But with bits and bytes, and with I-pod buds inserted deep into that same tender receptacle of audial bliss, "we have, as McLuhan again predicted, an electronic medium becoming an outright extension of the nervous system." Global villages may be rising, but that does not mean that we'll all be tuned in to the same station. A couple of decades ago, rock music, say, could command 20% of the listeners in a radio market. Now, with the fragmentation of genres, the increasing numbers of young'uns tuned out of music, the older folks tuning out of anything new (and how I often feel closer to that, as I do not listen to the radio but only tapes; if I want to find out about a song or artist, I used to and still do read up on it, and maybe sample if I can on AMG or Amazon or Leo's I-tunes, but given my rarified and esoteric tastes, often I cannot hear ahead of time what I buy) , and the remaining radio listeners breaking up into smaller niche markets. Without a big chunk of those with disposable income tuning into the Fab Four, I suppose that the advertisers have gone as their audiences have from broad to narrow to egocasting.

Swed blames the demise of double-bankrupt Tower (home of the $20 CD, so who cares) and the diminishment of Ameoba's classical shelf space (hey-- I did buy a Gregorian chant CD from the back room last time I was there) on this phenomenon of isolated audiences for music. As for me, except for ironically classical or folk, I can and could never endure amplified concert volume; my ears hurt for days and my ability to hear shrank long after-- while all my friends seemed to walk away unscathed. But, as Swed notes, fewer middlemen between the Man and the Music maaan, may not be that bad. He does think that I-Tunes cannot render classical music with the fidelity it deserves. He likes Magnatune, and also recommends I tried the latter and shrank in horror as 856 concerts by The String Cheese Incident were the #1 musical feature. But, in time, perhaps sense will return to this admittedly great source, as the Wayback Archive has already helped me resurrect the vanished lessons for Learning Irish by Nancy Stenson, at least most of 'em. I spent hours on the Ch. 12 cleachta ach níl freagraí ansin. The numerical representation of nouns and numbers cardinal ordinal I don't know is one of the hardest exercises in any language I have ever encountered. It's either worse or better without the answer key to cheat with.

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