I was in a pub the other day that had a record player behind the bar. On it was playing an old Ella Fitzgerald album, and it had all the hissing, bass and crackle on it that vinyl aficionados harp on about. It was nice. It lacked the pristine sound quality of digital music; its analogue nature told a story.
It got me thinking about our digital music. I abandoned all my CDs some years ago just before I moved to London, having spent at least two years before that buying a CD, taking it home, ripping it to my iPod and then listening to it. The CD had become a bit redundant.
I don’t value my digital music collection in the same way I valued my CD collection. My CD collection had a character of its own, coming through from limited edition packaging to scratches caused by the cheap CD player I owned at university.
My MP3s, however, are disposable, an anonymous collection of files on a hard drive that I can delete without thought because I know that if I need them again, I can always find them online.
Whenever I listen to an MP3, it’s the same as when I last listened to it because digital music doesn’t degrade. But what if it did?
I don’t mean an iTunes plugin that adds a randomised layer of hiss to your audio, faking the analogue effect. Imagine if your MP3-playing device ‘wore’ down your MP3s the more you listened to them. Just as in the past when your vinyl would scratch up and your cassette tapes would warp and stretch, the music you listened to most of all would take on a character unique to the listener. Does your device come with motion sensitivity? A regular bump in the road could translate to a slight skip in the track. Does your device come with GPS? If you’re listening to music on the coast, lets get some sand in the track. If the weather is wet, add some moisture.
Over time, maybe your personally-wrecked MP3 would no longer be listenable. Of course, you could always get another MP3 to coexist with or replace the one you’d worn down from playing so much. But the one you wore down would be yours, infused with a sense of place, of memory, of time. Nobody else’s would be the same.