As I recall in this oral history, it was only twenty years ago, well, more like thirty now, that digital didn’t exist in the world of music. Cheap record stores were filled with milk crates holding the latest albums and just behind them were some more that you had never heard of but you did in that maybe a friend said it was good, so you bought that too. The shrink wrapped albums were slippery to tuck under the armpit on the way home and if more than one record was bought you could kiss the use of your hands goodbye.
And when returning home, there was the sound of the record sliding out of the sleeve that caught the grooves of the record when it was pulled out askew. Carefully, but sometimes not so carefully, it was threaded onto the velvet bed and the refreshing snap and hissing noise followed close behind.
Records were for sitting down.
And so alone, or with friends, the daily catch would play for an hour, then an hour more, then life called and another hour ensued. There was nothing so wholesome as listening to a record. It is not just music, it is an experience. Records held our hearts tenderly and carefully and LP ruled over us in a fair and just manner of only requiring us to sit or be by its altar when we desire music. But some were rebellious in this kingdom. Some desired to go elsewhere with their music. To take it to the streets, to take it in the car, to mobilize music and form an infantry of sound.
Then tape came.
The sharp sounds of tape collided with the mellow harmonics of an LP and music saw its first division. It was the new technology, it was the technology that you could take with you in your car and then your home. And then, wherever you went. It was the sound of Punk, and Metal, of aggression and rebellion. The legions of tape accepted the inferior sound in their quest to go out into the world and provide a soundtrack to everything in their lives. Including jogging.
Gone were the days of sitting at the altar of music absorbing its good tidings. But there were still some of the same things. Tape was an experience too. The sound of a creak from the shell being opened and the rustle of the liner notes brushing against the moving tape and then finally the engagement. The sharp and bestial sound of the tape being absorbed into the machine. And with a ten dollar pair of headphones replacing the amphitheater of the LP, we all walked with our private soundtracks. We were all separated. Tape tore the world asunder from its quiet and communal state of being in its quest for anarchy.
From the recollections of LP, the walkman was designed to be the death of music as we knew it.
While walking around wherever you may please with your walkman and ten dollar pair of headphones. At home languished the growingly obsolete sound system selected solely for the enjoyment of a record. While tinny cymbals blasted your ears into tinnitus and a lack luster low end depleted what beauty there is in a timpani, at home sat the answer. The walkman was the death of music as we all knew it. Tape achieved the anarchy of sound that it so desired with its legions of joggers.
The CD came.
Life sprung anew in the world of music when digital music made its claim for the future of audio. Cheers rung out as well as indifference and some with hate. It was new, but easily damaged, had to be handled with kid gloves. And then there was the sound. Wars broke out over whether it sounded better than records and heads of sound engineers were piked in front of studios warning others of what side they were on. Tape as a trespasser was forgotten when the clan of the LP heard how clear and pristine the sound rang out from a CD knowing it wasn’t pure, it wasn’t analog, it was torn apart and reassembled in a computer. How could audio sound good if that was what it went through to reach our souls. But it was good. It was almost better. It couldn’t be better than analog, but maybe it was. The wars ensued through the terrible 90s over format, but CD was crowned king and victor despite holdouts from the languishing records. And in that time, people had returned to their homes to listen. Others took it out for a walk. But no one jogged with it. It was a precious and delicate item that required love and care from all its owners and servitude was gained. Anarchy was subdued. Some rebels still clung to their tapes, but CD had won and restored order.
CD took back what Tape had done. It pulled music away from activity and instead into serene environments of contemplation where it would soundtrack the meditative thoughts of walking your dog. Its superior sound brought back the monoliths of speakers to play an ode of its triumph over the realm of the tape and the record. It was king at last and had fused the worlds of Tape and LP into a vibrant middle ground for all subjects.
But then CDs were used for something else.
It started with bizarre looking players.
They played CDs,
But also MP3s.
Small, tiny files, many of them, smaller than a song on a CD, could be an entire album that was the tenth of the size of a CD. CDs could be magnified in their scope with these little things, the little digital lampreys sucking the lifeblood from the new king. People would strip their CDs of all its contents and then place it in a well thought out area of a drawer in a desk. The blood of CDs were stolen thousands of times every minute and then in jest were placed back on CDs to be replayed. MP3 soon formed an alliance with Flash and with it the death of the king followed. All CDs were worth now were their contents. It held no power to bring people into contemplation or sit with others in a room. Songs were now transformed into less than pristine, corrupted, forms and taken everywhere with little tiny earbuds. Joggers returned.
CD could not stand for this. His power was dwindling though record sales continued to prop up his kingdom. In an open gesture he called out to his long vanquished foe, LP, to join him against the corrupted music seeping into the world. LP joined him and they called upon their slaves writing at magazines. Article after article beat the drum of the impending doom that would fall on all of us, but the little file grew like a virus and there it went onto the internet.
A realm never truly traveled before by audio was breached.
MP3 had done what none of them could, what none of the physical formats could ever do.
Napster, Kazaa, Livewire, Grokster, the list went on even as LP, CD, and Tape forged an alliance through the RIAA to tear down the bulkheads that their foe lived in. But lawsuit after lawsuit only stopped the bursting dam by patching the leaks.
CD had lost.
Joggers went past him in the park with earbuds in listening to MP3 as a small cackling laugh seeped into air. He had restored order and guaranteed a lasting piece for a millennium. Music was private again, like it had been with tape. No one built a monolith to an MP3. It had no physical altar other than the modem. CD sat in a spindle to twirl once again for the pleasure of a housewife cooking dinner. He felt serene in his old age. He had lasted for a little over 20 years, which was good in his opinion. He fought a good war, subdued anarchy, attempted to rid the world of joggers, and now can be happy that some people still listen, knowing that they would one day he would rise again with a new format, one never dreamed of. He spun in happiness having heard of someone new named Spotify, and the format was OGG.