Sunday, September 27, 2009

Geeking Out - or - How I Listen To Music Has Changed




Hey 'Spillers - I've geeked out a bit this week, with the arrival of my new laptop (It's a 15" Macbook Pro, if anyone's interested) and thought I'd discuss it with you - mainly centring on how my music set-up has changed over the years. Maybe it would be easiest if I break it down by rough era:

1977 - 1987 - My music listening is at the whim of my father. He owns thousands of LPs, mostly classical. These are played by his record player and amp, and massive speakers that he built himself. By the age of ten I've heard every piece of classical music ever written, some 60s avant garde, and some jazz. I've also heard "Pillow Talk"/ "Roly Poly" a 7" that I get him to play over and over, it's from some Doris Day film I've still never seen.

1987 - 1992 - I buy my first 7" records, but still have to play them on my dad's record player. At some point during this period, a tape-to-tape deck gets brought home from my dad's work. He puts my 7"s onto cassette tape for me, an I can play them on the "dubbing" deck. I also use this deck to copy Sinclair Spectrum games, and to tape songs off the radio. This must be my first musical independence - being able to play what I want at my own leisure. About this time, I have a go on my cousin's Sony Walkman when out for a walk one day. My mind is blown, having all this music to yourself, to your ears alone, is phenomenal. I don't even realise the fast forward and rewind buttons exist. I buy a few albums on tape, and get a walkman equivalent for a birthday. My Madonna tapes make way for Extreme, Ugly Kid Joe, and Aerosmith. Cassette singles abound, from 1988 onwards.

1992 - 1996 - The first CDs that I can remember turn up, though it escapes me which the very first was. During this period I still have to tape a lot of CDs through my Dad's stereo, I also begin to borrow CDs from the library - who in retrospect have a decent selection of indie music! I inherit my Grandfather's record/tape player, which I hook up a CD player to (A Technics unit, that only died about a year ago) that I buy with saved up birthday money. I start to love the vinyl, buying what are now Indie and Grunge classics, cos the cds were always a bit too expensive. I make a copy of an indie tape that my brother's friend has made, this tape turns out to been the most influential compendium of music that has ever featured in my life (the exact tracklisting of which is going to be the subject of a future blimpcast). I start to trail around Soho record shops looking for stuff that I can't get in my local WHSmiths.

1996 - 1999 - I swap a Britpop Adidas 3 stripe trackey top that's a bit too big for me for a CD/tape stereo with quite small and crappy speakers, which only works when there's a shoe on top of the CD lid. This goes to Uni with me, and is how I hear music for the 3 years I'm at Uni. Also during this time, I buy almost zero music, due to a lack of money, and a lack of a place to play vinyl. The most important CDs I buy during this period are Belle and Sebastian, and Mogwai, though it takes a few more years to realise the importance of the former.

1999 - 2003 - I get my first computer, an Apple iMac, which has awesomely powerful built in speakers, and my first internet connection. Dial Up. 56k!! I download mp3s for the first time, which could take ten minutes for one song, and begin to build up a library of free tracks from a website whose name escapes me. Itunes doesn't exist at this point. My iMac is located in a spare room, so I still listen to CDs and LPs, now Uni has finished hi-via my fi separates that have turned up.

2003 -2006 - This period my computer music and analogue music are very much separate, my iMac moves into my bedroom, and I can play CDs through it. Peer to Peer software gets invented and I start to take advantage of it with my new broadband connection. Itunes shows up, as a very easy way to organise and access all these hundreds of songs I've downloaded.

2004/2005 - I get my first laptop, as well as airtunes via an apple airport express. This means I can wirelessly stream music on my laptop to my "big" stereo. Torrent software makes it quick and easy to download whole albums. I get my first iPod in 2005, and almost fill it immediately. The difference between mp3s and cds etc is lessening, the effort of having to sit at a computer in a specified room has vanished due to the laptop. The experience of listening to music thru small computer speakers has also vanished. I still fetishise vinyl, and my wife buys me a 1950s portable record player.

2005 - Present - Listening to music via the computer has become the norm - Itunes, Ipods, Airtunes, iPods in the car via a tape adaptor, Last.fm, torrents, and lately Spotify that means even tho the CD is upstairs, you don't need to go and find it. The idea of having music on a physical storage media seems dated (cds from the 80s are falling apart, just like the Mona Lisa) The laptop is the most important part of it, because the internet is no longer confined to a certain room, all the music ever can be wherever you are at home, sitting on the couch with your feet up. Browsing is dead. Buying music on a review alone is dead. No alarms and no surprises (but also less disappointments and wastes of time, and albums bought on the basis of one good track and a good NME review).

At the moment, I have 3 networked laptops with music librarys that can be accessed via iTunes from any one laptop. This streams wirelessly to the massive B&W speakers in the lounge, via the Cambridge Audio amp. This is achieved using an application called "Airfoil" for the mac, and an apple airport express which has an audio line out from it, to carry the perfect signal. Occasionally I get up and put on a record. One day I won't require legs any more.

It's a shame that, although the process of listening to music has been made more accessible and easier and easier, this process has cheapened the art itself.

It's the myth of speed.

The faster you go, the more you see, and the less it all means.


A Brief History Of Love

27 comments:

Abahachi said...

All of this is of course predicated on the availability of cheap electricity; just wait until listening to a cd depend on the expenditure of sufficient energy on the treadmill to fire up the hi-fi.

I'm too pissed, if I start trying to engage with this seriously I'm going to start sniffling.

Blimpy said...

@aba - me too, when i started writing this post, t was only meant to be a brief one about my home network!!

go for it, i say!!

ejay said...

Was the website audiogalaxy? It was my first foray(sp) into mp3 as well, although I could only play them on the crappy vaio, when I really wanted to play them on my minidisc player. AirTunes is a brilliant invention. Whatdoes airfoil do?

Blimpy said...

hi ed!

Airfoil allows any system audio (from the spill or youtube or wherever) , not just itunes, to be sent to your airport express and then to your amp.

I can put it in the dropbox if you like? it's a tiny mac app.

saneshane said...

I'm tired.. one drink is affecting me so here goes:
70’s my dad has cool record collection.. 10” discs from the birth of RnR to hippies to prog.. and some beatles.. but we never put those on - mostly it’s blues. He likes Guitars a lot. The record player is king but the reel to reel tapes fascinate me and make an evening listen an event.

78-82 my nan and aunt work in a hardware store their department has a rack of records.. even as a kid working on the farm I can get sale items.. judge dread owns the record store up the road (I’m told) 2tone purchase there.
My record player is a Bush brown box with a speaker partially under the record turning.

80’s My brother buys some separates from the ads in the back of the paper and blasts metal out – he has to let me play my vinyl too – or he gets told off.

I get a sanyo personal tape player and blot out his noise with a bizarre mix of goth, synth, wham! and Frankie say rude stuff in a million mixes…. I still by records then tape them…. Except joy div and new order that I have as beautifully packaged tapes ( that I just wont play cos I know they’ll snap)

87 – 90 ish
student years spent listing to DJ house mates and live stuff – not much buying – but still using the separates that my brother brought years ago… buying records then taping them at mates houses happened.
We tried to set up a magazine.. so had cds and records dropping through the door all the time – someone ’found’ a cd player so we could do reviews..
Rooms were used as recording studios.. so listened to samplers and blips… good times.

90s
free festies.. raves.. spiral tribe etc
large speakers in a fields mostly
going loudly insane.
Did make some money at some point and got a cd player (and a mobile phone)
Cds were easier to move about.. records got put in storage at the folks farm.

By the end of the decade the systems were far better quality.. more cds were purchased than records… didn’t enjoy it quite so much.

2000
all gone…
fitted all the music I could into the back of my car, and anything else that I wanted..

left some dance music – possibly harder to find again than other stuff so bit of a shame.. started sofa surfing.. listened to other peoples stereos- quality changeable.

But my mate Em had a fantastic system and a Ninja Tune collection of considerable joy.. so that was always a good stop… (and she introduced me to ms. R so cool all round I say) during this time I supplied the music and beer tokens, my friends provided sofas and stereos.. I then used their computers for reading RR at 4am when it started… when youtube started getting used I heard tracks on that.
Then my son was born.. and was ‘made’ (joke) to settle down…
When I was asked what do I want (as in Boy or Girl) I always said iPod or alien.
Why R ever stayed with me is a mystery!

Only since the spill have I used downloads and I’m back to buying records (or was – before house renovation popped up) the paper gave me my ipod for free in a dvd promotion about 3 years ago – use it in the car.
Downstairs – mostly cds – don’t jump so much when we all breakdance.
Ya Ya room – computer linked to stereo to decks for converting to electricians nightmare to other laptop – but never move it about for some reason.

Never get around to spotify (unless you lot link it). Or lastfm… anything with ads annoys me.. still love jumping in at the deep end when buying music.. an idiosyncratic cover will still make me purchase something.. and I’ll take more time to grow to love it… but it always sounds better on a record player.


My new studio will have my drawing desk center of all my music stuff inside a flint outhouse in the Norfolk countryside.. and heaven will indeed be a place on earth.
(but the beams of the roof collapsed on friday , so it'll be a while yet)

great post Blimpy.

Blimpy said...

i've put it in my public dropbox for you, it has the serial number in a text file, that just needs to be copied and pasted over. any probs let me know.

ejay said...

That'd be super swell Blimpy, this is an app that's been missing in my life.

Blimpy said...

@shane - your answer made for fab reading, nice one! a great historical insight.

Blimpy said...

nearly uploaded ejay!

Blimpy said...
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Blimpy said...
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Blimpy said...

let me know if it's working for you!

ejaydee said...

Cheers Blimpy, I installed it, now need to update.
Update installed. Do I need to choose Safari as the application to play music from the Spill?

ejaydee said...
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Anonymous said...

Try system audio ( you'll have to install a wee free add on) but that will then do it for all yr audio. Or select safari for the spill.

goneforeign said...

I didn't know about Aerofoil, I've been waiting for something like that. Airport Express was always interesting but it was limited to iTunes and I wanted to play a lot of other non iTunes stuff. My receiver's in the living room, about 3 rooms over from the Mac, I ran cable from it through a pushbutton audio distribution panel to all the ground floor rooms by drilling a hole in the floor and then running cable to each room and having it come up to a set of speakers there [there's an 18" crawlspace under the floor]. That works fine but then I started thinking about running audio from my Mac with a line out cable, back under the floor and then to the living room and up into the Harmon Kardon amp, but I've become lazy so it hasn't happened, but Aerofoil might be the catalyst.
If you don't have Wiretap Studio or Pro you should check them out, they'll both record anything that's playing on your computer, I use Studio a lot. It has it's own library or you can feed it straight to iTunes and it'll record in any format at any quality level you choose.
I also have Audio Hijack but I no longer use it, I prefer SoundStudio which I also use quite a bit.

ejay said...

It works beautifully, thanks Blimpmeister. While I'm here, does anybody have trouble recalling all windows from previous session in Safari?

goneforeign said...

PS: I recently came across this website, it's entirely jazz and you can select from almost unlimited formats, there's some commercials but not a lot, nice selections of music, perfect for a system like the ones we're discussing.

http://www.accuradio.com/jazz/

treefrogdemon said...

A low-tech person writes:

1959-62 I have no record player, and pop music on the Light Programme is confined to Saturday mornings (Saturday Club) and Sunday afternoons (Pick of the Pops). Someone gives me a build-it-yourself crystal radio kit and I discover Luxembourg, under the bedclothes late at night. Parents let me buy record player, but though I like the Everly Brothers their old records (the best ones) aren't available to buy any more. I buy the new not-so-good ones. All 7" singles. The brother of a friend lends me old Everlys records but I have no way of copying them.

1963-8 I start buying albums. Pirate radio begins and I start going to the local folk club. Whole new worlds of music appear.

1969-75 Back without a record player again...I miss out on loads of music, though I keep listening to John Peel.

1976 I buy a midi-player - now I can tape music, from records or the radio. One night I listen to a live broadcast of a Springsteen concert from Sweden, which I am simultaneously taping. I marvel at the advance of technology. Soon I add a CD player. I don't buy a Walkman though cos I don't like listening to music through headphones.

1985 I get a car with a tape player. My life is transformed. I tape all my favourite albums and play them constantly in the car. (I always sing along in the car and my voice gets much stronger - I no longer get shouted at by directors of plays because I'm too quiet.)

1995 I get a computer but it has no music-playing capabilities.

1999 I get another computer and this will play CDs but I can't download anything - too slow.

2005 I get another computer. I can listen to music online. I buy loads of CDs from Amazon. I could download music too but I'm too scared.

2007 I discover RR and start listening to a whole load of music I've never heard before. Most of it I don't like, but some of it I do. I buy an iPod and discover the delights of Shuffle. The 'Spill arrives and one day Blimpy puts up a poll about how much music we download - I click on 'None - I'm too chicken.'
I start thinking I'm being silly. I discover the Time Has Told Me blog.

2009 I spend whole weekends downloading. I buy a bigger iPod. It's now half full.

nilpferd said...

birth-1984- my dad's record deck and tape deck. I used to tape a lot of stuff off the radio, mostly jazz requests programs, then from 83 commercial radio.
1984- I and my brother got a twin tape ghetto blaster, I started to buy cassette tapes but still relied on radio and my dad's lp's.
1986- first family cd player, I invested in a few discs.
1987- I move out and get my first cd player, but flatmate's lp collection with The Smiths and Flying Nun bands is more interesting.
1987-90- probably spend more time listening to live bands and other people's record collections than I do my own collection of about 20 Smiths, The The, Eurythmics, and jazz cds.
1991-94- I have my own stereo system now with cd deck, tape deck and speakers, and can start to build a cd collection, although I still spend a good deal of time at a neighbour's place listening to his lp's, at a friends place listening to cds, or at gigs.
95-00- my first years in Germany, spent with a few key cds- my collection up until now is spread around my brother and various flats- and a succession of cheap mini stereo systems. Film, art, work and getting grounded in a foreign culture are more important than music.
01- now- after Mara's birth I can invest in a decent stereo system and start rebuilding my music collection, up to about 600 cds now, though a fraction of my music is sourced through Amazon or Itunes as mp3- am just starting to purchase single tracks instead of albums.
First MP3 player was a christmas present from Sandra 2002, mostly used while commuting. In the meantime I have a 4 gig Samsung with noise isolating earplugs. For RR and 'Spill listening I use the laptop, otherwise play cds over the main system. I hardly ever download and store anything, unless it is otherwise unavailable. This isn't technophobia, though, as I've been using computers since 1980, the internet since 1994. I suppose it's my Presbytarian upbringing.

ejay said...

When you mentioned the song from the film you've never seen, it reminded me of something I've been thinking recently. My first favourite band was Roxette, yet I never owned any of their music and never felt the need to.

Catcher said...

This is basically my exact trajectory too. Although I still don't own an ipod, not sure why (I think they're too small and thus fallible, maybe), and got my first cassette/radio (thanks, Santa!)and a separate record player a bit earlier, around 1985-6. The record player still played 78s, I wish I still had it now, but it died a few years ago. Also, I was so baffled by the hole in the centre of some 7"s that I tried to cut one out of ones I didn't like (which resulted in frisbees). First cassette I ever bought with my own saved money - Madonna, 'Like A Virgin', which I will never part with for that reason (first CD - Prince's 'Symbol' album - I have a thing ever since about an artist I love being the first thing played on a new stereo or a new format). O, the hours I spent taping the songs I liked from the radio Top 40, or leaving the cassette recording in the same room as the TV if I was out and would miss 'Top Of The Pops', the rest of the family being on pain of death to enter the room for that half hour. And 'Pillow Talk' is rubbish, don't bother.

goneforeign said...

Before I left UK in 1958 I had a Phillips open reel tape recorder, that was it! It would record and play 5" reels at 33/4"ips, I'd record stuff off the radio but there wasn't much. I dreamed of owning a Ferrograph but I'm not sure what Id have done with it. When I arrived here I discovered 'hi-fi', separate components; I remember buying an amp and a Rek-O -Kut turntable plus a large speaker from a store on Melrose Ave in LA, this was way before stereo. Since then my interest in 'hi-fi' has increased, I've gone through numerous separate components and speakers always owning many sources of recording and playing audio. My recorders have included 3 Revox A77's, Sony Pro Walkmans, Dual deck recorders, Sony Mini disc decks and finally my various Macs with assorted software. There's also been numerous amps, preamps, turntables and cartridges, tuners and EQ's. Upstairs there are dozens/hundreds of C90's all recorded with music from my albums for playing in the car; just decaying plus cases of 7" and 10" recorded tapes. Not to mention boxes of 3/4" video, 16m film and mag and final prints. What to do with it all? Hate to send it to the dump.

Blimpy said...

GF - we need to open a 'Spill museum, to benefit humanity forever. I'm serious.

goneforeign said...

Most of what I have wouldn't fall into that category but I have one 'collection' that I continually think about and am at a loss to know what to do with.
I made a TV film about the development of liquid fueled rockets in Germany before and during WW2, I have extensive filmed interviews with many of the top scientists reminiscing about their work and the war including about 2 hours with Werner von Braun who was the director of the program. I think it's all invaluable historic material but I don't want to get involved in the process of 'marketing' it. I've thought about having it all transcribed for publication but one problem is that many of them have strong German accents and speak of scientific matters all of which would be difficult for a typist to accurately understand.
I think I might just donate it all to the UCLA film school and let them figure out what to do with it.

CaroleBristol said...
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CaroleBristol said...

Gosh, where to start?

before 1960 - music is something that arrives via the radio, my Mum listens to Music While You Work as do I, until I become old enough to go to school.

1960 to 1968 - my Dad buys a huge radiogram. He starts buying records; nothing I much like at all. My music still gets delivered by the radio and later on, the TV set. I start buying 45s which I am allowed to play on the 'gram sometimes.

1968 - I get a portable record player! I can now play my 45s whenever I want. LPs are now also possible. I also listen to lots of radio.

1974 - the next change is when I go to Uni. My house mates have stereo systems. Music gets a lot louder.

1976 - I buy my own stereo system; deck, amp, speakers and tuner!

1978 - I add a cassette deck. I am now a pirate. Yarr!

1980 - I add a beatbox to my armoury. I can now play music outdoors. Piracy continues.

1982 - stereo gets updated and is now officially Hi-Fi because it costs lots of money.

1988 - buy first CD deck. I must be a yuppy, as well as a pirate. Yarr, Yah?

1997 - buy PC. Don't see musical potential at first but soon see how piratical tendencies can be expanded.

1988 to present day - Hi-Fi is clearly an expensive addiction, as the need for lots of sparkly and loud new components has not abated. No longer involved in piracy, the musical high seas are no longer a happy hunting ground. Have discovered Spotify, LastFM, Amarok etc.

Still prefer CDs to MP3s though.