C30 C60 C90 MP3 Go!

26 06 2006

I was listening to C30 C60 C90 by Bow Wow Wow on my iPod and it ocurred to me that digital music is not a descendent of the CD. In fact, the MP3 is directly linked with the tape cassette.

The story of music formats isn’t a straight line from vinyl to tape to CD to MP3, as you might think looking at historical progression. In fact, despite the rivalry between vinyl enthusiasts and CD fans, the two formats are practically the same. Heated debate about warmth/crackles vs sound quality/sterility aside, they’re the same – just different sizes.

You can’t really do anything with a CD that you can’t do with a vinyl record – track skip by moving the needle – apart from play it three million times and spread jam on it. But the CD, despite it’s vaunted indestructability and 1980s sexy rainbow prism effect, is every bit as monolitihic as the record.

It was the line “I’ll carry my record collection on my back” that made me think about how similar CDs are to records. You have to store them like you records. But portability is by the by really – every technology will always get smaller. What’s revolutionary about the tape – and now the MP3 – is the interactivity.

Programme your CD player to play The White Album in any order you want? Nice one Grandad. Track skip past Revolution No. 9? Careful, you’ll give yourself a heart attack. Fixed. Monolithic. A bit rubbish.

So the more I think about, the more I start to think CDs were an evolutionary blind alley. Seduced by the shiny green and pink highlights on this sparkly little disk, we forgot why tapes were so great: you could get music off the radio and listen to it whenever you wanted! You could put it in any order you wanted! You never had to buy a record again!

And that’s what digital music is. MP3s put the you back in music, or something. Of course, ask me about this later and I’ll start decrying the death of the album and the demise of album artwork and break down in tears at how pointless the world is. In fact that the CD’s fault too, as artwork was shrunk from glorious 12-inch square slabs to fiddly little versions.

A friend of mine wrote his dissertation on the demise of sleeve artwork, I’ll have to ask him what his conclusions were. My conclusion is that we should heed the words of Annabella Lwin: “If you’re rich enough to own a record collection, I’ll bring my bazooka round for inspection…”

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