Order In the Plex Now

Sound observations

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

As I mentioned before, Farhad Manjoo published a really thoughtful review of The Perfect Thing on Salon, in which he shares a lot of his own observations about the iPod.

One thing he says, which I really wasn’t aware of, is that because people now commonly listen to music in noisy environments, recording engineers now “use a very low dynamic range when they’re mastering new albums,” basically making sure there aren’t big variations in volume. That’s very interesting. One thing I didn’t get to in the book is the audiophile complaint about the quality of digital music. (Probably if still had been writing the book when Bob Dylan had made his recent statement about no music sounding decent for the last twenty years I would have addressed it.)

Another point he makes shows how tough it is to generalize people’s experiences with the iPod. According to Manjoo, the iPod discourages listening to new music. He’s right when he says that it’s hard to decipher new music, and the iPod lures you away from that task. Even if you have a block of time set off, like a plane trip, it takes some discipline to stick to one new album when all your favorite songs — with their associations, the pitchy lines you love, and their proven rockability–are accessible with just a few twirls around the scroll wheel.

Nonetheless, I find the digital music experience to encourage listening to new music. With the iPod, I spent more time with music, and have room to consider new stuff, knowing that if I like it, there will opportunity to hear it a lot. Then there’s the idea of introducing unfamiliar songs into shuffle–once you’ve briefly vetted some new cuts for potential, it’s fun to just drop them in the mix. When it comes up, you think “What’s that?” You can do this for free: surf the music blogs, grabbing MP3 here and there. Or make a habit of downloading the authorized free stuff on iTunes or Amazon or Pitchfork. If you hear of a new band, check out the website–often there’s a sampling of some MP3s for download.

My enthusiasm for new music had been dormant before the iPod–now it’s as high as ever.


  • I must confess that I have not read the book, but have spent some time skimming the passages and have, as well read the review from Salon.com as it seems to be very relevant to my area of study. Perhaps this just speaks to my ignorance of the book itself, but from what I have gathered, the book seems to portray the i-pod in a very positive and glorious light. Not that this portrayal of the i-pod is necessarily wrong, but one need only to take a look outside and see the masses of people using the device to witness its mass appeal and approval. Perhaps I was wrong in hoping that your book would address the i-pod in a more critical light. I was wondering if perhaps you see any potential problems or negative implications which have arisen or will arise from the massive embrace of the i-pod. I guess what I’m most interested in are the social and cultural implications of this “age of the i-pod.” For instance, a question which arises in my head is whether there is or should be a time when people should not listen to music? Certainly one of the implications of the i-pod is the ability to listen to music nearly anytime andwhere. I think I may remember a tongue in cheek reference you had made to the i-pod resulting in the erosion of the American social life, perhaps I’m wrong, but isn’t this an at least slightly feasible implication? I myself don’t own an i-pod and maybe that would help explain my resillience to embracing the device as an emblem of our time and generation. It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to music, I quite love it, but I don’t feel the need to listen to it on my way to class, or work, or while on the bus; maybe I would if I had one. Though I probably wouldn’t buy one anyway, I think the thing which I find most difficult to swallow about the thing is the price: that so many people would be able to pay, what to me seems like such an exhorbitant ammount of money, seems to be a very important aspect of the i-pod as well. I understand that you are probably a very busy person and I thank you very much for your time. At the present I’m doing some research on the i-pod, and thought it would be perhaps helpful to consult an expert.
    Gary A. Kawamura

  • My bookshop in Wales has just recieved copies of The Perfect Thing, and as an iPod addict (on my fifth model now) I dug straight into the book. Just wanted to say, fantastic read and it really devoured my lunch breaks and has left me with a huge backlog of paperwork.

    As for music, the iPod and the store have given me a way to try music I’d not previously considered listening to, and encouraged me to buy album after album of stuff I simply can’t get hold of in the sleepy town I live in. Like you, I’m listening to more and a wider selection than ever before. Viva la iPodistas!!!

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