About two years ago, my wife won an iPod in a contest during the Chamber Music America conference, but to this day neither of us has bothered to open it up. While initially we were extremely excited about having one of these new gadgets (after all, our society instills in us the desire for the latest technological innovation), the charm wore off as soon as we talked about what music we would put on it.
I have over 5000 LPs and, after we combined our collections, we probably have nearly 5000 CDs. And I continue to amass this stuff weekly, if not daily. No handheld MP3 player currently on the consumer market could accommodate what amounts to easily more than 10,000 hours of music, not to mention the extraordinarily valuable peripheral information contained in the packages that house these recordings: not just really cool cover art, but frequently detailed booklet notes with historic essays, detailed analyses, interviews with the composers and performers, even miniature scores in some cases. These objects are also frequently relics of faraway lands and times, talismans of otherness that impersonal computer files can never be. After over 25 years of scouring record stores around the world, I have access to most of the world’s music in my living room. And if I don’t have it yet, it’s either on my shopping list or soon will be.
But, you say, that’s all so cumbersome. With an iPod, you can travel anywhere you want with your favorite music. Well, for starters I don’t have favorite music—really—so it would actually be difficult for me to narrow it down to only a couple thousand hours of music, which maxes out the top of the line 80-gigabyte model. And I love looking at my floor to ceiling walls of recordings. They are a constant source of simultaneous humility and inspiration. But, most importantly, I treasure the time I have at home devoted to experiencing music, frequently in the company of friends. The last thing I’d want to do is carry it around with me all the time and have it as a antisocial solitary experience competing for attention with the adventures of my daily commute.
About ten years ago, during a period of intense repetitive study of various pieces of music, I carried around a Walkman and then a Discman for a while, which for all intents and purposes function much the same way that iPods do. (Yeah, I know, you have to carry the recordings with you. But I kid you not, I used to drag along a heavy carrying bag that contained almost the equivalent time of music most iPod models hold in physical cassettes and CDs.) I saturated myself with music that way, but I quickly wanted to find a way to respond to it creatively, either at a keyboard or some other instrument, which was usually hard to come by in the middle of the street. Or I’d want to listen to it more intently or share it with others, which listening during other activities on isolating headphones makes problematic and frequently impossible.
So in the end I gave up on the various Walkmans (not just because of their awful spelling). I already listen to so much music all the time, both in almost daily live concerts and the tons of recordings at home. Much as I love music, I do actually need time for other things like reading, looking at art, eating, drinking, and just living life.