Saturday, January 1, 2011

The new decade in music: alarums and excursions?

The musical end of the first decade of the twenty-first century has passed without much hoopla*, compared to the amount of media publicity and public attention given, obsessively, to the decade's beginning--which itself marked not only the end of the previous decade, not only the conclusion of a century, but the conclusion of a millennium: for "The new decade in music", 21 Google hits; "Music of The new decade", 33 hits; "Music in The new decade", 46 results; etc.

To my eye (and ear), the greatest musical changes in the last ten years in the world of music have occurred in the electronic media, with 1) the growth of on-line downloads, either paid or free, from such major sources as iTunes, as well as downloading options from Websites of individual artists or companies; 2) options for portable personal archiving, primarily through the iPod in its various versions; on-line radio (either free or with modest subscription fees), with Pandora being the current leader among thousands of others (hear an interview with Pandora's founder here; and the use of such social media as YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook as sources of music. In other words, the availability of all types of music has increased exponentially through the Internet, to a degree unimaginable ten years ago.

What will the next ten years bring? If the accelerated pace of progress in the development of electronic musical resources continues, the possibilities may be even more astounding than those of the past decade, leading to a musical world that is entirely, or at least overwhelmingly digital; it is true that supporters of music from analog sources (primarily audiophile long-playing records) reproduced through analog equipment (using vacuum tubes, as opposed to transistors), claim a superiority in the naturalness of the sound in those media, as evidenced by the continued presence of over-the-top analog equipment in the opulent glossy pages of Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, the leading audiophile monthly publications.)

For me, and I assume for many others, the dilemma stands: from what sources should we obtain our music?--concrete or virtual?--CDs or downloads?--and where should we keep it, store it, and what means should we use to listen to it? On the one hand, as long as I am online, I can find on YouTube almost all of the popular songs I would like to hear, often in an official sanctioned version from the artist(s) or the recording company. Or I can download my one or two favorite songs at a fraction of the cost of buying the entire album on CD. And in any case, now that I have iTunes on my computer, and my iPod, do I really need the hard-copy of the recording?

For example: from among my favorite songs--Phil Collins' haunting "One More Night", the vinyl copy (33 1/3 rpm Long Playing Stereo 12 inch record from the 80's) of which is buried in somewhere in my basement archive, there is immediately available on YouTube the performance video first aired on MTV, now in the "Official Video", with links to iTunes and Amazon to purchase a download of the song.

Or again, I have the option of watching the "official"(?) Fleetwood Mac video of the bedrock rendition (from the film The Dance) of "Silver Springs", compleat with the silken, throaty voice of Stevie Nicks, the birdlike antics of drummer Mick Fleetwood fading visually in and out, and the keyboard interlude by Christine McVie, haunting in its simplicity and melodic lyricism.

And if I so choose, I can hear and watch these videos on my iPod, and my iPhone . . . .

Well, so begins a new year, and a new decade, in which we will continue to share musical discoveries.

*(Celebrating the richness of the language, I can't resist here noting several colorful synonyms to "hoopla" given in Merriam-Webster's on-line thesaurus: in addition to the alarums and excursions in today's title, we have balllyhoo, corroboree (Aust.), foofaraw, helter-skelter (of course with musical echos in the 1968 Beatles' song, as well as the subsequent horrific use of the term by Charles Manson), hoo-hah, hullabaloo, kerfuffle (chiefly British), pother, shindy, splore (Scottish), welter, and williwaw--a collection of words almost musical in their powers of evocation.)

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