The Bureau of Land Management has an issue with people disposing of televisions on their grounds. What was once a high-end appliance eventually becomes junk that even the dump won’t take. You have to pay to get rid of it. Last fall, I bought my partner an iPad. It was the most expensive gift I’ve ever given. And while I don’t regret the decision, there is a part of me that laments the sad fact that in a few years this glitzy gadget is going to wind up in our junk drawer with all our old cell phones and broken iPods. For $500, I wish I’d gotten him something that would still be relevant when we’re a little older.
My laptop is three years old and falling apart. I hope to get another couple of years out of it before I have to drop it off at REPC. It’s strange to think how poorly this technology ages, especially considering how Apple products tend to be viewed as such crucial toys of our modern age. In the music world, they’ve established a kind of monopoly. Not only do you listen to music on their products, you store music on them. You distribute music on them. You record music on them. You even make music on them. And while it’s nice that you can do all these things on one device, in five years it’ll be trash.
For all its inconveniences, my recording engineer friends still tout the audio superiority of 2” tape over ProTools and geek out over mixing consoles built decades ago. I’ve had the same stereo receiver since high school. I play a bass guitar made in the ‘70s. All these items still have value. And consequently, I’m invested in the music generated from these devices. I do not think of music as ephemera. If a song is worth listening to now, it should be worth listening to in ten, twenty, thirty years. And similarly, some significant part of what made that song possible should exist in ten years. I want history. I want artifacts. I love that B.B. King has Lucille and Willie Nelson has Trigger. I want Gary Numan’s Roland RS-09 to still ooze out those synthy string swells somewhere. I want Electrical Audio, Abbey Road, and Electric Lady to retain as much of their hardware as possible. Conversely, I don’t ever want to see Skrillex’s copy of Ableton Live on display at EMP. And I don’t anticipate anyone ever fetishizing over an old plug-in.
We’ve made music become something cheap and disposable. It’s something to sit on your hard drive for a few months before the 1s and 0s are completely flushed from existence. I don’t want Steve Jobs to be the voice of our generation. I don’t want the learning curve on an instrument to be the time it takes to familiarize oneself with the latest software. I don’t want a musical genius’s greatest work to be a free download on Bandcamp. I want some sense of permanence, some sort of assurance that our artists aren’t just creating tomorrow’s junk and digital ether.