Sunday, January 13, 2008

I-pods, MP3s and the world of the natural sound

Christmas is long over, but there are still repercussions.

Was it worth buying that I-pod, MP3 player or We video game? Many in my family bought these "entertainment appliances" for their children, but we didn't.

My daughter Sarah had specifically asked for an I-pod and we flatly told her no. Yet we are not puritans, fundamentalists, luddites or holy rollers of any kind. We're the opposite end of that theo-political spectrum.

We not anti-media, although we have no broadcast, cable, satellite or TIVO in our home. Our TV is a 19-inch color set that I bought from Monky Wards 22 years ago. I have a pretty decent dolby-surround stereo system that's about a dozen years old, but I still have the bookshelf speakers I bought in college. I keep saying that I will update the system with a big-screen flat-panel LCD and some smaller speakers, altough when it comes to spending money on travel vs. more electronics, travel seems to win out. Our next trip is an eco-tour to Costa Rica next week.

We have satellite radio and are very pleased with its variety and lack of commercials on most stations. You can listen to one channel all day and never hear anything repeated. There is so much music out there -- and most of it is not on the format-oriented radio. I can listen to folk, classical, jazz, world and soul for hours. We're more media savvy than anyone, actually. We have home delivery of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and local papers. On the web, I scan the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, The Washington Post, Newsweek and have feeds on major news subjects. We listen to NPR in the car when we are not listening to music of our choice.

Nevertheless, our decision has resonated with other families. At least two or three that we know of have turned off their TVs -- at least during the week,

We want to listen to the kind of music that enlightens and is not part of some commercially driven agenda. It's not that we're afraid to sample. We scan YouTube all the time for new artists. When my 7-year-old daughter Julia was in the library, she asked for Hannah Montana CDs, although she had to wait to get them. When she got them, all of her other music took precedence, and none of it was guided by us. After seeing Aretha Franklin sing on YouTube, she was smitten with her emotion and artistry. She also loves Sam & Dave, Alison Kraus and Union Station, Solas (and any Irish music) and the soundtrack from the musical "Wicked," which we saw in the theatre two years ago. Maybe not to my surprise, she lost interest in the contrived, overproduced sound of Disney's Hannah Montana and stuck with the queen of soul. We never said a word in judgement about the Disney sound. She made this decision on her own.

We have also endeavored to ensure that we all see great live music and theatre. We have seen some great Shakespeare productions in five or six different venues. Julia was able to sit through full-length productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at age five. Sarah has seen more theatre in her 11 years than I did when I was 25. We go to small shows of folk singers at the library, early-music ensembles at our community barn and countless recitals. Both girls play guitar and piano and Kathleen insists that they practice and play until they're 18. Then it's their choice if they want to continue. They will have something they can create on their own the rest of their lives. It's the discipline of hearing, playing and letting the music conquer the material meaness of American life.

So why not buy them those ultra-compact music devices? Couldn't they choose from millions of tunes? Wouldn't the universe of music open up to them?

Maybe it would. Or more likely, they would be able to tune out the natural world of sound, or as James Joyce puts it, something that is the "ineluctable modality of the audible." The world needs to be listened to in order to be heard.

Say I wanted to jog around our lake. What would I miss if I kept the earplugs in?

The sheering sound of wind breaking against the ice.
Geese taking to wing and sweeping over a wetland
Sirens of distress in the distance
the D7 chord of the trains
the pounding of my feet on the gravel
the windmill as it threshes the wind to make electrons
dogs barking
delivery trucks
the howling of coyotes

How much of this is noise and how much is discernible life activity? It's this diversity of sound that keeps us plugged into the world, something that's lost through the exclusive domination of your brain by a compact electronic device. I have nothing against them, but I don't want to sacrifice my total experience of the world for one song. There's a symphony out there every single moment. We only have to listen.

We stress the live experience, not the recorded.


Marilyn said...

Keep up the good work. Cheers:-)

Anonymous said...

Never seen Hannah Montana on concert, I was not going to see it,Hannah Montana tickets got sky rocked thanks to stupid brokers.But even if I had seen it, I wouldn't buy it. I'd rather wait and see it on DVD. Well suprise I changed my mind and I got 2 tix for the Hannah Montana show I was looking for tickets thanks god there sites like Ticketsinventory here is the website

Concert tickets
So any body will go to Hannah Montana concert ??