sponsored by Audio Explosion
It was a grand event when Edison first managed to reproduce his
own voice by scratching grooves on a wax cylinder: in the same
way that writing freed words from speech and let thoughts be
transmitted over boundaries of space and time, recorded music
freed sound to reach people thousands of miles away or decades
to the future. However, we should note that the full potential
of writing wasn’t utilized until printing became cheap (kudos
to Gutenberg) and literacy became widespread. It wasn’t until
the common man had access to libraries and bookstores that we
could harness books as a universal medium. This holds true for
any medium: to reach its full potential, everyone must be able
to use it.
Digital audio has now freed music from even physical media.
High-speed connections to the Internet combined with archives
of accessible music and cheap, hi-fidelity home speakers
turn the computer into a musical genie: you desire a song
and the invisible orchestra sitting in your room with you
begins to play. New portable digital audio players take the
concept even further, letting you hear the music that you
want wherever you are. One of the forthcoming players,
Saehan’s MP-H10, has a laptop hard drive built in to store MP3 files. I gasped
when I heard this. Why? Well, a quick scan of
hard drive prices shows that you can get a 5Gb drive for $300:
this translates into over 5000 minutes of digital music, or
music for 9 days solid. And that fits in your hand. Oh yeah,
and it’ll probably be $250 for a 10Gb drive by the time the
player comes out in the Fall. (Above prices given on January
25, 1999.) You could carry with you every great dance tune
ever made, or all of the good songs from the 70’s.
The important point to make here is that a device like the
MP-H10 will allow you to carry all of the music that you care
about, ready for instant and convenient playback wherever you
go. The invisible orchestra will follow you as you hike,
jog, work, play, and maybe even swim. (Technically, it would be
relatively easy to waterproof the player.) Some people find this ethereal
concept of music difficult to grasp: when they buy something
they want a physical product in return. What I usually
point out to these people is that their response has been
conditioned by their society; it was not very long ago when
the thought of being able to hold on to a piece of music
in the form of a tape or a CD was absurd. People did not
use to pay money and get a chunk of something: they would
pay money to sit at an orchestra or an opera. One paid
money for the experience, not the object. Today, music is
returning to its roots as an experience.
This experience is no trite thing, either. Music is essential
to human existance. It shapes our psyche
in profound ways, causing us to smile, get up and dance,
get angry, or cry. It is more than mere sensory input —
it connects to how we view the world. I recently started
wearing my Rio more often, listening to music wherever I go; it was like
having giant colorful splashes of paint thrown over life.
The technology for this to happen is rapidly moving in.
Barring intense legal action, I find it likely that within
ten years, a large percent of the population of the US, Korea,
Japan, and Europe will be listening to music in this way.
“Recharging stations,” or Internet music kiosks available
at publicly-accessible locations, would let people purchase
music on the Internet without needing to
have a computer or an Internet connection: they could just
walk down to Circuit City, buy a “music receptacle” for
a few bucks, and “charge up” with their favorite music.
Music will be freed to be played by anyone, any time,
It is my hope and my dream that these technologies
will someday bring more music into the world, enrich people’s
lives, and color life as we know it with beautiful and
broad arching strokes from sound of the invisible orchestra.