Monday, January 16, 2012

The Quixotic Quest

At Amazon music you can instantly buy all the "best" one hit wonder songs for $0.69 U.S. (No! this isn't a sales pitch) being a sucker for anything cheap, I must admit that it caught my attention. The idea of building a playlist for a few dollars intrigued me, so I checked out Amazon's offerings.  It was what I expected, Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega, Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, I'm Gonna be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers, Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane (remember him?) Sex and Candy by Marcy Playground, Steal My Sunshine by Len, Fade into You by Mazzy Star, My Own Worst Enemy by Lit, ad nauseum.

While reading the comments and reviews that accompanied the tracks, it soon became apparent that there was a battle waging over the bit rate of the mp3 downloads.  I'm not an expert, but the gist of the argument was that they were available at a compressed, lossy 256 kbps vbr, but everyone felt they should be 320 kbps vbr., or something to that effect. "They might as well put them out on cassette tape!" one zealot blared. I felt no pity for them, after all you're dealing with compressed digital music files. In essence they've already been mutated, only an asshole would quibble over the sound quality.  

If you want cd quality buy the compact discs. Or better yet, buy vinyl ((I hear that's the purest of all sound mediums) I'm not a purist when it comes to sound. When recording, I set my recorders to near cd quality and  don't give it another thought (especially if I'm not paying for it)  While serving In the military, I fell in with a group of audiophiles. Each one would spend thousands on a system and then everyone would gather round to listen (while getting fucking hammered) I recall my friend Steve telling me "Listen... listen to the hi-hats, do you hear the hi- hats, can you hear the cymbals?

I couldn't hear shit!, I was leaning into the wind and ready to pass out on the floor. My interest was more in the hi, then the fi and I soon drifted away from those assholes. Having bought a decent stereo system at JC Penney for $1200 (300 watt amp, 36" high speaker boxes) I could pump out The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Cars and Devo as loud as my fellow dorm dwellers would let me. Naturally if I played my shit loud, there was no complaining when my neighbors pumped Funkadelic or The Brothers Johnson at full volume. They could match my amp output, so it was a trade-off.  

I had come a long way from my first record player, a turntable in a small square case, with two small speakers on the sides. It was old when I got it. One of our well to do neighbors gave it to me complete with a stack of 45's and 78 rpm records. (Hanks Williams, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson) they had a thing for Hanks. I started to supplement my collection by buying 45's at Ben Franklin for a quarter each. When I didn't have a quarter, the "sound-a-likes" were available for ten cents each. It was all good to me.

The local Goodwill store sold records, and soon I was buying castoffs for a nickel each. Then one day, as I was leaving the Goodwill, a jukebox jobber came out of the bar next door with a box of vinyl records. He saw me and called out "Hey kid come here" I went over there "Do me a favor, haul these over to the trash bin or keep 'em if you like" I could barely contain myself, he laughed as he handed me the box "They're played out and they ain't worth dick."

I rushed home with the box and started playing them,  it was loaded with mid-sixties top forty gems and a shitload of country hits (Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, George Jones) Holy shit! I had hit the mother lode. Coming from such humble beginnings, how could I be a music snob?.  I'm not going to argue the advantages of variable bit rate vs. constant bit rate or if the encoding process results in lossless compression. I don't give a fuck, the music is free of hiss, pops & skips. And to be honest, even with all these technical advances in music, I still can't hear the hi-hats.