The Act of Listening to Music

Today the Independent ran this article.

In at nutshell it talks about how "people within the music industry are claiming that we're losing our ability to appreciate sound properly. All kinds of factors are responsible, they say: cheap listening devices; listening on the move via mobile phones, or the ubiquitous iPod; and compressed audio file formats such as WMA, AAC and MP3 that allow huge amounts of music to fit on to portable devices. A 128Kbps MP3 file (which, according to Apple's iTunes software, is regarded as "good" quality) is less than 1/11th of the size of the uncompressed original so, in theory, has 10/11ths of the audio information missing."

I'm guilty of this. I own an iPod and carry with me 140 gigabytes or so of music -- opera and not. It is my sole source of music. I listen to it jogging the dogs in the morning, plug it into my car stereo on my way to work, dock it with speakers in my office at work and when I come home I stream it through my media center. To be honest, I haven't noticed a loss in quality -- then again, I'm too busy to notice.

In the article John Dibb from Bowers & Wilkins (they make high end speakers) comments:

"Today, it's all about convenience, rather than quality. It's about having 1,000 albums in your pocket. People have forgotten the benefits of making the act of listening into an event."

And he's right. There was once a time when I could spend a few hours ensconced in a quiet room, headphones on, whiling away an afternoon with a libretto or liner notes listening to music and doing nothing else. Those days are long gone. Music is now just music in the background. Theme songs to paying bills, cooking dinner, running errands, cleaning and everything else life throws at me during the course of a day.

I wonder how this will affect the future of opera. I wonder how this will affect future audiences made up of those who have never experienced the unadulterated act of listening to music for the simple pleasure of listening. With this lack of training, of discipline, of willingness to give onself over to the singer and orchestra will opera be appreciated for what it truly is? Will it still have the ability to change lives? Or will it become just music?



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