Monday, October 03, 2005

Making Tracks

I had my iPod hooked up to the computer the other night, adding some tracks to its library. On impulse, I clicked on one of my 60's playlists so that it would play through the computer's speakers. Since it was a 60's playlist and not 80's synthpop, my husband was enjoying it and flipped the switch that connects the computer with the stereo system, so that the music would come out of the big speakers.

"It sounds compressed," he remarked.

"Of course it's compressed. It's made to be listened to on an iPod through earphones. Like when you upload a picture to the Web, you don't use a tiff, you use a jpg."

"But you lose the dynamics."

"Sure, you lose them if you're playing the iPod through room speakers. When you print out a jpg it looks all fuzzy. That's why the iPod sites tell you if you're going to a party and you're bringing the music, instead of bringing your discs you bring your iPod but you use aiffs instead of compressed files."

But then I thought, the tracks sound kinda compressed on the iPod when I play them through earphones/earbuds, too. They don't sound as deep and resonant as they did on my old mix tapes. And they're quieter: I have to push the sound up, especially when I'm in the subway station, and that eats the battery, which never lasts as long as it's supposed to anyway.

So then, since the unexamined life is not worth living, I asked myself, "Why do I have an iPod?" Well, 'cause 80% of the time when I listen to music, it's when I'm on the run, so I have to have something portable. Until two years ago, I was getting along perfectly fine on the Walkman/mix tape method. My first Walkman, which I purchased in 1987, lasted eight years. My next one lasted about five, and then came a succession of Walkpersons that would be trundled back to the store or back to SONY/Panasonic/whatever within months of purchase.

And my personal disc player is fine for the 20% of the time that I listen to music in one place. But when I had to run around with it, I found that no matter what the claims of "skip-proof," I had to carry the player flat in front of me as if I were playing a snare drum in a parade.

And so two years ago, I gave in and got a 10-gig second-generation iPod, and began to digitize whatever was in my collection that was not already digitized. And since I'm Old School when it comes to mixes, instead of compressing a bunch of tracks and then making a mix on the iPod through iTunes, I burn the playlist to a disc as aiffs and then compress the tracks for the iPod.

I consider the iPod to be like an envelope to carry the tunes in. Even when the mix is in progress on my computer's hard drive, or I've downloaded an AAC file from iTunes Music Store, I consider those tracks to be "in limbo." They aren't safe until they're burned onto a permanent round thing I can hold in my hand, just as I used to consider a vinyl LP to be the permanent way to keep my music in the old days.

The advantage of my iPod is that I now have the equivalent of over three dozen mix tapes on it and it's still only a little over half-full. It's less than half the size of my smallest Walkman without any mechanical parts to go wonky.

But I still tend to listen to the same dozen or so playlists on a regular basis, just like I used to grab one or two of the same dozen mix tapes on my way out the door every morning.

Given the way I personally use the thing, it would make sense to put the tracks on the iPod uncompressed. I'd be able to fit about a dozen discs on there at a time. If I wanted to replace some or all of those dozen, I wouldn't have to worry about backing them up--they'd already be backed up. It would take some advance planning, since I wouldn't have so many choices at my fingertips at all times, but I would get more enjoyment from the tracks that were on there.

There are a few things I would miss about having the sheer volume of tracks. The other day I was bored with my existing playlists and just decided to play all the songs in alphabetical order by artist. Since there are about 1500 songs on there now, there were some things I'd forgotten I'd put on there. Also, I had the artists listed first name first. So I would expect to hear the Animals and instead be treated to Al Green, the Alan Parsons Project and then Albert Hammond. (Eww, did I have to use so many tracks from the "Have A Nice Day" collection?)

I also like the little "Name That Tune" thing under "Games," but I missed half the clues this morning when the D train roared in.

It seems as if the iPod has been around forever, and I think having the same one for two years would probably lose you your citizenship in Japan. But the truth is that this technology is still relatively new. It may have been intended by its creators to be used in a particular way, but the technology is versatile and people are resourceful. There may not ultimately be a "right" and a "wrong" way to use it. . . except jumping into a swimming pool with it is probably very, very wrong.

"They don't sound as deep and resonant as they did on my old mix tapes."

That's partially because tape, even the lowly cassette, still has more warmth and "realness" than digital. Digital, however is still "cleaner" and easier to edit than tape ever was. Even GarageBand offers more mixing possibilities than Gold Star, Sigma and Electric Lady had. Whether or not the results are as good is, of course, extremely debatable,

Happy New Year!!!!
Of course, one could always mix on digital and then transfer to tape. But then, I'd have the trouble of finding a decent Walkman to play the tapes on.

And a Happy Benihana to you!
Hi Melinda!

I followed your signature link from WindfallWoman's blog here. And I like it here!
I jumped to your very first blog and you got me hooked. I'll be visiting often.

Athena from Athens (aka Flubberwinkle)

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