Soundtrack to our lives

This Adam Gopnik article about the quest to record and playback music in 3 dimensions  is behind the New Yorker paywall, but I wanted to excerpt this lovely passage:

The notion of a pure musical experience is, for Sterne and his cohorts, the last sad effort of a nineteenth-century cult of attention that placed the solitary alienated (and almost always male) listener in a temple of silence, the concert hall. Everyone faces forward, no one moves, applause is tightly regimented, and no one ever does the things that human beings normally do when they hear music: dance, move, act, eat, flirt. "It isn't strange that the MP3 generation walks around with earbuds on and listens to music while they're doing everything else," Sterne says. "That's the normal human condition of listening. It's very, very unusual to have any concept of music apart from a dance practice—the separation of music and dance is very late and highly unusual." The sociologists, his work suggests, are dissolving music back into the field of sound from which an act of Western will has divorced it.

Sterne's diagnosis of Choueiri and the other high-end researchers is that "they're trying to resolve the anxiety of the modern by reproducing the anxiety of the modern." He means that the anxiety that produced the isolated urban listener in the concert hall is only aggravated by the technology that, pretending to liberate listening from the concert space, simply makes for more lonely domestic concert halls. The sweet spot on the sofa is a sad place to be.

I felt chastened after reading this, given that I've spent the last year digitizing all my CD's in lossless codecs to play back through a high end DAC and high end speakers in my living room. I dislike the compressed, flattened sound of MP3s, and last year I reached a point where I couldn't listen to them anymore.

However, I do love the flexibility of having music with me on my iPhone, whether through a streaming service like Spotify or stored locally on the iPhone. I'm looking forward to iPhones and iPads with 128GB and more of storage capacity as I've taken to ripping my favorite music in Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) to play from an iPhone. The tricky thing is that to capitalize on the sound of those files, I have to send them to a portable amp and then into higher quality headphones. Out of the sheer inconvenience of such a setup, I usually just listen to music from Spotify or Rdio. Compressed audio formats like MP3 are one of the disruptions most pertinent to my life in the past 20 years.

Still, for music lovers, I recommend making an appointment at a high end audio store once in your life and bringing along your favorite CD, or asking them to supply some demo music. Last year I spent an hour in a converted classroom in the Easy Bay listening to some of my favorite CDs played through a high end audio system that finished in a pair of $80,000 Magico speakers.

The speakers were aptly named. For a moment, I forgot about the price tag and just listened to the music. It was magic.