Transient Invisibility: Has Music Lost Its Soul?
I’m not making some retrospective complaint that addresses the decay of a musician’s soul or criticizes the soulful quality of music today. So enough of this “rock is dying” bullshit, anyone who’s a member on No Depression.com, knows that’s “just not true”. Instead, what concerns me today is the effect of digital downloading on the soul of music. And what I mean by soul is the aura of authenticity that surrounds a song during that pure moment of original epiphanic creation. Way back in the late 19th century, wax cylinders were used to record the audio of singers and orchestras, without the intention of public distribution or the purpose of sale. Instead, early recordings were made and given to artists as personal tokens like souvenirs. As the industrial revolution picked up the claymaking pace, the commercial use of the phonograph made a mind-blowing impact, as companies like Victor and Columbia began to record and sell phonograph discs. This gave the primitive consumer the luxury of listening to Mozart’s Requiem in the privacy of their home.
Yes, advancements in technology gave birth to this wonderful revolution. And naturally, in capitalistic fashion, music became a material art form—one that is tangible, reproducible and replicable. The metaphysical essence of a masterpiece had found not only carnal existence but also the possibility of eternal life bestowed by the physical copy of a record. The nuanced flaws and perfections of performance or the individual soul of a song could be transposed from bedroom to ballroom, from city to countryside, from public to private domains, and so on. With the invention of the radio, music was made further mobile, and the creation of popular culture was set into motion by song—instead of the image-obsessed world, that eventually came to dominate the airwaves over future generations.
However, with these technological advancements instigated a certain degree of alienation between the artist and their art, as profit-maximizing potential was easily recognized in the marketplace. Living in America where art and industry attempt to coexist, musicians still struggle in trying to maintain artistic integrity, while career decisions are often navigated by supply and demand crazed executives. Despite the benefits created by the Internet, the lossy compression of digital audio and the cheap and quick access to that audio has complicated this issue of alienation—as music is beginning to invisibly exist in a world of transient satisfaction, one that discourages patience and delayed gratification. Although music, today, is made more accessible to a wide range of individuals, illegal torrents and MP3 superstores, in their “virtual” presence, possesses the ability to (further) destroy not only the sanctity associated with artistic expression, but also the corporeal testimony of that expression—namely the vinyl, the cassette, and hell… even the CD!