Saturday, April 16, 2011

Exit the CD, Gone a Reliable Gift Option

As the last hardware form of commodified recorded music, that optical medium known as the audio compact disk (forward: "cd"), makes its slow exit from the marketplace, it's probably appropriate to take a moment to consider the fact that this creates a serious hole in the list of reliable gift object. Even a notorious recording skeptic like myself has been known to give and receive — and gladly, always gladly — too many of those little plastic discs in their plastic boxes (or, later, cardboard covers). And said cd does have some real advantages over the traditional alternatives: not everyone wears ties, drinks scotch, appreciates a good wine, cigars are out of style, none of my acquaintances is yet old enough to golf, let alone have a tangible use for golf balls, and let's face it, when uncertain about the recipient's tastes, choosing a piece of music seems less risk-prone than a book. While I have never become particularly adept at rescuing a suffocating cd from its shrink rap and I'm equally clumsy at opening the so-called-"crystal case", if I may admit here to a minor perversity: I do take some genuine tactile pleasure in ejecting the cd from its clutches of the circular hub of teeth which grip the disc by its unique and thus topologically-defining central hole by pressing just gently enough on the springy central button of the back media tray. Which is a digression from my main point, which is that, when given the gift of an audio cd, I feel obliged to open and listen to the cd.* I do not regift cds. Nor do I prematurely liberate, examine and/or listen to cds which I have purchased with the intention of giving to others. I do recall, however (TRUE STORY WARNING), that one of the first cds I was given as a gift, a recording of Robert Ashley's Atalanta (which Ben.Harper happens to mention in a very sweet post, here) was given to me both unwrapped (that is, the shrink wrap had been removed; the gift wrapping was, in fact, intact) and already listened to. Which was dismaying at the time, but now, one supposes with some generosity granted by the passage of considerable time, shall we say twenty-five years and four months plus or minus five days?, was just a premature form of file sharing. An unapologetic act of what I then considered to be bad form was simply a vanguard form of a new etiquette. My failure to register, then, an appropriate amount of gratitude to the gift-giver for the gift given, given my misunderstanding of the evolving ethic of music-sharing, viewed through my antiquated and perhaps provincial view that a gift given, save for some object of antiquarian or intimate personal interest and/or worth, should be unused prior to its formal receipt by its intended recipient. (WARNING: LONG CLOSING SENTENCE, ENDING WITH PREPOSITION INDICATING AN IMITATION OF ACTUAL SPEECH RATHER THAN POLISHED PROSE: My regrets at my lack of foresight, and thus my not-bad-but-definitely awkward expression of reduced gratitude are deep but wane, now, in the knowledge that the custom of sharing music via a tangible medium which might bear some concrete signs of its prior use has gone the way of the dodo, and that we have definitely entered the age in which recordings are exchanged, often anonymously, secret Santas all of us, entirely without any indications as to whether a recording has been previously heard or otherwise interacted with.


* As the costs of producing ones own cd went lower and lower, the exchange of cds by composers and musicians who made them has become ubiquitous. (Indeed, I probably received more cds than business cards from musicians throughout the '90s and oughts; hell, cds had become business cards.) It then became very important to remove the shrink rap from gifted cds received, as the risk of the gift-giver finding the cd still enclosed in plastic, lonely and unplayed on some shelf, when revisting the recipient was one which carried the potential of serious social awkwardness. No, no one would actually have know if the cd had actually been listened to, but left in its wrapping, it would have been absolutely clear that it had not been listened to.


Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...

I still prefer CD to the download, which besides is often of inferior quality, with less care in preparation, and is too easily functions as the background or an added element in an environment of multitasking [the computer]. I can't say there are many downloads i have listened to o more than once or twice.
My best speakers are also elsewhere in my abode, and i really like it that way too. Only place for my eyes, if i use them, is a score on paper.

Paul said...

CDs as a gift can be a tricky business - my one and only success was giving my wife a complete collection of the Chopin Nocturnes.

Now I think, a gift card to iTunes will have to do...

Anonymous said...

I would agree that the CD-sharing ceremony has probably lost its luster.

You could almost talk about the dematerialization of recording media. I mean, how does it FEEL to know that you have Beethoven's 5th on a flashcard?

The round shape of a CD, combined with its relatively small size, had brought an almost tactile sense of completeness and soothing circularity to the listening experience.

You could locate the physical counterpart (manifestation) of the abstract recording "hologram".

Now this hologram has been pretty much detached from any point of attachment (even tough, to be sure, the music IS ultimately stored on some material carrier, such as a server).

So the whole thing has become, if not dematerialized, quite abstract, which makes some people nostalgic.

In an earlier comment someone mentioned, erroneously, I believe, nostalgia.

I am convinced that the feeling of nostalgia can become a severe interference with the productivity of a given employee, and, in aggregate, can have a material adverse effect on shareholder value.

CEOs should, therefore, be warned about the need to have appropriate mechanisms in place, to enable their teams to get nostalgia “out of the system” to increase productivity and focus.

According to researchers, this can be done through conveying one’s nostalgia to an artistic medium of one’s liking, such as a piece of music.

These processes should enable the employee to re-invent herself, through formal or informal creative activity, depending her level of artistic craft.

Once the employee has in this way registered her gratitude for some of the happier experiences in her life, she can re-claim the feeling of tactile pleasure from handling volumes of paperwork (even if meaningless), or other material, as applicable.

I am not in a position to say how professional composers deal with nostalgia. I would assume their level of craft allows them, instead of creating a straightforward, linear nostalgic piece, subject the nostalgic material to transformational processes, only known to professionals, and in this way produce a piece which would ultimately depart from the initial nostalgic sound complex, which may been contained in only the first few bars of the piece.