The Invisible Orchestra

dweekly

1999/01/28

Categories: Uncategorized

sponsored by Audio Explosion

It was a grand event when Edison first managed to reproduce his

own voice by scratching grooves on a wax cylinder: in the same

way that writing freed words from speech and let thoughts be

transmitted over boundaries of space and time, recorded music

freed sound to reach people thousands of miles away or decades

to the future. However, we should note that the full potential

of writing wasn’t utilized until printing became cheap (kudos

to Gutenberg) and literacy became widespread. It wasn’t until

the common man had access to libraries and bookstores that we

could harness books as a universal medium. This holds true for

any medium: to reach its full potential, everyone must be able

to use it.

Digital audio has now freed music from even physical media.

High-speed connections to the Internet combined with archives

of accessible music and cheap, hi-fidelity home speakers

turn the computer into a musical genie: you desire a song

and the invisible orchestra sitting in your room with you

begins to play. New portable digital audio players take the

concept even further, letting you hear the music that you

want wherever you are. One of the forthcoming players,

Saehan’s MP-H10, has a laptop hard drive built in to store MP3 files. I gasped

when I heard this. Why? Well, a quick scan of

hard drive prices shows that you can get a 5Gb drive for $300:

this translates into over 5000 minutes of digital music, or

music for 9 days solid. And that fits in your hand. Oh yeah,

and it’ll probably be $250 for a 10Gb drive by the time the

player comes out in the Fall. (Above prices given on January

25, 1999.) You could carry with you every great dance tune

ever made, or all of the good songs from the 70’s.

The important point to make here is that a device like the

MP-H10 will allow you to carry all of the music that you care

about, ready for instant and convenient playback wherever you

go. The invisible orchestra will follow you as you hike,

jog, work, play, and maybe even swim. (Technically, it would be

relatively easy to waterproof the player.) Some people find this ethereal

concept of music difficult to grasp: when they buy something

they want a physical product in return. What I usually

point out to these people is that their response has been

conditioned by their society; it was not very long ago when

the thought of being able to hold on to a piece of music

in the form of a tape or a CD was absurd. People did not

use to pay money and get a chunk of something: they would

pay money to sit at an orchestra or an opera. One paid

money for the experience, not the object. Today, music is

returning to its roots as an experience.

This experience is no trite thing, either. Music is essential

to human existance. It shapes our psyche

in profound ways, causing us to smile, get up and dance,

get angry, or cry. It is more than mere sensory input —

it connects to how we view the world. I recently started

wearing my Rio more often, listening to music wherever I go; it was like

having giant colorful splashes of paint thrown over life.

The technology for this to happen is rapidly moving in.

Barring intense legal action, I find it likely that within

ten years, a large percent of the population of the US, Korea,

Japan, and Europe will be listening to music in this way.

“Recharging stations,” or Internet music kiosks available

at publicly-accessible locations, would let people purchase

music on the Internet without needing to

have a computer or an Internet connection: they could just

walk down to Circuit City, buy a “music receptacle” for

a few bucks, and “charge up” with their favorite music.

Music will be freed to be played by anyone, any time,

anywhere.

It is my hope and my dream that these technologies

will someday bring more music into the world, enrich people’s

lives, and color life as we know it with beautiful and

broad arching strokes from sound of the invisible orchestra.