Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Music to go

I believe that young people call this sort of thing 'skull candy'
Technology, when it works, can be brilliant. When it doesn’t work … it can make you wonder, with growing frustration, what happened to the idea that it was all supposed to make life easier.

I’ve written before about the travails of being a classical music listener dealing with iTunes, but it is getting no easier.

Last year, given both its age (and thus a sense of its limited life drawing inevitably toward an end) and the prices old ones were fetching online, I made the decision to mothball my classic iPod and get a new generation one.

Mistake. The new one is a pain – the biggest size at that time is barely able to hold my classical music collection, let alone anything else, and has not allowed for any growth.

It’s irritating to have it insisting on showing everything I’ve bought digitally so that I play it from ‘the cloud’. I’d barely bought any classical music digitally and stopped buying any music at all digitally some time ago.

I’ve stopped buying comics digitally too, because I’m bored with discovering that, when I want to read or listen to something, it is no longer where I had downloaded it to upon purchase, but I have to download or stream it again, from … The Cloud and possibly with additional costs.

Would anyone really accept buying a book from a bookshop and then finding, when you actually want to read it, the bookshop has taken it back and you have to go and get it again.

Why would I want to do any such thing with, say, a three disc opera while I’m on holiday, for instance?

So, the iPod classic has come out of mothballs and, over the last couple of days has polished and plugged in to the computer, after yet another struggle uploading the music I’ve bought in the last year (not actually a vast amount).

At over six years old, my computer works wonderfully. Well, sort of. Because it’s two months ‘too old’, it is no longer possible to upgrade the operating system and, therefore, much other software.

The classic un-mothballed, with Music Angel
In other words, it is becoming obsolete and I face having to buy a new one later this year. And because of changes to tech – and concomitant efforts to get people to store their stuff in The Bloody Cloud (or somebody’s else’s computer, as it actually is), I shall also need to buy a disc drive and then a multi-USB block so that I can have more than one peripheral attached at any one time.

Ah, the joys of consumerism and the ways in which, having conspired to ensure that we now need tech, we have to keep buying it (and more).

Anyway, all this makes adding in new music to my library just a bit more complex. No album cover art ever imports automatically; I have to do it manually, finding it on the internet. And then, of course, there’s the perennial problem of re-writing information so that you get some sense of organisation.

It makes sense with classical music to organise a collection by composer for the most part. In which case, every opera, for instance, needs retitling so that it reads: ‘Composer: opera; [disc number]’, otherwise your Puccinis are all over the shop and nobody wants that.

It’s worth noting that my music listening has been improved of late with the purchase of a new pair of headphones.

Now several years old, my Sennheiser plugs had taken to crackling madly on orchestral brass and percussion sections once I hit any sort of volume.

But here’s where the internet is wonderful: inevitably, there was a guide to be found to headphones for classical listeners – indeed, the one I found was at gramophone.com and is regularly updated.

After a detailed read, I ordered a pair – and although it’s meant moving away from plugs (but big ones are so on trend these days), the sumptuous quality of sound is more than enough compensation.

Something old ...
Interestingly, the new ones are Audio-Technica ATH-M50X studio monitor professional headphones – designed very much with DJs in mind – but the definition when listing to an orchestra (you can almost pick out individual instruments) is superb and makes you feel drawn right into the heart of the music.

In addition, I found a Music Angel – a diminutive speaker for an iPod, smartphone or tablet. It needs no batteries, running off the gadget itself, and while the sound is hardly earth-shattering, it’s a great way to ensure that you can play your music when you’re away from home and there is no need to keep your music to yourself.

And since it just jacks into your gadget, it's less likely to be rendered worthless by Apple changing stuff again. 

So now I’m musically set for the holiday – kitted out for travel and for our temporary residence.

Of course, having got such things working again, the temptation has been to buy some new music.

And something new
And the most recent additions to the collection include Hildegard von Bingen’s Canticles of Ecstasy from the Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music, conducted by Barbara Thornton, and the Danish String Quartet playing pieces by Thomas Adés (Arcadiana from 1994), Per Nørgård (Quartett Breve from 1952) and Hans Abrahamsen (10 Preludes from 1973).

You might suppose that, separated by ticking on for a thousand years, these lie at opposite ends of the musical spectrum.

However, they share a certain quality in their sparse, rather purifying sound, which creates an introspective, meditative state of mind – a musical cleansing after too much (if that’s possible) 19th century symphonic richness.

As such, both make very welcome additions to my collection.

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