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The Age of the Personal Soundtrack

October 17th, 2010 Posted in classical music, technology

Sometimes I would give my left leg — well maybe just a little piece of it, perhaps just the slimmest sliver of a pinky toe — to be able to instantly conduct some piece of market research all the way back through history. For example, I would love to see a graph which shows what activities people were mostly doing while listening to music, plotted all the way back through several thousand years. This piqued my interest after I listened to the third movement of John Adams’ Grand Pianola music on the walk into work last Friday, and the music crescendoed in sympathy with cresting the hill:

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A flock of birds had been busy on the path, and as they scattered, and the slope evened out, the music provided a perfect accompaniment. That made me start to think about how in modern times we have the luxury of personal soundtracks. I bet that most music is now listened to on MP3 players, while people are walking, or running, or sitting on the train. It’s pretty obvious that if this is true, it must only have become true within the last thirty years or so. That’s amazing. If you wanted to walk or run somewhere with a soundtrack before around 1980 (when the Walkman was invented), you basically needed a marching band to be running alongside you.

That’s mind-blowing — and something I usually take completely for granted, as I’m sure does everyone else who was born on this side of 1980.

One Response to “The Age of the Personal Soundtrack”

  1. OntarioPianos Says:

    I’ve never thought about mp3 players in that way – but you’re right, the technology really is amazing. I wonder how it has changed the way people do things, especially travelling! I bet road trips are a lot different now – no more desperately tuning the car radio to find a clear signal!


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