Thursday, March 16, 2006

Technology, music and rainbows

click photo to enlarge
"We live in a rainbow of chaos", Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), French painter

78s, 45s, LPs, 8-track, compact cassette, CD and mp3. These formats are only some of the ways in which recorded music has been sold to the public in my lifetime. Manufacturers see this as technological development delivering a better product, and consumers will largely agree. However, the most recent innovation - mp3s - are unique in a way that many don't realise. Yes they are wonderfully portable, can be "delivered" on different "platforms", and can be bought in a way that has never before been possible. But, whilst all the other developments gave an improvement in the quality of sound (I know some die-hard 8-track and vinyl enthusists will disagree), mp3 usually represents a worsening of the listening experience compared with CD! Generally 128kb/sec bit rate is the commonly sold and transmitted quality for mp3 (and DAB radio), whilst twice that is necessary to match CD quality.

Now I guess you're thinking, "Ah, a hifi enthusiast!", but I'm not. In fact I'm a devotee of the "good enough" cult, and my views on music technology are pretty much in line with my views on cameras: once you've bought at a "good enough" level (and, yes, that will vary from person to person) then just concentrate on appreciating the music (or making the images), and don't let the equipment get in the way. So all that makes me think that mp3 is, by and large, OK, despite the drop in quality.

And that brings me to this pile of blank CDs above. I use them less than I did, and whilst I was selecting one for data backup, the stack fell over in my darkened room. The lamps and the computer glare produced coloured highlights and rainbow effects on them, and as soon as I saw this I knew I had to try a close-up shot. A minor adjustment of the discs produced this range of colours and shapes, and the camera on its tripod, followed by a little post processing, did the rest. So, perhaps inadvertently, I've stumbled on the real advantage of CD over mp3 - they make better photographs!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen