Beginning the Day...

by Glenn Vanderburg


A month ago, I wrote about href="http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/technopop/">"TechnoPop:
The Secret History of Technology and Pop Music", Rick Karr's series
of reports running on NPR's href="http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/">Morning Edition. This
morning I was listening to part 5 while driving to work, and I heard
Karr say this:


Over the past decade, all this technology making modern music has
gone digital.




Those of you as old as I am might recognize the middle of that
sentence as a near quote from Rush's 1980 masterpiece, "The Spirit of
Radio". That little touch put a big smile on my face.


Thanks to the magic of iPod, I had the song close at hand. So I
popped my cassette adapter into the slot in the dashboard, plugged in
my iPod, and had a listen. And I was struck by just how appropriate
it was for Karr to quote from that song, which was a scathing attack
on the music industry.


The first part of "TechnoPop" made a rather pointed reference to the
current conflicts between the music industry and their customers (and,
for that matter, the artists), and there've been hints that the series
will come back to that issue in its final installment next week.
So far, the series has covered the phonograph, microphones and
electrical recording, magnetic tape, LPs, and multitracking. At each
stage, the theme has been clear: technology inevitably changes not
only music itself, but also the music business -- often over
the protests of established players in the industry, but usually to
the long-term benefit of the music industry as a whole.


One still likes to believe in the freedom of music, but even
the illusion of integrity that Rush sang about has vanished. The
gift of music that radio brings to us, far from being beyond price,
seems firmly in its grip.