Music: the Move from Physical to Digital

Today’s post comes from our Technology Coordinator, Jared:

When was the last time you visited a record store? For that matter when was the last time you purchased an album from anywhere? Depending on your generation, there may not even be a time you remember paying for music at all. With Spotify, Youtube, Apple Music and the like, your tunes are just one click away and (if you don’t mind a few ads) free as well. So I was surprised when a patron at our circulation desk recently asked me where we kept our new CDs. On my way to show him our selection it occurred to me that we don’t really have a section for “new” CD’s. Like most libraries and retail stores today, our CD selection has been downsized to one shelving unit, with most genres melded together in a section labeled “popular”.

The change happened subtly. Stereos and computers stopped catering to compact discs. The old 5-disc CD changers became harder to find. New carmakers stopped installing cd players and went exclusively bluetooth. It seems that CDs are on their way to the dead format cemetery, ready to be laid to rest next to cassette tape and laser disc. We have seen so many of these changes in musical mediums over the years that this just feels like a natural progression, and many would agree these changes are a good thing (after all, not many today would want a car with an 8-track player).  But something about this particular change feels different. The move from physical to digital takes something tangible away from the listener, and that is the record collection.

Until recently, having unlimited access to a song meant owning a copy of it. Even a casual listener would find themselves with five or ten of their favorites in the car’s center console. The avid collectors on the other hand, would be filling up half their homes with shelving and crates, still on the hunt for that one rare gem. Whether it’s vinyl, tapes or CDs, someones collection (or lack there of) would speak volumes about them, in a way that a playlist wouldn’t. Even a few albums could act as a tell-all autobiography. Collections like these were also a window into the past. Sifting through a grandparent’s dusty old jazz records, or vinyls from the Woodstock era was like cracking open a musical time-capsule.

Nowadays if you ask anyone under 30 how they listen to music, the answer will no doubt be the name of a streaming service. For those who aren’t familiar, companies like Spotify and Apple Music, offer unlimited access to a massive music library on any computer or smartphone for a monthly subscription cost. Essentially it’s like leasing your music the way you may lease a car. For many people, this is the better option. The cost is low and any song you’ve ever heard is at your fingertips. It’s a no-brainer from an economical standpoint. Companies make more money if they can hook you on a monthly subscription over a one-time purchase. But it raises some important questions about how we experience music. Does the music enthusiast derive joy solely from the listening? For myself that’s only half of it. The rest comes from tracking down discontinued albums, completing a band’s discography in my collection, flipping through the liner notes to learn more about an artist. These little achievements are something that just can’t be replicated through the streaming process. And so I wonder about kids growing up in the post-Napster era. Will they feel the same connection to their music when it’s only rented to them from a corporation? Will future generations really get the same sense of nostalgia by pulling up grandpa’s old Spotify playlist?

As our library’s Technology Coordinator, it’s my job to research the latest and greatest in the tech world, so as not to be left in the digital dust. In a nutshell: newer, faster, and simpler is almost always better, but there are those occasions when the analog world seems to have some magic that the latest 8-core processor just can’t reproduce. So if you’ve ever thought about dedicating a bookcase to the music that tells your story, now is a great time. The beautiful thing about deprecated mediums like CDs is that they tend to be cheap! CDs at the Friends Of The Library Book Sale are only .25 cents and we usually have some for sale year round. If you want to sample before you buy, don’t forget the library still has some great classics in multiple genres on the shelf.

What’s Happening at Cheshire Library in March

In like a lion, out like a lamb, and in between there’s a month full of marvelous programming at Cheshire Library. Here are the highlights for March:

Terrific Tweens

Wednesdays, March 6 and 20, 4:00 – 4:45pm

Kids are invited to drop in for fun with art, science, technology, and games. We’ll assemble robots & contraptions, play with our food, create fun works of art, and bring video games to life,  something different each time! For grades 5-8, no registration required.

New Movie Thursday: Bohemian Rhapsody

Thursday, March 7, 2019, 5:45 – 8:00pm

Did you miss the screening of a film you wanted to see in theatres?  Join us for the first Thursday of the month for a screening of a recently released film. This month we are screening Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Oscar-winner Rami Malek as the unconventional lead singer of the celebrated band Queen. Rated PG-13. Registration is appreciated for the adult program.

Game Night : Dominion

Thursday, March 7, 2019, 6:15 – 8:00pm

Spend your evening meeting new people or with your family and friends playing tabletop games! There will be a different game each month for you to try and to enjoy, this month we are playing Dominion.   Staff will be available to teach you how to play. Light refreshments will be served.  Registration required for this adult program.

From Jazz to Soul with Rhonda Denet and her trio

Sunday, March 10, 2019, 2:00 – 3:30pm

Rhonda and her trio will perform jazz and soul standards from the 1930s through the 1960s, paying tribute to song stylists from Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. The trio features Mike Bardash on piano, Gene Torres on bass, and Chuck Batton on drums. No registration required, but get here early for the best seats!

Author Talk: Xhenet Aliu, author of “Brass: A Novel”

Monday, March 11, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00pm

Please join us as we welcome Xhenet Aliu, Waterbury native and author of Brass: A Novel, who joins us on her U.S. promotional tour of the paperback version of her bestseller. Told in parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story. Bookclubs are encouraged to attend. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing, registration is required.

Comics Club

Wednesday, March 13, 2019, 4:00 – 4:45pm

Bang! Pow! Join us for a new graphic novel book club for kids!  Make comic strips, play games, and other fun activities. This month we are discussing Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. You can pick up a copy of the book at the children’s information desk starting on February 15. For kids in grades 2-5, registration is required.

Art in the Afternoon: A Cheshire Public Library & Artsplace Collaboration

Saturday, March 16, 2019, 1:00 – 4:00pm

Have you always wanted to try a class at Artsplace? Here is your chance to sample up to three classes at no charge! Four artists from Artsplace will be giving free mini-lessons during the afternoon sign up for 1 or more.

  • Sketchbook 101 with Linda Marino
  • Ink & Watercolor with Bob Noreika
  • Felting with Robin McCahill
  • Colored Pencil with Rita Paradis

Pre-registration is necessary as class sizes are limited.

“Headin’ Home” St. Patrick’s Day concert

Sunday, March 17, 2019, 2:00 – 3:30pm

Hailing from Cheshire, the father- daughter duo Headin’ Home creates a joyous sound. Dan Hedden (guitar/vocals) and Christine Hedden (fiddle) dig into the soil of New England and Irish traditions, playing both traditional tunes and songs as well as originals grown from these traditional seeds. No registration required.

Italy: A Cultural Journey

Monday, March 18, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm

When one thinks of Italy the usual thoughts come to mind: great food, great wine, beautiful countryside. But delve deeper into this rich and complex country and you will actually find a melting pot of cultures. We will explore the regional differences in a slide presentation which takes us on a colorful journey from north to south and even to the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Registration is required.

Historic Homes of Cheshire

Thursday, March 21, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm

Robert Kerson will discuss the historic Nathaniel/Benedict Ives Homestead, the historic Deacon Joseph Ives home, and the Steven R. Bradley house. Learn more about these hometown historical properties! Registration is required.

Kensett Birthday Party Celebration

Friday, March 22, 2019, 3:00 – 5:00pm

Join us for a celebration of John Frederick Kensett’s 203rd birthday!  Cheshire native Kensett was a renowed landscape painter and a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We will enjoy cake and activities for both children and adults, including pop-up cards. Sponsored by Artsplace, registration is required.

Cuba: More Than Rum and Revolution

Monday, March 25, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm

For decades, US tourism to Cuba has been illegal , and the importation of Cuban coffee, rum and other goodies has been banned, but no longer. Join Dr. Cynthia Pope of the CCSU Geography Department as she talks about the link between our two countries and takes a look at why Cuba is a worthy destination for travel. Registration is required.

Kids Yoga

Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 4:00 – 4:45pm

Get moving at the library with fun and relaxing yoga games, songs and stretches! Yoga helps kids with relaxation, focus, balance and flexibility. This class will be taught by one of our children’s librarians who is also a certified kids yoga instructor. For kids in grades K-6. Registration is required starting March 1st.

Renovation Celebration! Concert & Reception featuring the CONN-MEN

Sunday, March 31, 2019, 2:00 – 3:30pm

Join us for a reception, concert and library tours to celebrate Cheshire Library’s newly renovated space!  The concert will feature the CONN-MEN, UCONN’s premier all-male a cappella group. No registration required. This concert is made possible by donations given to the Friends of the Library in loving memory of Janice Miner.

What is an MP3-CD Audiobook, Part 2 – Why We Still Love Our LPs

My blog post about MP3-CDs several years ago generated an unexpected interest – what was different about an MP3-CD audiobook? Did I need a special player? And how did they get an entire book onto one single disk? I answered the questions, but it bugged me that I didn’t answer them enough. And when I dug just a little deeper, I realized the answer might be why there’s such a resurgence in old-fashioned vinyl LP records (kids, ask your grandparents).

Format Development

Back in the 1980’s, as CD and digital technology was taking off, committees were formed to create the format, so that the technology could be used anywhere. JPEG, that familiar photo tag, was formed first, the Joint Photographic Experts Group (1986), and they set the coding and standardization of digital transfer and storage of still photographs. MPEG-1 committee followed a year later, the Moving Picture Experts Group, Phase 1, which included both video and sound. It remains the most widely compatible audio-visual format in the world, and we all know the MPEG-1 Layer III by its short form of  .mp3.

When CDs hit the market, they took off like wildfire. You didn’t have to worry about compact discneedle and dust scratches ruining the fidelity of a record, and even better, you could carry that music with you wherever you went, just like a tape cassette but without all the mess and rewinding. Not all musicians jumped on it, though. Just as John Phillip Sousa hated the invention of the record, Neil Young was one of the earliest critics of CDs and delayed putting his music onto digital format, as is David Crosby, two men who know just a bit about music and the recording industry.

The Battle for Quality

high res vs. low res imagesAnd here’s why: MP3-CDs use what’s called lossy compression, a form of psychoacoustics (your gold-star word of the day). What it does is reduce or eliminate sounds that the system thinks the human ear can’t hear, either because they’re out of normal frequency or other sounds might be louder and keep you from hearing them. Once all that “useless” noise is gone, the audio files are a LOT smaller – enough to fit that whole audiobook onto one or two discs. Of course, in doing so, you lose a lot of sound quality, like when you send a low-resolution photo over the internet, or use a cell phone inside a tunnel.

The Return of the LP

And for all those people who said LP records were dead, here’s why more than 14 million of them were sold last year (14% of ALL album sales).  By the early 1900’s, when records became a thing, they were made of shellac (that bug resin), had a wide, noisy, grinding groove (think of those 1920’s recordings), and at 78 rpm (the speed they spun at), you could get no more than 5 minutes of play to a side – no American Pie, no Thriller, and forget In a Gadda Da Vida. That lasted until 1949, when Long-Playing (LP) records came out on vinyl (good ol’ PVC). At a speed of 33 rpm, with a finer groove that runs almost a third of a mile, they played more than 20 minutes of music per side, with a much higher sound quality. Stereo, which recorded two channels and put one on each side of the same groove, giving you that left and right sound, came in 1957. In a vinyl record, the sound waves from the microphone are transferred directly by needle to a core, which is transferred to a metal master, which is then pressed into vinyl. A needle then rides the groove, transferring those same exact soundwaves to the speakers. With proper speakers and tuning, the result is a rich, deep, acoustic sound much more like live music. Listen to enough LPs, and you really can hear the canned music effect on a CD recording. There is no comparison if you are a music purist.

Vinyl is Final

So, what’s playing on modern LPs? Ed Sheeran’s Divide was a top seller in 2017, and the old/new sound track to Guardians of the Galaxy, Awesome Mix No. 1, but so were the classics – Sgt. Pepper’s by the Beatles, Abbey Road, Thriller, and still, forty five years later, the champion of staying power, with more than 1,000 weeks on the top-200 best-selling albums, STILL selling more than 8500 albums a week, Pink Floyd’s 1973 Dark Side of the Moon.Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon album cover

For audiobooks, where one or two voices may recite a book in a calm, steady voice, you might not notice just how much sound is missing when you listen to it – enough to cut out six or seven discs worth. For music, I urge you to find a friend or a library that still has music LPs and players. Listen to the album (Dark Side of the Moon is amazing with serious headphones and a very dark room), and then listen to the digitally compressed MP3 files, missing highs and lows and the depth they provide. It might take a few tries, but you will start to hear the differences, and while MP3s are so fabulously convenient and almost foolproof, it just can’t compare to a good LP.

Fun fact: There is a gold-plated LP traveling the galaxy. Sent aboard the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 with recordings of Earth music, it is now more than 11 million miles away. MP3s only made it as far as the Space Station.

Versions and Duplicates (and Elvis)

I have a playlist on my iTunes called Versions and Duplicates. Here I stick all the various versions of songs I like by different artists – whether it’s Sons of Anarchy, Rod Stewart, or Bob Dylan singing Forever Young, or the Sons of Anarchy version of Bohemian Rhapsody vs. Queen, or six different versions of Hallelujah (I still like Leonard Cohen’s best from the soundtrack for Watchmen, followed by perhaps the Canadian Tenors, and a couple of on-line ones). I love Alice Cooper’s version of Eleanor Rigby almost as much as the original, so this file is actually kind of large.

Years ago, I’d read in the Book of Lists that Yesterday by the Beatles was the most-sung song ever, with more than a thousand people recording their version of it. Forty years later, it still holds the record, with more than 4,000 recordings. I only have two on my playlist.

So when a disk came through my hands – Train Does Led Zeppelin II, I had to listen to it. I liked Drops of Jupiter, their biggest hit, and I liked Led Zeppelin. I love, love, love Iron Horse’s bluegrass version of Zep, Whole Lotta Bluegrass: A Vocal Bluegrass Tribute to Led Zeppelin (it really works, and you can understand the lyrics), and the Rock a Bye Baby lullaby series’ version, played on marimba of all things, is strangely beautiful and calming.

Although the first track, Whole Lotta Love, is perhaps the best of the album, it blew me away. Outside of a word or two, and perhaps the depth of a couple of riffs, Train nails the music dead on. It’s hard to tell it’s not Zep or Robert Plant himself. Truly, if you’re a fan, this is an album you should listen to.  Most of the criticisms of the album revolve around “Why did we need this album?” “Who is Train to think they can play Zeppelin?” I say, “Why not?” and “Who cares?” These are proficient musicians; if they want to play Zep, then let them play it.  Those critics have never heard me pick out Stairway to Heaven on the piano, the only two-handed piece I know.  And here’s why those critics don’t matter:

On the internet (stupid move) I wound up poking into a bee’s nest of Led Zeppelin tribute albums in a mind-boggling array of styles. If you don’t like rock music, if you don’t like screechy lyrics, that is absolutely no reason to skip Led Zeppelin. The music triumphs over the style, and the true genius appears.

Is banjo your favorite instrument? Check out Iron Horse’s album.

Just like bluegrass?  Try Pickin’ on Led Zeppelin, by the Pickin’ On series. A lot of harmonica mixed with banjo and fiddle. Yes, Led Zeppelin on the harmonica.

Prefer Metal? Dead Zeppelin: A Metal Tribute, by Dead Zeppelin. The Immigrant Song sounds like someone left the crypt open and all the demons are headbanging.

Classical tastes?  Chamber Maid: The Baroque Tribute to Led Zeppelin. Imagine you were invited to visit Louis XVI, and a quartet was playing in the corner, and you realized you knew that tune. Like that. Light and flutey, and always beautiful.

Prefer classical guitar? Richard DeVinck plays classical nylon strings on his album Going to California. Too plinky for me, but remember, Stairway to Heaven is a guitar song anyway, so it sounds lovely.

Celtic roots? High step to A Celtic Tribute to Led Zeppelin. The rhythm’s a bit faster, but it’s catchy!

Too laid back for rock? Prefer the reggae beat? Try Dread Zeppelin: Dejah Voodoo: Greatest and Latest Hits. This isn’t just a band that travels around singing Zep songs in reggae style, but with a lead singer who’s an Elvis impersonator.  Definitely a more funky beat, but the style, to me, was lacking, and sounded way too much like a guest star in a pretend cabaret on The Love Boat. I warned you.

Prefer to chill? Try Dub Tribute to Led Zeppelin, full of ethereal dub beats that will put you into a trance to familiar (or maybe not quite so familiar in this style) music.

And all that diversity doesn’t begin to touch on the number of top musicians paying tribute by cranking out serious Zeppelin tunes.  Troll elsewhere, critics.

Now, Zeppelin’s not the only band that attracts cover artists. I wouldn’t begin to count the number of Beatles covers, or Rolling Stones. Rock a Bye Baby covers everything from AC/DC to ZZ Top. Iron Horse does an amazing array of artists in bluegrass style, including Modest Mouse and Metallica. So dare to be different. Try a familiar song done in a new way, or by a new artist. You may just find a new favorite.

Man-Oh-Manilow

Not everyone can keep a career going for fifty years. Desk workers get bored, factory workers get sold out, artists get stuck in a groove and lose inspiration (et tu, Thomas Kincade?) Musicians are not immune, either – anyone remember a recent hit song by Rupert Holmes, B.J. Thomas, or Debby Boone?

Thought so.

Some talents, however, can’t be squashed. Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, and Tom Petty are just a few of the extremely talented musicians who are still pumping out music in various new forms, rock, classical, jazz, or folk, after more than fifty years.

So is Barry Manilow.

Barry Manilow first hit the charts forty-four years ago. An easy two generations. And with his latest album This is My Town: Songs of New York, Manilow shows he’s still at the top of his game.

Sure. Manilow isn’t for everyone. Say his name and images of white disco suits, sunshiny bright smiles, and Dr. Pepper come to mind (Manilow wrote or sang the hottest 70’s jingles for Dr. Pepper, McDonald’s, Band Aids, and more). Say you’re a Manilow fan and people smile politely and take a step sideways. But whether you like him or not, he’s a musical powerhouse.

In This is My Town, Manilow gives tribute to New York City. Maybe it’s refinement, maybe it’s age – he’s now 74, but his voice has gained a maturity, a deeper tenor that says he’s in command and making a hit is easier than crossing a New York City street. The album is short – just ten songs – and contains a variety of styles.  The first track, This is My Town, is breathtaking, a huge, glorious, Broadway-esque song that begs to be turned into an entire musical. Unfortunately, putting your best first means the rest of the album tends to fade.

Not that the tracks are bad; they just aren’t my style. Manilow drops into several tracks of smooth jazz, more in line with a Las Vegas lounge act than a hot New York club scene. While Manilow is no Petula Clark, his mashup of “Downtown/Uptown” is quite likeable. My only issue with the closing track of “NYC Medley” is that he starts with a cut of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”; I wish he’d sung the entire song. He does end with a vibrant rendition of “New York, New York,” which is both fitting and energizing, reminding  you exactly why he is so popular.

Listen to it, even just for the first track. Barry, team up with a good playwright, and get that song made into a musical. It needs it. If you like smooth jazz, Broadway, cheerful music that is easy on the ear, New York City, or even just Barry Manilow, this is an album you won’t want to miss.

Which brings up the question – can Manilow write a song that isn’t upbeat? Sure, Could it Be Magic is in a minor key, and Mandy isn’t exactly a cheerleading tune (replace Tony Basil’s Mickey with Mandy?), but it’s not a throw-yourself-in-the-grave tearjerker like Goldsboro’s Honey or Clapton’s Tears in Heaven (written on the death of his five year old son). Chase Holfelder’s a musician who takes upbeat songs (like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, or Disney’s Kiss the Girl), works them in a minor key, and turns them into haunting pop tracks. Maybe Manilow should be the next thing he tackles.