Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Comment That Never Was

If you've bothered to read through the very long blog just before this one, you may have noticed that someone had a very insightful comment. You wouldn't, however, have seen what that comment was, since my "Comments" feature doesn't support very long messages (no matter how good they are)... Sorry.

Fortunately, the comment was emailed to me. As I said, very insightful... So, with the permission of the author (who will be referred to as "Doc Atomic"), I am going to post the full content of his email below. Before I do, though, I'd just like to say that I personally know the good Doc, and I've come to respect his opinions and points of view on a broad range of topics. While I might not always agree (or understand), this doesn't make his points any less valid. With that said, I give you "It's The End of the Whirled, As We Know It...":

I'd had this thought a couple of years back also, but I don't think it'll fly.
Why? Look at the historical examples. For instance; in my record collection, I
have examples of the highest state of the art: Original Master recordings;
Japanese pressings on absolutely pure virgin vinyl; and even a rare,
limited-quantity *direct-to-disc* recording -- the highest fidelity that has
ever _been_ attained in consumer-available audio! These types of pressings
enjoyed a *brief* flurry of availability a quarter-century ago, but never really
became "popular" enough to justify their production cost -- and so, they died;
and it wasn't even the advent of CDs that killed them... it was simply due to
the lack of a real market; the vast majority of people had *grown up* with the
mass-produced 'lo-fi' crap, and that _was_ "music" to *them*... hell; most
people to this very day _still_ wouldn't recognise true high fidelity sound even
if it was played loud enough to blast their tympani straight
down through their Eustacian tubes and out their assholes.

The first thing that came to my mind when you mentioned "lower-quality"
distribution, though, was not music; it was 'bootleg' movies. Imagine: some
wank-off sitting in a movie theatre with a cheap vidcam -- dark picture; echoing
sound; severe 'keystone' distortion due to the angle of seating; heads bobbing
in front of the camera; coughing, and other audience noises -- this sort of shit
actually *sells*! In fact, it was exactly how I first seen "The Scorpion King",
and a couple of other equally-forgettable ones... on cheap, mass-stamped (_not_
CDR) VCDs, sold in the streets by the *millions*.

Quality be damned, eh? I think you are certainly partly right, with the issue
of cost -- but; to that, I would also add _availability_, and *convenience*...
which brings me back to those hi-fi pressings, because; although "fidelity" was
highly-touted as "The Issue" when vinyl was being replaced by CDs, it was
actually false -- as I pointed out above, higher fidelity than CDs certainly did
exist at the time and in fact, has never since been equalled. No; the *real*
selling advantage of CDs back then was the _convenience_ -- the ability to play
any track, in any order, any number of times, *immediately*, or even _remotely_
-- with no preparation (cleaning) or attention (care in placing the stylus on
the groove properly) being necessary.

As a result, we lost the "3D" dimensionality of the stereo image -- which CDs
_cannot_ reproduce, simply because of their time resolution limitation -- and
now, it is no longer possible to distinguish the *spaces between* the
instruments being played; instead, we get only a "flat wall" of sound, instead
of a sense of actually _being_ there *in* the performance (or audience). And
by-and-large, the vast majority of people never even noticed.

The same thing is happening right now, with .mp3 files. By definition, .mp3 is
a _lossy_ format -- meaning, the quality is NOT as good as the original. Like
the 'fringing' artifacts seen in .jpg images, .mp3 files suffer from loss of
definition, 'hollowness', and misphasing... and again, people simply don't give
a shit, because the .mp3 format is _convenient_... just pop your player onto a
USB port in some NetsCafe (or at work), and download your day's tuneage.
"Price" doesn't even *begin* to enter the picture!

I predict that within ten years, we will see the pressing of the very last CD.
Of course, they'll be gone from Europe and NorthAm long before that, but,
there'll always be a handful of "holdouts"... and, the "have-not" countries,
overseas -- which is where it will actually happen.

And by then, we will no longer have *any* choice about it... "fidelity" will
have degraded yet another order of magnitude lower, and we will have NO
alternatives.
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