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6 April 2016 Blog The Queen Street Observer

     Was it a couple of months ago that I mentioned the drawbacks of album cover art work on a CD as good subject matter for a blog? Yes, yes I believe it was and on foot of something I read the other week it kind of ties in to this month's offering. Rolling Stone magazine had the most interesting article written by David Browne entitled "In defence of the CD – Are we being too quick to toss out an old friend?". In it Browne poses the question why have people fallen out of love with the compact disc and more pointedly why do they celebrate its seemingly imminent demise with such glee? Praise here for Rolling Stone – they produce consistently readable pieces about music, politics and current affairs. It's one of the best mags around these days.

      You would wonder how we've arrived at this point. I well remember my first encounter with CDs, Tomorrow's World it was circa 1982, a grand old BBCtv programme which, as the name implies, looked at the technology of the day likely to change our world in the not too distant. Kieran Prendiville introduced the piece, holding up a shiny disc to the camera and promising us, the awe filled viewing public, that our vast LP collections were about to become extinct. He popped the disc into a player and out came "Turn it on again" by Genesis. I'm sure he gushed about the astonishing sound quality but this point would have been rather lost on those of us watching (and listening) on very lo-fi 625 line television sets. But wait, Kieran wasn't finished yet. Removing the CD from the player he took a knife and spread marmalade on it, returned it to the machine and lo and behold  away Genesis went again, Phil Collins obviously none the worse for being smeared liberally with Fine Cut Seville. "Crikey" I thought. "I need one of these in my life".


At least that's how I remember it.


     To be absolutely sure I had this right I went to YouTube on the off chance I might find this episode and there it was. Then things got a bit strange. No Genesis, the music was the BeeGees. Stranger still, there wasn't a jar of marmalade or jam to be seen. Apparently neither Prendiville nor co-host Maggie Philbin have any recollection of JamGate and that's led to suggestions that it's actually an urban myth. And yet I remain convinced I witnessed it, can't believe that I didn't, although I did get the Genesis part wrong all these years so perhaps my memory's playing tricks on me. What's beyond all doubt is that poor old Kieran offered up one very large hostage to fortune when he observed that "Whether there's a market for this kind of disc remains to be seen". Priceless. A much more eloquent quote came from the famous conductor Herbert Von Karajan who, on listening to his first CD, said "Everything else is gaslight". It's safe to assume Herbert wasn't listening to Genesis or the BeeGees.

       I picked up my first CD player in 1988. Dumped by my girlfriend (Awwws and sympathy here as you see fit) I took to retail therapy to soothe my dented ego thus becoming the proud owner of a Sony multi-disc player. How many discs did it hold? Five, which could be played one after the other or in a random shuffle fashion. Now seriously, even in my state of advanced singledom when would I ever have had the time and/or patience to listen to five discs' worth of music uninterrupted? Never, of course. Be that as it may I was off, collecting new CDs and scouring record shops for CD copies of my favourite vinyl albums. Oh, now there's a thing. A lot of early CD re-issues of old records were sourced and transferred in the most rudimentary fashion which meant that all the tape hiss and background noise on the original recordings ended up on the disc, or so it is said. To be honest I've got some early CD pressings of albums as well as those same albums remastered in the past year or two using the latest technology and I struggle most of the time to hear any discernible difference. There are, of course, many millions of audiophiles who would smack me about the head for saying such a thing but I really, genuinely can never tell the difference.

     Then there was the development of recordable discs, didn't you just love it? I certainly did. So much so that when they came along I went on a spree of transferring and downloading, anything and everything, with little thought given to sequencing. The end result was a pile of discs which could best be described as eclectic, to use that over-used word. You're probably familiar with this scenario – a disc full of undoubtedly fine music, but far too many varieties of style and genre. I own a couple where you go from wailing guitars 70s rock one minute to early 90s Americana the next. Listening to those ones as I scoot about in the car can be a bit bewildering indeed. Recordables are prone to degradation too, it is said, not unlike the old c60 and c90 tapes from way back. Again, this isn't something I've noticed much. It may well be the case and perhaps I've just been lucky. Who knows?

         So is the death of the CD imminent? Of course not, no more than vinyl which was written off years ago only to be making a resurgence of late. For the moment though MP3s and other forms of digital download are in the ascendancy, but what comes next? Jamie Farrell, my colleague here in TCRfm and as much of a tech enthusiast as you could hope to meet, reckons that for now we've reached a ceiling. I should caution that he was speaking to me specifically about USBs so I'm paraphrasing  a bit, a lot actually, but I think the principle's the same. I wish I could explain to you why Jamie thinks this and what he believes will kick start the revolution again but it's all very dense, at least to me. Regardless, fear not for the compact disc. It's served us well and I'm with David Browne all the way on this one. Whatever new fangled technological miracle comes down the line people still find comfort in familiarity, whether it be worn out 45s, LPs or CDs.

The disc's not going anywhere.


 Talk to you next month!!

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