The Entry Level #5
Olivia Newton John
But first a confession: I'm not the hip young man you might like me to be (or the one I might like me to be). I'm actually sort of old-fashioned. While my taste in music is nearly as uninhibited and adventurous as that of anyone I know, I prefer to enjoy that music in ways far more restrained and much less modern. I think I would have been right at home in the 1950s, wearing Ray-Bans and Levi's, listening to (and loving, equally and deeply) the music of both Jack Scott and John Cage, and playing my records on a record player.
I heard from Kelli recently. She said something about moving all of her music into the clouds.
"Cloud music," she said.
"Oh, yeahI forgot who I was talking to. Ha!" I could hear her blue eyes sparkling as she laughed.
"Very funny," I said. "But, seriously, what is it?"
"Cloud music? It's the way of the future . . ."
Kelli was not referring to Iannis Xenakis's Bohor I, which is playing as I type. Bohor I sounds like hundreds of chandeliers put into careful motion, swaying gently, and falling and falling and falling from a very high place to gradually come into contact with hundreds of pianos, their lids removed, so that the brass and glass of the chandeliers rattle and clash against the pianos' steel and copper strings. In the liner notes to my copy of the album (LP, Nonesuch H-71246), Xenakis discusses his brand of cloud music: "You start with a sound made up of many particles, then see how you can make it change imperceptibly, growing, changing, and developing, until an entirely new sound results." In the case of Bohor I, the listener is asked to surrender for almost 22 minutes as something at first soothing and seemingly innocuous grows in volume and intensity until it has transformed into something terrible and disturbing. The final sounds are thrilling, powerful, and maddeningjust as I jump up to lower the volume, the piece comes to a sudden end.
Today's cloud music, as I fail to understand it, is a sort of music library without chairs, walls, or card catalogs, manageable by any of several portable music players or streaming audio devices, and accessible from anywhere in the worldor, potentially, the universe. I guess. (Aliens tapped into our Katy Perry Clouds are probably, like, "OMG, WTF is wrong with these humans?") Cloud music is also invisible, and takes up hardly any space at all. I'm pretty sure there's an app for it. And, as far as I'm concerned, cloud music is completely impossible to love.
Did I mention that I hate computers?
Hate is probably too strong a word. I don't necessarily hate computers the way Mikey Fremer hates computers. I just don't want a computer getting all cozy with my music. I don't see the need. (Jon Iverson and John Atkinson are shaking their heads in disgust.) For me, the question is not whether computer-based audio outperforms older, more traditional modes of music playback. I am much more interested in exploring what we humans actually need to survive and grow. Do we need computer-based audio? Does it nourish our minds, bodies, and souls? Are we even interested in being human anymore? I understand that high-resolution downloads are becoming more widely available and thus increasingly popular, and that technology is making it easier to set up a music server that will save time and space and deliver true high-quality sound with just a few clicks of the mouse. But why do I need that? And why would I want that when I've got fully functional limbs, live in a 300-square-foot apartment, love surrounding myself with beautiful objects, and dislike listening to music while commuting or running errands?
Head-Direct HiFiMan HM-602 portable music player
These thoughts swirled through my old-fashioned brain as I crossed Marin Boulevard, on my way to Shop-Rite, while listening to John Vanderslice's new album, White Wilderness (CD/LP, Dead Oceans DOC052), through the Head-Direct HiFiMan HM-602 portable music player ($439) and Klipsch S4i in-ear headphones ($99). The music was excellent. So was the sound.
The experience? Not so much.
Head-Direct's HiFiMan HM-602 is the second in a growing line of perfectionist-quality portable music players designed by Fang Bian, a 31-year-old audiophile and student of nanotechnology at the City University of New York's Hunter College. Bian's first HiFiMan design was the larger, heavier, more versatile HM-801 ($790; see my review). In building the HM-602, Fang sacrificed the '801's removable amplifier module, 15V rechargeable battery, and coaxial input, thus creating a smaller, more portable product. Much sleeker and less substantial than the '801, the HM-602 measures approximately 4" L by 2.5" W by 1" D and weighs just 7ozit can rest comfortably in the palm of a hand or a coat's inner pocket.