Justin Davidson of Newsday has written a humdinger of a piece about the "space-annihilating" properties of recorded music: “I am floating, suspended in a clear fluid of Strauss. I am in iPodspace.” The article is not exactly a panegyric. Justin believes that the way we listen now detaches music from an intimate experience in a specific space. The nowhere syndrome applies not only to recorded sound but to live performance as well, whether it’s early music played in a large hall — “Instead of authentically drafty rooms gritty with the smoke from oil lamps and packed with a few dozen people, today's baroque musicians play in cavernous concert halls in which the music becomes wispy as it reaches toward the back and up into the galleries” — or a croon amplified to fill a stadium: “Norah Jones … murmurs into the mike and instantly summons a cozy little nook in which she and her millions of fans can get a little privacy. Her next tour includes a stop at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing."
This is great criticism on a huge canvas. But I’m not sure I agree with the eventual pessimistic drift. Does canned music, as John Philip Sousa called it, always make us forget where we are? Doesn’t it sometimes dramatize space in unexpected ways, so that certain locations are permanently marked with our soundtracks for them? (Third Avenue above 43rd Street will for the indefinite future remind me of Radiohead's "Sit Down Stand Up": I'd rented a car and was returning it late at night to the Avis on 43rd when my brand-new copy of Hail To The Thief transfixed me so completely that I couldn't stop driving. Went through fifty green lights.) Doesn’t hearing a fragment of recorded music suddenly give us a hunger for the “real thing” — make it seem imperative on a given day to buy a ticket for Radu Lupu or Rokia Traoré three months hence? These are questions I’m pondering in my own long piece on music and technology, coming soon to a newsstand near you.