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Slow Listener

Miles Raymer has an excellent article in the Chicago Reader about the Slow Listening Movement, a music-listening regimen that former Reader contributor Michaelangelo Matos is trying to counteract the audio ADHD induced by the iPod.

Though Matos' plan is intriguing, two other aspects of the article really caught my eye. First was the opening anecdote, which I hadn't heard before, about a man who won a songwriting contest, the award for which was exclusive rights to a previously unreleased Sufjan Stevens song. Rather than posting it for profit on iTunes or releasing it in any digital form, the winner decided to host in-person parties in which people could come hear the song for free—a gesture toward the roots of music before any recording technology.

I think that's touching and a lovely, respectful nod toward the song's actual creator. Apparently, that was not the reaction among Stevens fans: "This decision provoked startling anger—Duffy and Malloy were called hoarders, elitists, and worse for what one commenter at the Sufjan fan site All Good Naysayers dismissed as their 'little asshat teaparties.'" So digital technology has rendered an open invite to a music-listening party not populist enough. How dare you make me actually go somewhere to hear a song and not charge me for it.

Usually, such strong reactions are exhibited by those who resist technology and feel persecuted for it. In this case, it's Stevens' fans, clearly used to the freedom and convenience of digital music technology, who feel persecuted.

This brings me to this article's second intriguing sub-story, in which Raymer reports on a new MP3 device designed by an Italian design collective who have a similar view toward music listening as Matos. Though digital, their player replicates the look of a cassette. Furthermore, there is no skip or browse function—to fast forward or rewind, you actually have to twist your fingers or a pencil in the faux tape holes, like an old-timey cassette.

New technologies mimicking old ones is nothing new. However, in this case the designers are going for more than just retro chic. They are actually trying to limit your listening experience to make a point about how digital formats have changed our habits. Not really the stuff of profit, but it makes for good press.

Raymer's article highlights how central music is as a medium to our human experience—how viscerally we feel it. As such, music will continue to play a central role in our struggles surrounding new technologies, particularly as those technologies are developed as contexts for the delivery, distribution, and enjoyment of music. Napster was only the beginning.

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