Inspired by Matt Cutts’ TED talk on doing something new every day for 30 days, I’ve been brushing up on my classical and neo-classical music by listening to a different symphony every day. My big takeaway so far is a renewed appreciation for how much the advent of recorded music and the subsequent rapid miniaturization and digitization that followed has changed the nature of music itself.

Symphonies are big, complex, dense things. They have long movements, recurring themes, incredible dynamic range, grandiose emotions that can change suddenly. In short, they demand a lot of attention to fully appreciate. Which makes sense – they were mostly written for an era where the only way to hear a symphony was to go see a bunch of musicians perform it. You basically locked yourself in a room with an orchestra and gave yourself over.

Now we have iPods. And more importantly we have music everywhere. And the music we listen to increasingly reflects that – it’s subdivided into smaller chunks, each chunk contains fewer, simpler ideas, dynamic range tends to be consistent. Just try to listen to a symphony on a crowded subway station as a screeching train pulls in or at work when you get a phone call every seven minutes. It’s hard to really sink your teeth into it. This is not intended to be a crotchety post – I happen to be a pretty big fan of modern popular music – but more a note of how technology and institutions can shape culture. Heck, we call them “records.”

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