dark horse

I’ve tried all of the major music streaming services, and am currently subscribed to several – Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM, (part of my car subscription), Jazz/ClassicalRadio. I’m on the free tier of Slacker, though I’ve paid for it in the past, and have a six month deal for Microsoft’s Groove Music.

I think I missed an obvious winner.

It’s early days, but I’ve been using a service that’s been around longer than any of the above, that is absolutely free, but somehow doesn’t get much attention. It’s AccuRadio.

What’s AccuRadio?

It’s the brainchild of Kurt Hanson, who publishes the must-read RAIN: Radio and Internet Newsletter. If I understand the history of the thing correctly, Hanson created AccuRadio as proof of concept for the things being talked about in the newsletter.

In any event, AccuRadio is not on-demand – you can’t pick out songs or albums to play.  It is a whole lot of (the number that gets tossed around is more than a thousand) channels of just about any kind of music you’d want. So it’s on the Pandora/Slacker/SiriusXM/JazzRadio/ClassicalRadio end of the spectrum.

How does AccuRadio stack up? As a jazz/classical music listener, my initial answer is “very well.” As in, if I had to use nothing but AccuRadio, it would be more than ok.

Compare JazzRadio and AccuRadio: JazzRadio offers 40 channels, divided by era, style, instrument, mood. It throws in a couple of blues channels and some Brazilian/bossa nova. You can listen for free, but you have to pay to use the apps or to get the higher quality streaming. When I bought it, it was $60 a year, which also gave me ClassicalRadio and a couple of streaming services I don’t  care about.  I paid because I wanted the higher sound quality, up to 320 kbps for mp3s.

AccuRadio’s jazz section offers an astounding 76 channels, divided by era, style, instrument, mood, but also offering channels devoted to single composers (an all-Ellington channel!), a “top 50 jazz albums of all time” channel, even a channel for Chicago’s legendary AACM (Association For The Advancement of Creative Musicians). That’s deep.  And AccuRadio is free, as are its apps. Even if you wanted to, you can’t pay for it.

I’m guessing the sound quality isn’t as good as the paid-for services, but listening on my Sonos Play:1s, I’m hard pressed to hear much difference. In theory, there are commercials, but over a couple of days of listening, I have yet to hear one.

Oh, and if the jazz section’s Brazilian channel doesn’t do it for you, you can find another four Brazilian channels in their own section.

The classical section is equally good; I especially like the channel devoted to the conductor Herbert von Karajan – you could spend weeks sampling what he put on record – and the channels set aside just for European and American orchestras. Like ClassicalRadio, AccuRadio gives you channels for composers, instruments, types of composition (symphonies, string quartets), eras, moods.

Did I mention it’s free?

Hanson and company apparently regard Pandora’s “build your own” model as a bug, not a feature, because even though there’s an interesting way for you to hear your favorite songs more often, in general AccuRadio has already done all the selecting work for you. That said, you do have a degree of control: you can skip songs and ban an artist or song from a channel.

There’s a dedication to craft and detail that pervades the whole operation – even though it appears AccuRadio runs very lean. You want Broadway on Pandora? You’ve got a handful of choices. SiriusXM? Just one. AccuRadio? Try 45 channels. Reggae? There are separate, specialist channels for both dub and instrumentals.

AccuRadio has branded itself a few different ways. The current slogan is “Better radio for your workday,” and Hanson has said he’s not chasing young listeners. The service is aimed squarely at people from their mid-30s to their mid-60s, sitting at a desk with a browser tab open, quietly playing something while they work. AccuRadio supposedly doesn’t quite hit the top 10 of streaming services, but the strategy they’re using strikes me as smart, going at a demographic the other services seemingly aren’t all that interested in.

I’ve struggled a little to describe exactly how good I think AccuRadio is, so here’s my best shot: it’s the Linux of streaming services. In almost all respects, it beats the ones you pay for. You can’t get much better than that.

 

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news blues

As noted earlier, I was impressed with Houston’s KTRH, which did what good radio should do in times of crisis – go extremely two-way, passing on news and information while hearing from listeners live, on the air.

KTRH had hosts who did just that from the git go; I listened on and off for three or four days and got a perspective on the flooding I didn’t get watching the national news. It was good, though I kept wondering – where are the station’s reporters? After all, KTRH calls itself “Houston’s news, weather and traffic station.”

As it turns out, KTRH isn’t – as I assumed – an all or mostly news operation. It’s really a talk station, with Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin chewing up big parts of the broadcast day. As Tom Taylor’s radio newsletter put it, “Houston’s a market with no all-news station and just one big talker, iHeart’s KTRH/740.”

So two things: I’m even more impressed by KTRH doing what it did – going and staying live for an extended period of time – without the backing of a large newsroom. The station did hook up with one of the local TV stations, which helped with things like live press conferences.

The other thing is: how is it that the fourth largest metro area in the U.S. doesn’t have a full time radio news operation? One was tried in Houston a few years back, but it was abandoned three years ago in favor of, if I recall correctly, classic rap. All-news cost too much, the owners said at the time.

Yes, news is expensive, but it can also bring big rewards. Witness WTOP in Washington, DC, a commercial (as opposed to public) all-newser that’s consistently number 1 in the market. And I believe it makes Hubbard Broadcasting a great deal of money.

So what’s changed in the world when a market with millions of people can’t support a robust news station? I remember 25 years ago in Syracuse NY, a much, much, much smaller town, when there was not one but two radio stations with news staffs of nine or 10 people. Seems to me Houston should have one with at least that many, because it’s not getting any quieter out there.

 

well done, so far

Houston got hammered overnight. Rain of biblical proportions was no joke; the pictures Sunday are hard to believe.

I’m listening to Houston radio today through the iHeart and TuneIn apps, as I did with Corpus Christi last night, with one notably different result. Houston’s all-news KTRH, which is an iHeart property,  is doing exactly what I didn’t hear in Corpus Christi – using radio as a giant community bulletin board.

I’m not hearing reporters out on the street, which is a big weakness; that said, two hosts are gracefully fielding calls from the public, getting callers to describe what they’re seeing and doing, passing on emergency information and bringing in a Weather Channel meteorologist, not as a substitute for local knowledge but as a valuable addition.

The web site’s not great, but they’re posting closings and – this is different from what I typically see on commercial radio sites – they’re making a real effort to keep things updated on-line.

Also, KUHF, the University of Houston’s public radio, was taking the audio feed from one of the local TV stations Sunday morning. TV has greater resources, and I heard a reporter out in the weather. I’d still rather have radio people doing radio, but the information on KUHF was good.

(Update late Sunday afternoon: at some point, KUHF took back its air. I’m listening now and like KTRH they’ve got a couple of hosts fielding calls. No sign of reporters in the field yet; my assumption is that it’s proving impossible at this point to move people into position. The major TV networks got people in place only because they rolled early, and even then most of the crews are having to improvise from where ever they are, as opposed to going to the absolute worst spots.)

Now, none of this should surprise you: Houston is a huge media market, and you would expect radio to be at least as good as I’m describing. But radio tends toward disappointment, so when I hear good work it’s worth noting.

Other notes from Houston:

  • KPFT, the Pacifica community station, appeared to be in regular programming Sunday morning.
  • From my easy chair a thousand miles away, I’m surprised some other stations aren’t breaking format. There’s an AM conservative talk station, KNTH, that’s still playing weekend filler. (I wrongly noted it was an iHeart station earlier; it’s a Salem operation.) Also, KPVU, Texas A & M’s public, was playing gospel Sunday morning.
  • There are a lot of Houston radio stations and I won’t get to listen to every one, but if KTRH ends up being the only locally originated, continuous radio coverage I’ll be disappointed. (Update: As noted above, at least one other station, KUHF, is also on the air with special coverage.)
  • iHeart owns a lot of Houston’s radio. This shouldn’t surprise me or anyone, but the sheer scale of the operation – it feels like every third or fourth station I click on is an iHeart property – is impressive. Most of them are going about their weekend business, though there are banners on individual station web sites directing people to KTRH for hurricane news. One radio they don’t own, KSEV, calls itself “The Voice of Texas” and specializes in conservative talk. There’s a big picture of the hurricane on the front page of the web site, but the accompanying story is two days old. Why even try?
  • And…I missed what the CBS radio cluster was doing. They’ve thrown themselves into hurricane mode as well; as far as I can tell, CBS doesn’t have an all-news in the market, but they’re apparently simulcasting on all the stations they have, including KILT, normally all sports, and KMPX, a “hot AC/adult top 40” station, says Wikipedia.

emergency non-broadcast system

The captains of commercial radio spend much of their working lives in a defensive crouch; if nothing else works – given how often they suck –  they’ll tell you ” You need us when there’s an emergency, like a natural disaster.”

That’s at least part of the argument, for instance, for pressuring cellphone manufacturers and carriers into activating the chip inside phones which allows you to pick up an FM broadcast, assuming you’re wearing headphones.

So this weekend, with Hurricane Harvey unleashing a biblical amount of rain in parts of Texas, is a fine field test.  Cell service is out in a lot of areas, and I heard a guy from the Red Cross say people should have hand-cranked radios, in order to get emergency information.

If I were in, say, Corpus Christi, with my Galaxy 7 and Koss PortaPros, or had a hand-cranked radio,  how well would I be served? I’m a long ways from Texas, but as far as I can tell, the answer is “not very.”

I spent a couple of hours this evening listening to every radio station I could stream  from Corpus Christi, and reading their web sites. Now Corpus Christi isn’t small; the population is well over 300,000.  But as far as I could tell, there isn’t a single local station on the ground in Corpus Christi, telling the stories of the worst affected areas, explaining peoples’ fears and frustrations, while also reporting on what local officials have planned.

What is there? Well, there’s an iHeart cluster, which includes News/Talk KKTX. But this evening, KKTX and other iHeart properties in Corpus Christi were carrying the chain’s San Antonio news/talk station. What they did wasn’t..awful, but there wasn’t much local, specific-to Corpus Christi news in the hour or so I listened.  Worse, the San Antonio station was relying on audio from the Weather Channel for much of its coverage. So the local station was getting its news from out of the market, which was, in turn, getting its news from a national source. Whatever happened to being the local guys who knew what’s going on?

There’s another news/talk station in Corpus Christi, KEYS, but according to the station’s web site they were knocked out by the storm. Which wouldn’t stop the station from updating its web site, but that wasn’t happening.

And so it goes for every station I could find: from Christian to contemporary hits, little or no current, local information about the hurricane. A note about web sites: almost all TV station web sites have problems of one sort or the other, failings, inadequacies, but at least they try. Radio stations don’t appear to even try.

What about public radio? In a lot of towns, the local NPR station has taken the responsibility that used to be shouldered by the dominant commercial station, that of providing basic news coverage. In Corpus Christi’s case, the local NPR affiliate is KEDT. As far as I can tell, KEDT doesn’t stream, so I can’t hear what the station is up to, but the web site is not encouraging. Other than canceling a station event because of the weather, there’s no Harvey-related news.

To be clear, what I’m looking for is a station that’s on the air 24/7, with reporters out where the weather hit, lots and lots of weather updates and – here’s the important part – a continuing conversation with listeners, reporting in on what streets are in the worst shape, who’s missing, lost and found animals, etc. During a crisis, radio can be one big community bulletin board, but I didn’t hear anything remotely like that today.

So what I hope for is that amateurs, hams, have stepped in where the pros aren’t, and are supplying the kind of neighborly, boots-on-the-ground information that’s needed to get through a crisis like this. What I fear is that commercial radio is so weak, so ineffectual, that it can no longer even go about special pleading for itself (“you need us when the weather’s bad”) and have anyone believe it.

 

signing off

The valuable Engineering Radio blog is defunct.  It’s a shame and a loss.

For eight years  the blog’s author, Paul Thurst, explained radio from the inside. Thurst keeps radio stations in the northeast up and operating, and he wrote an up-close-and-personal look at how the industry is mostly – but not always – failing.

Being an engineer has a way of focusing the mind; you can’t fake or argue about broken equipment, poorly maintained transmitters, workarounds that really aren’t.  You learn something about the business people who allow things to get that way.

Unfortunately, it wore Paul down. In his valedictory post, he wrote “Radio can still serve the community in times of disaster or distress. However, the absolute soul crushing mediocrity of automated programming is killing the entire industry.

“Of course, the cause of this is the equally crushing debt load being carried by the majority of radio station owners. That reality, intersecting with declining advertising revenue and segmentation of market share, spell the end of the commercial radio business model.”

He’s a lot closer to it than I am, but I’m slightly more optimistic. I work for a decent, small media company that believes in spending on good people, being as local as possible, investing for the future. In my case it’s TV, but I have to believe there must be a radio company or two out there that doesn’t suck, that hasn’t ceded the job of informing and entertaining  the community to the local public radio.

Also, Paul’s blog was more than just engineering stories and dark meditations on radio’s problems. He got on some interesting tangents over the years, and the good news is, he’s leaving the blog up for the time being. If you care about radio, read it before it vanishes.

ask me now

Even though I’m fascinated by sound, by music, by radio and by radio journalism and its derivatives, I have a wary relationship to podcasting.

On the one hand, yes, podcasting is a big deal, a way of doing things with sound and words that is outgrowing its origins – its not talk radio, or blogging, or the kind of sound art and documentary exemplified by Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North.  Nearly a quarter of Americans report being monthly podcast listeners. So here’s a medium that’s both new(ish) and popular, and the bar to entry is low.

On the other hand, there is a precious quality to podcasting; it feels like there are too many people trying to do it, too many people thinking out loud about “the podcast space,” too many companies chasing – still – too few listeners. It’s a land rush for hipsters.

So I’m flummoxed by the fact that my favorite podcast right now is “The Turnaround.” It’s very meta, as younger and smarter people said back in 2012. Each episode runs an hour or so, and consists of the host,  Jesse Thorn, talking to famous and semi-famous people about…talking. More specifically, Thorn talks to people who specialize in interviewing.

So what keeps Turnaround from swallowing its own tail? Well,  Thorn is an engaging host and he asks good questions, knows how to keep the conversation going; there’s an emphasis on the real-world craft aspects of interviewing; and as it turns out, it’s just interesting to listen to interviewers talk about how they feel about what they do. There’s alchemy to Turnaround, the whole (Thorn plus interview subject) is greater than the sum of its two parts.

I’ve listened to four or five of them this weekend, and bits from several stick with me – how Errol Morris ended up liking Robert McNamara; Susan Orlean on being so into music that she was more comfortable interviewing musicians whose music she didn’t care for; Brooke Gladstone explaining why she’ll edit answers together, but won’t re-record her questions after the interview ; Louis Theroux talking about  how having a British accent can help, when it comes to getting people on the fringes of American society to trust you.

More to the point, taken together “the Turnaround” episodes are a master class in how to talk with people. I’ve been doing journalism for a long time, but there is still something reassuring when Susan Orlean, best-selling author and New Yorker staff writer, says that being uncomfortable is just part of the gig, and that if you’re going to ask strangers to talk to you, expect to get rejected a lot. And while it wouldn’t work as a plaque in your local journalism school, Errol Morris’s advice on interviewing (‘Shut the fuck up’) should be burned into all young reporters.

I’ll be interested to see how long Turnaround lasts; they’ve posted 13 episodes since late June, have already hit a lot of the obvious choices. I’m not sure how they keep up the pace. Regardless, what Turnaround has already accomplished is considerable and – here’s a metric for the nascent podcasting ratings industry – if it cost money, I’d gladly play it.

 

 

 

 

listening in

I have watched Anthony Scaramucci – his ‘taking the stage’ turn last week when he was announced as the new White House communications director – and I have read him, the New Yorker’s recounting of the profane and strange conversation Scaramucci had with staff writer Ryan Lizza.

But on balance, it seems clear the best way to get Scaramucci is to listen to him.  He talked to CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday. It was a phone call to CNN, not an on-camera interview. And this is the part that caught my ear:

“As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head down. What I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, okay, and that’s me and the President. I don’t like the activity that’s going on in the White House. I don’t like what they’re doing to my friend. I don’t like what they’re doing to the President of the United States or their fellow colleagues in the West Wing. If you want to talk about the Chief of Staff, we have had odds. We have had differences.”

Read that. Does it conjure up any sound in your head? I heard it and one word popped into mine: wiretap. It’s the way some men talk when they don’t know they’re being recorded, when their guard is as down as it ever gets, not that it’s ever completely down. Scaramucci’s conversation with Chris Cuomo is a haphazard jumble of truth, hard feelings and dissembling, topped with menace. There is a chilling intimacy to it, as if he could reach through the telephone line and grab you by the neck if he doesn’t like what he’s getting from you.

But this was no surreptitious recording; it was done in pubic with Scaramucci’s full knowledge and participation. That it still succeeds in sounding like something you hear when you put a glass against a neighbor’s wall is no small wonder.

It’s unfortunate no recording of the Lizza conversation has surfaced; it would make a fine doppleganger to the Cuomo interview. And I hope someone is carefully archiving this audio, along with some of the sound from President Trump’s public utterances. When a future student of American history studies the Trump administration, scratches her head in bewilderment and says out loud to no one in particular, “What were they talking about?” you could do worse that to play them 29:48 of Anthony Scaramucci on CNN, grievances and arguments included.

 

 

 

 

sound & vision

The Trump administration has lately taken to doing something I like, and I hope they keep doing it.

For whatever reason, the public relations apparatchiks now insist that some of the press briefings be audio only. No cameras allowed. Presumably the point is to make the briefings – which cable news hypes incessantly and which rarely end well for the Trump side – less entertaining because, well, there’s nothing to watch.

I suppose it’s a loss that we can’t see Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders taking incoming, or get the sense of the press room as MMA ring. You can’t see them sweat, as we learned when studying the difference between the 1960 presidential debate on TV, (Kennedy won as Nixon sweated and scowled on camera) and radio (generally scored for Nixon on points or at worst a draw).

You do, however, get to concentrate on the words themselves, how they hang in the air. Today, former FBI director James Comey  repeatedly used the word “lie” in connection with President Trump. Asked about it at a briefing later, Huckabee Sanders responded “I can definitively say the President is not a liar.”

The “definitively say”caught me, because it’s the language spokespeople use to suggest they’ve gone and looked into something and are bringing the results back to the unwashed mass of journos. Maybe it’s just me, but the answer sounded a lot like “Yep, I went and checked it out, asked around, talked to my sources, and we’re now sure he’s not a liar.”

I might have missed it, had I been watching instead of listening.

By the way, the President himself is a great listen. He’s word salad, all the way down – I find watching him distracts from the doubling back/vamping/free association/fall back on patented riffs that is a Donald Trump speech. I love it when he does something  like ‘And we’re going to bring the jobs back for the coal miners, the miners who’ve been treated so badly, so badly. You know, I love coal miners. They gave me a great victory here…’ Sometimes he finds his way back to the text. Sometimes we’re off to the races. Regardless, for as long as it lasts, this is a great time to be listening to what’s coming out of the White House. What was once said about jazz applies here too; it’s the sound of surprise.

 

weekend radio

I had dinner with a couple hundred fellow journalists this weekend; the best part was  conversation about radio, and then some radio I heard on my long trip home.

First, I got an answer to something which vaguely bothered me for the last few months. For decades, the Associated Press offered a very solid, reliable radio service. If you owned a radio station and didn’t have an affiliation with CBS/NBC/ABC you could buy AP radio and get a respectable five minute report at the top of every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One of my little pleasures as a SiriusXM subscriber has been that the channel I listen to most, POTUS (the all-politics channel), ran AP radio news. So when I was driving to work, or especially on the weekend, I got to catch a newscast or two. But sometime in the last few months, AP went away, replaced by an unbranded newscast that uses some CNN talent. It’s ok, but I miss the AP.

Turns out the AP discontinued its “live” newscasts when it comes to overnights and weekends, so SiriusXM switched providers.

My impression is that doing overnights and weekends was expensive, and a lot of radio stations – as we all know – don’t do any news at all. I’m sure it wasn’t a money maker, the last few years haven’t been easy for the AP, so this was probably the practical thing to do.

Still, there’s not a lot left in the commercial space when it comes to reputable, trustworthy radio news, and not having the AP, or as much of the AP, is a loss.

One of my dinner companions got stuck dealing with TV professionally, but is a radio guy at heart, and we fell to talking about the merits of streaming versus tuning it in the old fashioned way. He said it sounds better, even when it sounds worse, when you tune in the AM or FM band. I agree, and I don’t think this is just old guy nostalgia – the new book The New Analog makes a  persuasive case that the absence of “noise” in digital sound is a loss. I don’t fully understand it, but somehow not having noise – the background hiss you get with even the best radio signal, the inherent rumble and pops and clicks you get with a record – diminishes the “signal,” the part you came to listen to.

Another TV guy who likes radio a lot was sitting across our big table from me, and because it was noisy and crowded, we ended up shouting our conversation at each other. He told me about his plan to corral an AM radio station on the fringe of New York City. If he pulls it off, it’ll be an education for high school students and a real, honest to goodness emergency station for the area.

We talked about how radio stations used to be owned by local guys who wanted to be somebody in their town, and how that impulse meant that they spent some money, usually in the service of making a lot more, but also to make the station stand out with its news, its DJs. Sure, they liked the money, but it was just as important that they got to sit at the head table at the Chamber of Commerce dinner, got invited to sit on the hospital board.  The vastly more efficient mega-radio chains have no interest in any of that.

I worked for an AM station back in the 70s, and we ran local news up until noon on Saturday and were local with our disc jockeys all weekend. Sunday morning was reserved for local church services, as I recall. That’s changed: many (most?) commercial radio stations, especially AM stations, abandon any pretense of being anything other than a money machine on the weekends. They sell time by the hour, running pitches from lawyers, money guys, assorted bottom feeders. It brings money in, but to my ear ruins any identity the station has.

My dinner companion told me that’s pretty much the state of play in New York City, which surprised me. I would have thought there was a big enough audience there to sustain regular operations all weekend long. He told me the two commercial all-news stations, WCBS and WINS, don’t do that. He admires them for that. So do I.

I had a three hour drive home Sunday morning, and – speaking of weekend radio – lucked out.  The first thing I hit, randomly twisting the dial on the Passat’s FM, was a guy saying ‘You wouldn’t want to start your Sunday morning without polka, would you?” Now there’s a pitch. Turns out it was Siena College’s station. College-affiliated stations – unless they’re NPR operations – are always rock or rap or something else youthful, in my experience, as are the DJs. This was different, and pretty wonderful. I don’t know from polka, nor care much, but there were a couple of community guys behind the mics, they knew their stuff – this show has apparently been around for a while – and they were taking requests from an audience whose names all ended in complicated combinations of vowels and consonants, and who – it appeared – were all longtime listeners. My impression was the show has a following that extends through the middle of New York state, from Syracuse to Albany.  I listened until the signal went away.

Then, in honor of Sunday morning, I got religion. A station was running EWTN programming, (the Catholic channel), which I’ve heard a little on SiriusXM. I caught most of a half hour show dedicated to being pro-life; usually when I hear someone talk about being anti-abortion, it’s in the context of a debate with someone on the other side, and it’s usually more noise than anything else. This show featured interviews with the woman who heads the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and with anti-abortion U.S. Senator Mike Lee. None of it was all that probing or incisive, but I got to hear what pro-life folks talk like when they’re among friends, which was valuable in and of itself.

Finally, for the last leg of the trip going north from Utica, I found a preacher. He was going on about spiritually mature and immature people, about the difference between what is commanded or forbidden in the Bible and what’s merely stuff to argue over, about selfishness, about not throwing obstacles in peoples’ paths – and yes, it was, for an unenlightened heathen, as confusing as described. But the guy was a good talker, knew when to take breaks, and I can see how people have been drawn in for decades by the voice coming from the speaker. As weekend radio goes, not horrible.

 

 

 

 

audience participation

These days, my favorite music is old music. A few recent listens:

  • Music of Morocco, the anthology the writer Paul Bowles compiled and which was re-released in much expanded form last year by the wonderful Dust to Digital label.
  • Singles, a new collection of 45s spanning 30 years, from the late Sun Ra. Again, an expansion, this time of a two CD set from a decade ago on the Evidence label. This adds a third CD, much new material.
  • The Asch Recordings, Mary Lou Williams. 35 sides, most of them originally 78s, recorded for Moses Asch’s Folkways label between 1944 and 1947. The great pianist in a variety of contexts – solo, trio, small group, big band.
  • Why The Mountains Are Black, Greek village music recorded between 1907 and 1960. As has been noted frequently elsewhere, this stuff is abidingly strange to western ears. At times, it sounds like avant jazz from the 60s.
  • Complete Warner Recordings, the Busch Quartet. Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, from the late 20s to the late 40s.

In general, I find myself much more drawn to old music than new, though I listen to a fair amount of new music as well. But the old recordings sound better to me, which is interesting.

I’m not listening out of nostalgia. While you can argue that jazz was more vital 50 years ago, I don’t long to go back there, don’t waste time comparing then to now. The Busch Quartet is wonderful, but there are lots of equally or more wonderful quartets in much more modern recordings. As for Morocco and Mountains, yes I’m smitten with how the music sounds, but I’m not especially interested (other than to understand context) in the time and place of the recordings – I don’t think of them as artifacts.

So what’s the appeal? Physics and physiology are a big part of it: I’m 60, have moderate tinnitus, some hearing loss. Paradoxically,  new, crisply recorded music is less satisfying. All the notes are there,  the sound reaches cleanly from the upper to the lower limits of audibility, the music is pretty much complete, but at the same time I know I’m not  hearing all of it. It’s a little like having a phantom limb; I’m painfully aware of what I’m missing, what’s just out of range.

Old music, on the other hand, sounds expansive to me. It’s all gaps and openings, missing frequencies, to which I get to add my memory, my imagination, my listening to complete the experience. In a weird way, there’s more fidelity in an older recording for me than a new one. Because there are things missing, there’s room for me in it. I’m drawn in.

One question: all music gets old, so will I feel the same way about, say, a Dave Douglas album recorded in the mid-2000s 30 years from now, in the unlikely event I’m around to make such a comparison? Doubtful. Some kind of fidelity threshold was crossed in the 1960s, I’d guess, after which time everything – absent the lo-fi movement – is pretty well recorded. I’ve been listening to some Arthur Blythe recordings from the mid-70s, and while I thoroughly enjoy them, they don’t have the same “old music” vibe I get from music recorded up through the early 60s.

It may be that my hearing gets worse and I turn more and more to the past as compensation – if so, it’ll be ok. There’s a lot of music from the 30s, 40s, 50s, both classical and jazz, I haven’t heard yet. More than enough to last.