Take a look at this photo. Note the use of the earbuds, designed for one person, but shared here. I can’t help but think about the way that iPods and headphones are used like this. On the one hand, the iPod (or mobile phone) is isolating. We tune out the outside world and create a little bubble of insolation. An escape. If you ever take the subway in New York, you see it all the time. Packed in the subway car like sardines (especially at rush hour), people find their happy place by wearing the headphones and closing their eyes. It’s a way of visually signaling one’s established privacy in a public space.
Now, the thing I like about the photo above is that we’re seeing the portability of the iPod leveraged for a deliberately social activity: sharing. If there was a better way of sharing the music, I’m sure these guys would do it, but as a matter of pragmatism, they sort of make do, both leaning forward to figure out a distance that won’t yank the earbud from his friend’s ear. This, like the isolated subway travelers, is also a frequent scene.
I just came across this article by Paul Lansky that discusses the emergence of a new kind of musician: the music-giver. Not really a composer, nor a performer, nor just a listener. The music-giver is a little bit of each of these, though.
Lansky has been on my radar for a while since he’s taught at cool schools (Princeton and CalArts), composed good music (here’s his discography), and has written good essays (like this). Anyway, in the article I’m reading he talks about how the advent of recorded music has fundamentally changed a very very old procedure for enjoying music: the composer/audience/listener paradigm.