08 April 2008


The iPod undermines musical memory. If we think about Marshall McLuhan’s ideas that media are both extensions and amputations of humanity’s various faculties and apply it to the iPod, it speaks directly to the memory. I don’t use my iPod very often, and more often than not when I do, I’m listening to a book on tape or a podcast discussing some nerdy thing or another. But when I do listen to music, I mostly listen to music that I absolutely love, music that moves me. The world is my music video when I walk around listening to my iPod.

Occasionally, I’ll go through spells where I walk everywhere with my iPod listening to music. I listen to it on the bus (instead of reading) and I switch from playlist to playlist depending on my mood and occasionally dig through my library for ‘the perfect’ song for a particular moment (like the Counting Crows’ “Omaha” when I drive into ‘Omaha’). I feel like (though I haven’t tested this) during these times, I have somewhat lost my own ability to get a song stuck in my head when I take the iPod off. I can definitely still hum or sing a song that I’d just listened to, but the phenomenon of thinking of a song that you’ve not thought of or heard for a long time and suddenly having it in mind, wanting to hum or sing it, wanting to hear it, that seems lost. But, with a big enough playlist, I can always have the ‘right’ song at my fingertips.

This (possibly invented) phenomenon makes me wonder about the iPod’s possible effects on musical composition and invention. I’m thinking about 13-19 years down the road when a generation of young musicians that has grown up in an iPod inundated world and wondering what might be the effect on music creation. If it’s true that the ability to imagine music is interrupted by the ability to always be able to hear music, what then becomes of the musical imagination? Musical composition is always at least partly musical derivation. But by being constantly presented with the musical actuality, does the imagined music (and thereby its derivations) suffer? Is the prevalence of musical sampling as a new musical art form a result of the iPod (and earlier the Walkman) age? What might this mean for future musical creativity (if anything)?