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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Quote of the Week: Audio Infidelity

Not so much a defense of audiophiles, who pursue audio-fidelity at financial expense that many would consider excessive, but an interesting distinction:

Perhaps audiophilia and musicophilia are two different things that are sometimes, but not always, present in the same brain.

So there’s music and then there’s sound. A lot of people like both, but maybe some who like sound don’t much care for music…

That’s from a response by Matt Corwine (at lineout.thestranger.com) to an excoriation of audiophiles by Clive Thompson (at collisiondetection.net), who was himself responding to an article by Robert Levine (the pop music critic, not the classical music critic) about the “death” of high fidelity (at rollingstone.com).

The distinction between audiophilia and musicophilia isn’t as clear as Corwine’s post might suggest. For one thing, the jazz fusion, warhorse classical favorites, and overproduced classic rock often favored by audiophiles has plenty of fans with mid-fidelity iPods and low-fidelity AM radios.

Also, in our current moment of “field recordings as art” (and as raw material for art), many people are more than happy to listen carefully and casually to un-composed sound (bird calls, traffic, the wind), regardless of bit rates and speaker quality. Not all phonographers — that is, active producers of field-recordings — are audiophiles. And many phonographers would be comfortable using the term “music” to describe their found sounds.

Still, Corwine has posited an interesting hypothesis. The pursuit of sound as an end unto itself — and thus the idea that the optimal stereo system is less a machine intended to play music than it is a machine fine-tuned to replicate the real world — is certainly supported by the popularity in the past of records, such as those on the Command label, that served as sound-system tests. (The Command album pictured here was “arranged for dynamic stereo performances,” according to the cover blurb, and the op-art image below that blurb presents a stylish visualization of the stereo experience.)

Of course, audiophiles may be enthusiasts of neither sound nor music, however those two words are defined. Audiophiles may simply be fixated on technology.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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