In Defence of the MP3

Apple have discontinued the iPod Classic. Therefore, the age of the MP3 is over.

Who’d have thought that the MP3 – that piddly little file format that was once thought to have the potential to destroy all music – would ever be in need of defending?

Yet here we are in 2015, and articles are being written about the demise of the MP3.

We stream now, you see. And because we stream our music, we no longer need to fill our hard drives and our DAPs with thousands upon thousands of files of varying quality and variable bit rate. We’re free! This is a Good Thing!

Or so they’d have us believe. Every article I’ve read on this subject – all two of them – has presented the MP3 years as a sort of fiddly dark age. Streaming sites such as Spotify and SoundCloud have liberated us from the inconvenience – the indignity – of having to micromanage our music.

Now, I love Spotify. I use it almost every day, mainly to stream epic Grateful Dead jams. But did I immediately delete my 20,000+ MP3s the second I registered? Did I my eye. Doing so would have been an even stupider move than binning all my records and CDs upon first getting a laptop and an MP3 player.

Here are five reasons why MP3s are still relevant in the age of Spotify, and here’s an epic Grateful Dead jam to which you can groove whilst you read – assuming that you’re a very slow reader.

Note – Even when citing specific examples, I use “Spotify” to refer to all streaming services, and “MP3” to refer to all file formats – WMA, MP3, FLAC etc. This isn’t so much “MP3 vs. Spotify” as “Files vs. Streaming”. Also, for the sake of brevity, and for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy, I will refrain from discussing artist royalties here. This post is all about the listener.

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Farewell, Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese died on January 20, 2015. That was the day before my birthday, so I didn’t find out until the following week.

Edgar Froese was a founding member of the German electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream. Between 1967 and 2015, he was the only constant member. In that time, the band released over 100 albums, of which I’ve only heard about nine. Though I’ve quite enjoyed each, of those nine, only one has ever truly stood out for me: 1974’s Phaedra.

Phaedra is a masterpiece. I cannot begin to describe the meanings I’ve come to attach to its unearthly sounds and its slow, sad, yawning melodies. There was a six month period about 10 years ago when I would put this album on repeat at a barely audible volume just before I went to sleep. It’s therefore safe to say that the music of Phaedra may very well have soundtracked my dreams.

To wake up to its alien soundscapes, bleary eyed and heady at four in the morning, is an indescribable experience. Phaedra sounds particularly incredible when you’re cold and lonely in the dark.

So farewell, Edgar Froese. He leaves behind an immense, timeless, and peerless body of work, but for me it’s all about Phaedra, and this track in particular:

Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares. One of the most devastating pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

If that were the sum of his work, he could still be viewed as one of the finest, most influential musicians of the past century. That this song is but the visible tip of an unfathomable, ever-shifting iceberg is really quite incredible.

A live version from 2005:

Bloody hell.