by Paul Brammer (News & Opinion Editor)
Technological advancements cause our cultural and individual foibles and fancies to wax and wane. For instance, when I got a digital radio a good few years back my mother lamented the fact for weeks afterwards – she claimed that she couldn’t separate the memories of her youth from the sound of tuning in to radio stations. To her, the crackle of skipping through the forest and melange of noise and static until you found your station was a noise that evoked memories of her childhood. The advent of digital radios with their noiseless swoop through the airwaves mattered to my mother, however trivial it might seem from a distance.
But then, the whole concept of radio is under threat these days, isn’t it? Of course, TV usurped radio’s hegemony as the family-oriented form of entertainment, education and information long ago. But, in this digital age, does our good old friend the Internet threaten to do away with the magic of finding your favourite song on the radio altogether?
On the surface, this may seem to be the case. In reality, the introduction of podcasts is another weapon in the armoury of the radio, and is a good thing, undoubtedly. But what about YouTube, iTunes and a number of other websites and computer programs that stream music instantly online? Are they putting the knife in the back of radio’s aged husk?
Yes and no, I think. I still listen to the radio, and the Internet is a great equalizer in that sense – I manage to get English stations through the Net that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to. One of the stations that I love unashamedly is BBC 6 Music, which is a fabulous station that features some of the best and most interesting personalities in British music with basically blank slates on which they can showcase any kind of music they like. The station also helps to break new unsigned bands – The Temper Trap and Florence and the Machine are two groups that got signed and recognized thanks in no small part to 6 Music.
As with anything else in this odd world that is original and fresh, 6 Music almost got shut down last year – you see, the British government really likes fighting wars along with this country called America, and so unimportant things like culture and schools have to tighten their belts so troglodytes with half an inch of brain can mow down women with armour-piercing rounds. Don’t worry, though – they don’t speak our language, so it’s all okay. Brilliant.
For once, however, sanity prevailed, and 6 Music was saved. Seeing as you didn’t ask, my favourite show is Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour, where the lead singer from Elbow sits in his attic and plays whatever music he fancies.
Last week, Garvey announced at the beginning of the show that he was going to play two songs by Elliott Smith in honour of the man, and to promote the fact that there is a new retrospective CD coming out, called An Introduction to Elliott Smith, so those of you poor souls who haven’t heard his music before can check him out.
I looked at the playlist for the show, saw which songs of Smith’s he was going to play (“Waltz No. 2” and “Angeles”), saw at what point of the show they were going to appear at, and smiled – I had heard both songs hundreds and hundreds of times, knew all the words, knew it all. I thought it would be a nice treat to hear Elliott for the first time on the radio.
But then something happened. When the songs came on, it was as if I had never heard them before. All of the intimate knowledge of Elliott Smith’s music that I had was stripped away, and the music touched me as it did the very first time I was exposed to its beauty. The music affected me like I never thought it would, which is not to say that Elliott Smith’s music doesn’t move me every time I hear it, because it does. But this time was different.
Which got me thinking – what was it then? And I came to the conclusion, to echo something I was talking about in this very column last week, that Marshall McLuhan was right – the medium is the message. The radio’s potency in evoking feelings hasn’t been diminished by anything; if anything, its power has increased over time, and its ability to pack such emotional punch is a great refresher in these days of absurd amounts of available music.
Of course, a lame tie-in to something on campus should abound, and so it does – CiVL radio on campus, now broadcasting on FM radio, are a true alternative music source in your university and in your community – now they’re on the airwaves, you owe it to yourself to tune in and not drop out. You’ll check out some new tunes, and I’m sure that, even if all they’re playing is stuff you know, you won’t be disappointed.