Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, September 22, 2008

George Perlogos

He worked on the very first designs of EEPROM at Intel in 1983. As such, he's the man that you can blame for every asshole on his Ipod shuffle jogging and listening to the White Stripes.

So... I wanted to do an essay on the changing formats of recorded music. Now, I could talk about Edison and his wax drums and other earlier or contemporary audio formats of that time, but really, those were pioneering technologies that were largely impractical and also too fragile to be considered "commercial-grade" tech by today's standards. As such, I am going to start with the vinyl gramophone record.

Gramophone records for music players were first developed in 1889, believe it or not, by one Emile Berliner. They were five inches in diameter, and sold exclusively in Europe. As the technology improved, these discs were brought to America in the early 1900s. Berliner's patent for the devices expired in 1918, which allowed the technology to be developed and refined at a rapid rate by various competing companies. By that time, Berliner had already made his fortune on the device, and went on to develop advancements in several other fields.

In other words, Bill Gates is not one thirtieth the man that Emile Berliner is.

Any ways, by the 1950s, every middle class home owned a phonograph and a collection of vinyl records. Unfortunately, this medium, while excellent in a static environment, could not be used while moving, as the needle used to convert the grooves of the disc into sound would bounce about at any jarring. As such, radio was the only option while in a vehicle or away from a home, such as at a park.

In the 1950s, 3M developed the technology to manufacture a magnetic tape medium cheaply and efficiently. Magnetic recording date back as far as 1877, by the way. In any event, the advent of commercial grade technology for magnetic recordings gave vinyl records their first competitor. While early magnetic tape players were rather bulky, with the advent of the transistor, portable personal music first became a practical reality in the late 1970s. Such products like the Sony Walkman allowed the average consumer to take his or her music with him wherever he went.

Moreover, unlike vinyl records, magnetic tapes could easily be recorded by the average person. End-use consumers rather suddenly had the option to produce their own content, if they so desired. Less wholesomely, End-use consumers also had the option to distribute copyrighted material with this technology. The first "Napster" was the mix-tape.

Magnetic tape did have its drawbacks however, despite its inherent utility. Its recordings lost their charge over time, the mylar medium degraded, the mechanisms of a tape player could fail and "eat" a tape... let us avoid the topic of Eight-track magnetic media from this essay, shall we?

Since vinyl records maintained their acoustic superiority and overall quality much more readily than magnetic tapes, the two coexisted for a time, complementing one another.

That all changed on October 1, 1982, when Sony's CDP-101 Compact Disc player was released to the Japanese market. While prohibitively expensive for all but the most dedicated audiophiles, the Compact Disc, a 120 mm wide 1.2 mm thick media made of polycarbonate plastic and a thin layer of aluminum... slowly began its quest for complete and utter world domination.

CDs became more and more popular as the years went on. I would suspect that almost anyone reading this has at least one 120 mm wide disc either in their room or within eye sight. Still, the vinyl record perseveres. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, it has outlived its magnetic rival and has found an equilibrium with its optical foe.

Of course, this all assumes that we will be listening to our music on physical media of any kind in the coming decades.

Think about this. Wireless networks are coming online in ever more distant parts of the world. A server farm in Malaysia can serve up a "They Might Be Giants" song in Inkster, Michigan. The cost of EEPROM media has dropped so much that entire computers such as the Macintosh Air do not even have magnetic hard drives.

If I were a record company executive, I would stop trying to sue my way into saving a medium older than Lindsay Lohan and find ways to monetize the ethereal way that people are listening to music. Of course, if I were a record executive, I'd also probably be paralyzed into inaction by my inherent seething hatred for myself.

But let's not bring psychology into this.

1 comment:

Drunken Chud said...

"In other words, Bill Gates is not one thirtieth the man that Emile Berliner is."

love him or hate him, the man has transformed the world in which we live. not only does he have the most prolific OS in history, he saw the need for a better UI over the old bulky
C:/dir/p/s *.exe C:/edit blogger.dat C:/run C:/funburgers/chuds_shit/ipso_facto/pr0n/hotchick.midi

now we can point and click our ways to greatness without knowing our Dos Roots. also you can no longer go over to a buddy's house and go into his ansi.sys control pannel and hide his cursor and txt from him by changing them to black. and Format C: no longer has the effect it once did. but the biggest thing? usability. everything is made for windows. unix and linux guys hate that. mac people hate it even more. but the fact that bill came up with a universal OS, built upon it, continued to build upon it, and still builds today... is a lot more than inventing a record.

and yeah, cds will be going the way of the dodo pretty soon. considering i can hook my mp3 player into my car stereo and not worry about skipping or scratching. plus, i can steal all the music i want. gotta love torrents.