Thursday, 8 May 2014

The History of Cool

We tend to have a schizophrenic relationship with technology; we either think something is really cool, or we take it for granted.  Or maybe one viewpoint evolves into the other, as illustrated by Rolling Stone’s 24 Inventions That Changed Music.

From Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877 to the microphone to LP to the Compact Disc to the Internet    they’re all there.

It’s interesting to trace the evolution of media from wax cylinders through tape and vinyl to CD’s and computer drives.  Even more interesting, is to consider the evolution of playback devices from the Victrola to the cassette deck to the CD player to the iPod/phone.

The romance is connected to the playback device, of course.  I still remember the big honking furniture cabinets that housed the stereos of my youth.  More importantly, I remember how much I loved my first transistor radio.  It gave me freedom, independence, and the power to live in my own culture.  The transistor radio is probably the single biggest factor in the dominance of rock and roll.

That said, I remember how badly we all wanted a Walkman the moment they came out.  By then it was mug’s game though.  CD’s, mp3’s, iPods … I don’t miss my cassette tapes but I do get tired of replacing and re-organizing my media every few years. 

The stated theme of the list is recording and playing back music, so it’s more than a little curious that the Marshall amplifier is on the list.  Sure, that amp is the most famous, but it doesn’t relate to recorded music any more than the first Les Paul guitar or the first effects pedals.

The dates of some of the innovations are interesting, too.  When you think about how fast we moved from cassettes to CD’s to mp3’s, it’s amazing to realize the LP was invented in 1931 but 78’s were sold into the mid-50’s.  The biggest surprise, though is the vocoder, invented in 1940 for military use!  Take that, Daft Punk.

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