How a local student has changed the way he listens to music
With the vinyl craze sweeping the music industry, nostalgia lovers of all ages are able to listen to their favorite artists not only on Spotify, but also on an antiquated piece of equipment that they dug out of their basement or impulse-purchased at Barnes & Noble. Records have grown in popularity since being heralded as “the real way to listen to music,” and underemployed, 20-something liberal arts majors are their greatest proponents.
“I smashed my bluetooth speaker with my vintage copy of Ulysses after I bought my first Crosley,” Amelia Rickert, a Classical Studies major with a minor in Late 80s Shoegaze, said. “It’s the only way to listen to music properly.”
But is it, Amelia? According to Alex Courtin, vinyl is out. And its replacement? Low-res MP3 files.
“I first discovered the beauty of low-res MP3 files when I tried to download The Cure’s Wish album off of this sketchy Russian free music site that my bandmate told me about,” he explained. “I knew when I first hit play and could barely hear Robert Smith’s voice that there was no going back. I just prefer things to sound like they’re being played underwater while also driving through a tunnel. The static really enhances the experience.”
Anyone born before 2000 remembers sites such as LimeWire, which allowed you to download the latest Dashboard Confessional song for free — as long as you didn’t mind hearing, “Wait, I’m recording” at the beginning of the song. Alex Courtin said the early 2000s were the peak of auditory experiences. Everything that came either before or after that is completely secondary.
“People are too focused nowadays on the ability to ‘hear’ songs,” he said. “Personally, I think that grainy sound quality and questionable pitch increase adds a sense of intimacy to songs you’ve heard a million times before. Whenever I’m walking to my Intro to Philosophy lecture, I love to just take out my first generation iPod and listen to my Recently Downloaded playlist. It’s even better that most of the downloads’ names are in Russian!”
Courtin insists that contrary to popular belief that high sound quality is necessary to fully appreciate the music from your favorite artists, it’s actually better to barely be able to understand what the lead singer is saying. It allows you to fill in the gaps with your own, maybe not so plebian musical knowledge.
“A lot of people ask me how I can stand to listen to David Bowie’s seminal classic The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as an illegally downloaded MP3 that I have uploaded, downloaded, re-uploaded and re-downloaded over seventeen times, and here’s how I respond: as a true fan, I have my own ideas about how I would have done things better than Bowie had. During the bits of the album that are literally too static-ridden to hear, I close my eyes and imagine what I would have done differently,” Courtin explained.
Courtin himself is the lead singer and tambourinist for his band Dead Kat Division Part 3, which he describes as, “a post-surf punk noise-fi sound experience.” As an artist, Courtin calls himself, “the lovechild of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain except not Frances Bean Cobain,” although the one review written about his band merely described it as “juvenile”, “unbearable”, and “sickeningly pretentious”.
“See, I’m an artist,” Courtin said. “I’m an innovator. I look at the technological improvements we have made within the audio realm and ask, ‘Did we really need those things in the first place?’ By hearing albums the way the artist intends you to, you’re really just being lazy.”
Some of Courtin’s peers are skeptical toward his approach. According to several classmates, Courtin is a “fraud who skipped every Audio Production 1 class.” Even those closest to him refuse to convert to his way of listening. In fact, Courtin’s girlfriend, Skye Spears, has threatened to end the relationship multiple times due to his lack of skill with the aux cord.
“I picked him up on the first date and handed him the aux cord,” Spears recounted. “Usually, that’s my litmus test as to whether I can date someone or not. But when Courtin played the first song, the sound my radio was emitting made me truly concerned as to whether my car was about to blow up.”
Nope! That’s just a low-res MP3 download of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
“Not everyone approves of my way of life, but it’s lonely at the top,” Courtin said, sipping his organic free trade kombucha tea and gazing sadly at his first-generation iPod. “A lot of people tell me that it’s not worth it, that if I really want to listen to music the way the artists intend that vinyl is a totally valid option with good sound quality. But that’s not what it’s about for me.”
Courtin smiled wryly and glanced out the window, his eyes glistening with both melancholy and determination.
“Some people say I’m crazy. But that’s what they said about Lennon. That’s what they said about Hawking,” Courtin said. “And they went down in history. I’ll go down in history one day too — as long as my low-res MP3 downloads come with me.”
Alex Coburn is a first year Cinema & Photography student and an avid audio enthusiast. You can reach them at [email protected].