Is anybody listening?
One of the most significant patterns in the consumption of music in the industrialized world during this century has been the trend towards ubiquity. From the shellac disc to the Rio Diamond, most advances in playback technology which were not designed to increase fidelity or frequency response have been conceived as advances in portability. In our post-Walkman world, recorded music can be played and experienced more or less anywhere – at home, in an aeroplane, under water, in a supermarket, for example – and from an ever-increasing variety of sources – terrestrial and satellite TV and radio, personal CD players, the Internet, and so on. Each of these listening environments has unique characteristics: when experiencing a recording of a drum 'n' bass tune in a busy high street clothes store, for example, some of the sonic aspects of the production values of the tune, as originally created and monitored by the artist or band in an acoustically neutral, soundproof recording studio, might not be apparent to us, due to interference from the ambient sounds of other shoppers and shop staff, sounds from outside the shop, under-powered sub-woofers struggling to cope with the extra bass response provoked by the recording, and so on.
Just as the environmental possibilities for experiencing music have expanded over time, so has the range of uses to which we put such music. For example, if we experience the same drum 'n' bass tune at a night club at 5.30 a.m., it is very likely that our primary use of that music will be as a means of expressing ourselves, however eccentrically, in dance. However, if we experience the same recording at home, in the kitchen, while frying eggs for lunch, it is less likely that we shall be using the music for the same purpose – indeed, to react to the music by dancing could prove catastrophic here, involving an avoidable emergency call to the local fire brigade.