Thursday, September 29, 2011

The trouble with CDs

Listening to my Wilhelm Backhaus CD I am becoming distressed by how the sound is cutting out now and then. Every once in a while the CD hits the skids and jumps or fogs out.

It happens right in the middle of the beautiful slow movement of the "Waldstein" Sonata. Among other places.


Compact discs are junk, you know? I remember when they were new and everyone was saying how long-lasting they were, as opposed to old-fashioned records, which could get scratched.

Records are far more durable. Plus you had control over what happened to them. If you took care of a record it would take care of you. If it got scratched, it was because of carelessness. And here is another thing: Even if a record got badly scratched, a lot of the record would still be good. When a CD gets inexplicably ruined, you just have to toss it.

Even cassettes, my brother George and I were talking about them with affection. Cassettes had longer life than CDs. Sure, tapes could break, but cassettes were designed in a way that gave them protection. They have a built-in case the way a turtle has a shell. If you were listening to one in the car, you could take it out and toss it on the seat next to you and most of the time it would be OK.

CDs are so vulnerable. You cannot just toss them on the seat and expect them to be OK.

You have to struggle to find the jewel case which, do not get me started on those. If you cannot find the right case, or maybe you are in traffic and do not have time to look, you have to put it into whatever case is handy. That is why a lot of my CDs are divorced from their cases or missing in action.

Also, liner notes.

No matter how lavishly they package CDs it always comes down to a flimsy paper booklet. Small, so the pictures are tiny. Not like those great old LP sets where you would be sitting there listening with the book on your lap, gazing at a giant-sized picture of Roberta Peters or Leonard Pennario or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I always did enjoy gazing at giant-sized pictures of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Pictures that were much bigger than this one:

CDs, cases, booklets, they are always getting separated and damaged and thrown to the four winds.

It's funny for me, looking back on recording technology. I have never known permanence. Records were already on the way out by the time I started buying them. Cassettes, I liked them, but they always seemed as if they were not here to stay.

Now, CDs, I can see them fading out too. I have a house full of them and I am starting to see they are fools' gold.

I mean, this Backhaus CD. I have listened to it only something like 100 times. It should not  be wearing out on me.

Meanwhile my records go on forever.


  1. Very true! What about digital files? When encoded in a lossless format, and played on an appropriate system, it's really a great solution, don't you think?

    I really would like to avoid a physical version of my upcoming album but it seems music critics are unlikely to write a review about digital only releases, and we definitely need these reviews. That's sad, manufacturing and distributing a CD is so environmentally unfriendly that it could be a good thing to make it something of the past.

  2. Pierre-Arnaud, thanks for checking in!! I think people will have to start reviewing digital-only releases. I think we are heading in that direction. And I won't miss the CD. I am not nostalgic!