I power on the radio receiver. An unfamiliar string quartet draws my attention. Although it doesn’t sound immediately pleasing, for the moment, I’m engaged. Engaged as if present at the live recital.
For that brief instant I forget any previous occupation. Allured by the mono speaker, the cheap plastic casing, the few control knobs, the analog radio dial, the signal strength LED, the retracted aluminum antenna; I appreciate the mechanical framework dedicated to the sole purpose of transforming that radio signal into the audio acoustics that I now contemplate.
It is that analog rawness along with the ‘scarcity’ of content that heightens the pleasure factor. I wasn’t expecting that string quartet. I wasn’t expecting any particular performance. Nor do I know when the next such opportunity shall strike.
The DJ announces the performance specifics after. I note the details, although do so with no serious intent. Were I to hunt for the piece in the land of virtual reality, the experience will never be the like.
I could opt for the nearly inexhaustible music library on my computer, where I’ve already collected much of every opus of every composer that’s held my interest. I could download evermore and further spoil the insatiable appetite.
I could acquire all the Bach organ works, the chorale arrangements, the chamber music, the harpsichord concertos. And have. I could choose from one of multiple performances to further confound my senses.
Alas, on the computer it sounds bland. Superficial. Saturated. When stripped of that scarcity, with enough abuse - a point that I inevitably reach, my senses give way to numbness, if not plain suffocation.
On the computer I could likewise stream the radio station. But it’s never the same. For I’ve access to all that other perverse amount of options; options I could exercise at a mere stroke of a button or two. That awareness depresses my excitement.
No, scarcity must be introduced or simulated by whatever means to fool the cognition… lest the music serve the mere function of background distraction to work, exercise, motivate ourselves. And oftentimes that’s all we seek.
But if we desire music for the sake of music, embrace scarcity. The task is not awfully challenging.
My beloved radio unit does the deed. As does the vinyl player (with an ample choice of records), which I’m fortunate to have hereabouts. Now that, by the way, is an experience in it’s own right.
Whereas you, the listener, faces a range of options, it’s a choice bounded by the vinyl collection. And be you one of the avid collectors of even thousands of records at your disposal, there is a certain unparalleled physical engagement with the playing of each record that we simply cannot compare to the nearly seamless consumption of downloaded or online streamed media.
It is here that we, once more, simulate scarcity. Lest your equipment rapidly decay, we observe a particular ceremony around the playing of records:
- Extract the vinyl from the sleeve, careful not to wear out the paper or introduce fingerprints upon the vinyl surface.
- Sweep the dust off each side of the vinyl.
- Rest the vinyl on the rubber disk surface
- Carefully remove the stylus (needle) cover as not to dislodge or damage the very fragile and expensive component.
- Release the tonearm lock
- Insure all controls/levers in their proper settings: tonearm securely raised, 33 RPM speed (for LPs/EPs), forward movement, etc.
- Position the tonearm/stylus somewhere over the midsection of the outer idle groove of the vinyl
- Lower the tonearm
- Hear the introductory static in anticipation of the first track
- Enjoy blissful analog sound, all the while marvelling in the artwork and elaborate vinyl sleeve contents
- Be attent to the vinyl progress, mindful to elevate the tonearm as it reaches the inner idle groove.
- Switch sides and repeat most of the above
With such physical involvement, I’m far more appreciative of not only the music but also the medium. The sensation hardly compares to the computer. What about other listening media?
Compact disks I can somewhat relate to in terms of scarcity, for the selection is limited to just our CD library. But therein it ends.
The interaction significantly pales in the face of vinyls: none of the ceremonies nor the pleasantries akin to the vinyl mechanical subtleties. The prospect of the digital sound also bears a discouraging semblance to the computer.
In retrospect, I rank the largely forgotten cassette tapes higher than the compact disks, irrespective of the inferior sound. There’s the analog component for one. The tape mechanics feel more organic and vulnerable (and indeed are). Lastly, the sequential access engages us to an even greater extent than vinyl in the course of audio track navigation.
Regretfully, cassette tape equipment seems to wear out quicker than all the forms so far contrasted.
Beyond audio, we observe the same phenomenon with the reading of physical books. First, there’s the organic and artistic matter within a physical binding. And the older the edition, the more it feels like a four-dimensional artifact infused with all manner of life form.
We also extract the cognitive properties inherent to reading paper. From personal experience I second that, although suspect any enhanced benefit as highly dependent on your reading fashion.
To return to scarcity. I for one draw greater pleasure in reading solid matter from a limited selection. To augment the library, it is that recognition of greater effort than a quick digital download, that reinforces my attachment.
In hindsight, scarcity pays dividends all over. Contrast a cup of coffee prepared from manually ground beans and boiled on the stove in a simple one-serving container, to one manifested by way of a magic button press on a complex machine.
I far more appreciate the former. And the same argument applies to portion sizes.
Or take any dish that you personally prepare, all ingredients measured, mechanics controlled, motions diligently executed, to something that is summoned at someone’s whim. I must say, the difference is striking.
Or even the eating schedule. I fast during most of the day, which, beyond all benefit, simulates a similar effect. Whatever availability of food products you would maintain in extravagant abundance for your otherwise immediate consumption, it is that restricted 6-8 hour eating window (in my case) that fosters greater appreciation for each meal.
The principle applies equally to honours bestowed, commendations, experiences, conversations, and varying entertainment forms. Abundance eliminates appreciation. Scarcity nurtures it. Be mindful of that dichotomy.
Questions, comments? Connect.