The Disintegration of the Compact Disc

January 16th, 2008 | Category: Marginalia

The Cure — DisintegrationWhen The Cure was recording their 1989 record, Disintegration, Robert Smith said it was the first time that they went into the studio knowing that they’d be recording for a release on compact disc, which meant they could shoot for over an hour of music. “Disintegration is the first real CD-LP,” he claimed, “It was about time the musicians learned to use this format: instead of two twenty-minute sides of an LP, you now have a seventy-minute stream of music without interruptions.” The LP had restricted bands to a runtime of forty-five minutes, but with the advent of CD came additional time to record songs (“bonus tracks,” anyone?).

My man Gabe Bogart and I were discussing this over the weekend. As music fans, part-time DJs, MP3 geeks, and collectors of sorts, we tried to use our various vantage points to get to the core of this newest technological shift in the music industry.

The advance in technology to the CD changed not only the process and the quality, but also the goal, of recording. Now that the CD is dying its slow, controversial death and the MP3 has returned us to the days of singles — true singles, singles sans B-sides — what will bands record? What does the “record” (e.g., the collection of songs with a standard length that has previously been based on the properties of physical media) become? Ringtones? (It’s already happening more than any true music fan wants to notice or admit.)

On the surface, quite literally, the CD was just the next physical format for the commercial distribution of music. Its aesthetic proximity to the LP (and the likelihood that it is music’s last physical, commercial format) has caused some to conjecture that it will end up like the LP, as a cultural artifact to be revered, preserved, collected. Others see its small size and subsequently small cover art, as well as its mass-produced disposability, as signs it will go the way of the cassette and the 8-track.

So, two of the main questions left by the slow disappearance of the CD are these:

  • What will bands record? What does the traditional “record” become?
  • As a physical format, will the CD end up like the LP or go the way of the cassette tape?

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