Friday, June 29, 2007

Shuffling our attention span

I was watching Charlie Rose's interview with Paul Simon earlier this evening. Paul is a hot commodity right now because he was just awarded the first ever Library of Congress Gershwin Award for Song Writing. A couple of nights ago I watched the concert that commemorated this award with all kinds of other artists singing his songs. That was a treat. But this with Charlie Rose was fascinating as they conversed about the craft of song writing.

Towards the end of the conversation, he started talking about how first CDs and then the iPod changed the way he writes, the way all songwriters write any more. He said it used to be that you planned out an album as a whole, a collection of songs that create a theme or a message the artist wants to convey. With the old records, you had a side A and B, and you designed your play list to lure the listener over to the other side of the record. There were about 22 minutes to a side, and that was about right for one's attention span, he said. With the advent of the CD, there was now 65 minutes to hold a listener's attention. "That's longer than your English class!" he exclaimed. But with the option of "shuffle" on your 5-CD player or your iPod, you are no longer listening to a whole album at once, nor are you listening to a single artist at one time. Your musical attention span has diminished as much as your others. He said this, along with the ability to download any song you want, has changed the music business so much that he may never release another album again.

I must confess that I had not thought of that aspect of this new technology before. No doubt, though, it will soon be a topic of discussion in the academic world, if it hasn't been already. He talked about the loss he feels with this speeding up of the world. He talked about the pleasure of slowing down, of listening to something all the way through, of a sustained musical experience. He said that people think they are getting more by speeding up, but the reality is that you can get more by slowing down, by going deeper.

There's more, much more in this interview. Rhythm, world music, deconstructing and reconstructing a song. The emotionally draining experience of writing even a single song. If you have the time, listen to the whole thing. His observation about music can actually apply to many other aspets of life.


Heidi said...

I'd never thought about the impact of technology in the music writing business. What's the best way to listen/get a transcript of the interview?

InlandEmpireGirl said...

This sounds like it was an interesting interview. I love Paul Simon!

La Tea Dah said...

Very interesting! I wish I had seen this interview. I enjoy watching Charlie Rose and enjoy his interviews. I'm be sharing your post with my sons --- they are definately of the new generation. I think they'll enjoy reading your comments.

Rondi said... can listen to the interview by clicking on the link at the beginning of my post, or going to You should be able to get it either way. It's nearly an hour long, but worth listening to.

Patty said...

hummm, that made me think that maybe its a good thing I don't have an ipod.

Heidi said...

Thanks for pointing out the link...I must have been blind!