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Saturday, April 23, 2011

The afterlife of Ogha's innovation

So Norio Ohga, father of the compact disc, has gone off to meet the spirit in the sky. Will he find that the afterlife has perfect acoustics and its walls are decorated with the shiny discs that no one wants to listen to any more?

My own CD collection has survived through a tiresome number of house moves and the even more wearying stages of my life. Bessie Smith rubs jackets with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who leans against Eartha Kitt who nudges the soundtrack of Julie who…

Right now, I am in the middle of one of those tasks on my 2011 to-do list -- transferring my CD collection onto my ipod, a copper coloured thing of wonder I bought as a birthday present for my husband but quickly appropriated for myself. That's the way with birthday presents for the spouse, you buy him stuff that you can wear, that you can steal, that suits your needs. Incidentally, this transfer-CD collection chore has been on to-do lists for the last half decade and I have a vague recollection of already having done this with at least one MP3 player that has since taken its place in a landfill somewhere.

I'm trying to remember the first CD I ever bought back in the 1990s when I had a collection of cassette tapes and LP records. I still have a lot of those tapes and records. I have no idea what to do with them though I refuse to throw them away. Now that they're making record players again, I can dust off that Madhumati record and listen to the songs that first enthralled me when I was 12. How I wish I could find a replacement for that heavy old shellac record - yes before vinyl there was the too-easily-broken shellac -- featuring the Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren duet my parents loved, that I smashed round about then. That was a bad time, all stewing hormones and splintered LPs. Through the years, I've scoured flea markets hoping to find another copy of Zoo bee Zoo bee Zoo with no success. Then, last week, I heard it again on Youtube. It didn't sound as sweet as I remembered it but it felt like I'd arrived at the end of some journey, like I'd restored a piece of my parents' shattered shellac coupledom.

I never felt quite so sentimental about the Ghulam Ali tapes they accumulated. A few of them are still lying around in a trunk somewhere waiting for the day when cassette players make their dubious return in a screech of chewed up tape. Perhaps I shall listen to them on my antique dictaphone, always a great ice breaker if I happen to be interviewing anyone over 35. They're immediately enthralled by the sight of me slipping a tape into the dicta. "My goodness, they still exist?" Yes, darling, they do and I prefer them over the digital ones because they are such good conversation starters.

But ah, my first CD was, I think, The Best of Cream. Naturally, I already had the cassette brought out by Magnasound, or was it BMG Crescendo? whose CEO, a young Mallu guy whose name I don't recall -- it's always like that with us diasporic Mallus, we forget each other's names but never, ever forget that detail about our shared ethnicity -- I later interviewed while I was heavily pregnant with my older son. This was towards the end of the 1990s when the world was at once fearful of the future and eager for the fantastic new millennium, and droves of Indian techies were rushing to the US of A to solve some mysterious Y2K problem that was supposed to blow up the universe if it wasn't quickly rectified. I was too busy being pregnant to bother with the details. Anyway, so there I was interviewing, for the now-defunct Gentleman magazine, Suresh Thomas -- hmm, it's all coming back to me -- who had built this company from scratch, when the baby decides to launch into a trapeze act. Mr Thomas and I continued to have a serious conversation about the music business and its vast potential, about emerging talent and the new music video trends -- it was still the age of MTV -- studiously ignoring my badly behaved fetus doing vigorous nonstop somersaults in utero.

So, yes, the first CD I ever bought was The Best of Cream, though it could as well have been The Best of Queen since Freddy aka apro Farrokh supplied the soundtrack to every major development in the lives of the last generation of Bombayites. I still have both those CDs and I absolutely have to transfer them. For someone who grew up in the era of the lovingly put together mixed tape, I find the super brief transfer of music from CD to computer to ipod strangely tedious. Perhaps it's because I'm certain I'll have to do it all over again with whatever shiny new better, brighter, beautifuller toy appears next.

Maybe my reluctance to transfer every last CD in my collection is a result of some residual sentimentalism for the dead age of the gleaming disc. Of course, during its hey day I never lost an opportunity to whinge about its tinny sound and bemoan the loss of the scratchy romance of the long playing record. Now, almost miraculously, the LP is back while fewer people are even glancing at CDs.

I thought of all this as I read about Norio Ogha's final swim out to those unknown shores where every wave must wash up with a original and distinct sound. I wonder what he thought about the quick death of his innovation. Did he believe the CD would ever become popular again?

Note: Pictures are not by Manjula Narayan and have been sourced off the net.

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