‘Musicality’ and Instagram

  • The conversation surrounding ‘accuracy’ has often troubled me: that it’s about the pursuit of getting as close as possible to reproducing the live performance.

    I want to ask “why?”. Why do you want your home hifi to precisely reproduce a live performance? I enjoy Nick Cave’s live shows and I enjoy his albums, both for very different reasons. To me they are two separate art forms. Think of theatre and movies. Filming a play does not a movie make.

    So it goes with music. Recordings (albums) are different to live performances. The former can accommodate trickery and touch-ups that might not be possible live. An album is painted over time. A live show is done and dusted in ninety minutes or so.

    The pursuit of accuracy also assumes a reliable source reference point – the true nature of the live recording. How can we possibly know how close the recording is to the original?  This has been debated forever in forum land.

    Your hardware configuration at home might be accurate but is it 100% accurate? I doubt it. It also begs the question – why bother? Why not enjoy the differences, the colouration and distortion? I suspect that many of us already do.

    Putting aside those thoughts on what accuracy, I’ve always had trouble articulating what ‘musicality’ means to me…until now.

    Instagram is an iOS/Android app with which you crop your photo (to a square) and then apply one of nineteen filters before sharing it with your friends.  Many of these filters give the image a nostalgic Polaroid feel.

    Ask yourself – which of these two photos do you find more pleasing?


    The one on the left is the untouched iPhone snap. Clearly it is the more accurate of the two. It is closest to source.  It is closest to what I saw out there on Big Sur. On the right, an Instagram crop and filter has been applied to the original photo. It is further from source…but is it any less enjoyable? Is it in act MORE pleasing to the eye?  The filter masks and distorts many of the original photos shortcomings.  A little detail has been sacrificed for an (artificial) lift in tonal richness.

    Had I used a DSLR I might have further limited those technical flaws but I would NEVER have captured exactly that which I spied with my little eye. If there are imperfections, why not smear or colour them to make them more visually agreeable?

    And the ear? Isn’t this why many enjoy tubes when listening to particularly thin and reedy recordings/masters (like so many of those 1980s CDs)? Many of us enjoy a lack of perfection. We enjoy distortion. We are not obsessed with getting as close as possible to the original performance. I think this is what is meant by ‘musicality’.

    My Instagram account allows me to see what ‘musicality’ might look like.

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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