(via my O’Reilly blog)

A month ago, I wrote about “TechnoPop: The Secret History of Technology and Pop Music”, Rick Karr’s series of reports running on NPR’s Morning Edition. This morning I was listening to part 5 while driving to work, and I heard Karr say this:

Over the past decade, all this technology making modern music has gone digital.

Those of you as old as I am might recognize the middle of that sentence as a near quote from Rush’s 1980 masterpiece, “The Spirit of Radio”. That little touch put a big smile on my face.

Thanks to the magic of iPod, I had the song close at hand. So I popped my cassette adapter into the slot in the dashboard, plugged in my iPod, and had a listen. And I was struck by just how appropriate it was for Karr to quote from that song, which was a scathing attack on the music industry.

The first part of “TechnoPop” made a rather pointed reference to the current conflicts between the music industry and their customers (and, for that matter, the artists), and there’ve been hints that the series will come back to that issue in its final installment next week. So far, the series has covered the phonograph, microphones and electrical recording, magnetic tape, LPs, and multitracking. At each stage, the theme has been clear: technology inevitably changes not only music itself, but also the music business – often over the protests of established players in the industry, but usually to the long-term benefit of the music industry as a whole.

One still likes to believe in the freedom of music, but even the illusion of integrity that Rush sang about has vanished. The gift of music that radio brings to us, far from being beyond price, seems firmly in its grip.