The greater the clarity of sound, the superior it is. This is a notion that’s taken as gospel truth. So is the one that progress in acoustics is the ability to record and reproduce sound that which is free of distortions; is more distinct, taut, and precise.
In the pecking order of audio-storage gadgets, the lineup, in order of standing and chronology is thus: the various desktop and mobile apps, the compact disc, the cassette, the eight-track cartridge, the vinyl record, and the phonograph cylinder.
Standing where we are today, one can only envision the future of musical sound to be further crystalline, with shining, chiseled edges. If you sieved off the electronic embellishments from contemporary popular music, it’d likely cease to be popular.
But hold on.
Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” impels one to rethink that notion.
Around the time that futurists have forecast the emergence of an inter-planetary Internet; a manned mission to Mars; a geo-engineered climate reversal; analog musicians, with their Colosseum-size orgy of mixing consoles will make a comeback.
Belting out digitally unadulterated old favorites will be vogue again. Everything old will be new again.
There’ll be a return to the innocence of the wobbly percussion of a bongo; of a vocalist singing solo, with nothing but just a slide guitar.
Egan’s book doesn’t belong to the science-fiction shelf. Yet, one gets a peek into the future of the rock music industry (as well as slices of its present and recent past) through the interstices of the lives of its many characters.
The fates of musicians will be decided by a new demographic, the toddlers, or “pointers,” so named possibly because of their habit of “pointing” at devices and getting myriad tasks accomplished.
It’ll be a cleaner world. Tattoos, body piercings, four-letter words, and drugs, will have followed the Brontosaurus into extinction.
Everyone, without an exception, will be wired and carry a “handset,” a multipurpose mobile device akin to the types we see on the market today, but degrees more versatile.
Employees will work without paper and desks. People will communicate via an infernal brand of texting that omits vowels entirely. The art of writing will have undergone an almost unrecognizable change.
Narratives will be pared down textually and will be laid out as tantalizing infographics. Egan, an ace literary innovator herself, gives us a taste of that by presenting a section of this story in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.
Plotted as a social graph, the novel’s two nodes are Bennie Salazar, a rock musician-turned-record label exec and his assistant Sasha, to which all other lives are linked. Like gas molecules in motion in an enclosed chamber, they intersect and collide with theirs and fork out only to cross paths later.
Most, if not all, of these characters are defined by their peculiarities that range from an innocuous, if eyebrow-knitting, idiosyncrasy to a serious criminal transgression.
Sasha has been a kleptomaniac since her teens. Bennie is in the habit spraying insecticide under his armpits and drinking coffee sprinkled with gold flakes.
La Doll, a savvy publicist, has a darkly comic public relations fiasco of her own. Left penniless and socially and professionally ostracized after a jail sentence, she takes up a gig of repairing the image of a genocidal leader of an undisclosed nationality.
Stephanie’s brother, Jules, is a celebrity reporter, who pounces on a naïve actress in the middle of an interview. The ailing lead guitarist of a once heavy hitter band wishes to be forever etched in the hearts of his fans by undertaking a concert that’ll kill him.
The book doesn’t have a one, broad plot, but is a string of mini-yarns, which like the multiple pockets of a carpenter pant, are autonomous, yet, part of the body of the same fabric.
It’s a solid good read.