Kirin Light at the Buddha Bar

A group of audiophiles were enjoying lunch in La Jolla recently when the subject of personal preferences came up, specifically, what genres of music we were listening to these days.  One said mostly jazz; another jazz and rock; a couple said jazz and classical; three said classical.  Then it was my turn.  I thought about lying, but why not shake things up?

“I’m going to shock you guys, but these days, I listen mostly to fusion music,” I said, “primarily Middle Eastern and Asian.”  Things turned quiet.  You’d have thought I expressed a preference for recorded music over live….

“I can’t stand that oriental stuff!” Bruno said, ordering another Kirin Light.

“I’ve had about all the Diana Krall and Miles Davis I can take” I countered, “I’ve listened to every rock album from the 70’s and 80’s at least a hundred times, and that applies to most classical music as well.  I want something fresh and different, something I haven’t heard before.”

“Why don’t you listen to rap and hip hop?”Don said, with a smirk.  There’s a Don in every group.  It’s best to ignore him and move on.

“So what’s fusion music?” Bruno asked.

“Sometimes it’s called crossover music ,” I said. “It  combines traditional ethnic music with western musical tradition.  There’s a lot of musical creativity out there these days.

I find it ingenious, innovative and unique.  Not only that, the recording quality tends to be excellent.”

“Where on earth do you get this stuff, Jan?”

“I was originally introduced to it through the Putumayo label — wonderful stuff.  But now I get it mostly on Pandora.”

There was another awkward silence.  I knew what everyone was thinking — What?!? MP3!  I was sitting next to a guy who had spent $33,000 on a heavily modified SACD player and he was sitting next to a guy who listens to MP3! Perhaps I should rinse my ears with Shine-Ola and outline them in green ink.

“I tried Pandora once, but couldn’t handle the ads,”Larry said,”and besides, the sound was terrible.”

“You have to register and pay about $10 per month in order to escape the ads and get high-res MP3,” I said.

George said, “That’s a contradiction of terms, Jan! There is no ‘high-res MP3’!  All MP3 sucks, and nobody with any discernment listens to it!”

George recently got divorced…again. His kids always side with their mother.

“Yah, I read the magazines too, George. But I don’t care about the ‘format du jour’.Pandora has a much larger library than I do, and they’re constantly expanding it. It’s great to be able to audition exotic music that I’d never have been exposed to otherwise.”

“So what stations do you listen to?”

“I rotate through several, Kendall. Lately I mostly listen to a Pandora-labeled station called ‘Buddha Bar Radio’. There are lots of others, in every genre. All you have to do is find an artist you like, then create a new station using that artist’s name—like,for instance,’Tiny Tim Radio’. Then Pandora will play his music, and any music they deem similar to his. You can select ‘Thumbs Up’ or ‘Thumbs Down’ for each tune, and your Pandora play list and future additions will be adjusted accordingly.”

“Do they have classical and jazz as well?

“Lots of it. I often listen to their classical stuff, especially choral music by composers like Schutz, Buxtehude and Gabrieli.  It’s one of the reasons I stick with Pandora rather than switch to other services which don’t seem to have as much variety.”

“Don’t you feel some responsibility to support the artists?” George sanctimoniously asked. This is the same guy who once asked to download my entire CD collection onto his hard drive….

“George, I’ve heard the complaints that Pandora doesn’t pay its artists enough. I’ve never been asked to mediate that business arrangement, so I have to assume it’s satisfactory. Many artists would get no exposure at all, if not for Pandora, and I’ve bought several CDs because of it.  I especially like a band named Rasa, and Deva Premal — mesmerizing material.  I’m going to hear her live in May.”

“OK, let’s get back to the MP3 format.  You really feel it’s listenable?”

“You’re welcome to come over and hear it on my system, Kendall. If you do some research on the web, you’ll find studies which show that student test subjects couldn’t differentiate high-res MP3 music from CD or SACD.  I guess you’ve got to be over 50 for that.”

“I haven’t been listening to my audio system at all lately,” Bruno said.”This is ironic, because one of the things I looked forward to in retirement was having more time to enjoy music…guess I’ve just lost interest.”

“Try something like ‘Buddha Bar Radio’ ,Bruno. You’ve got to develop a taste for it, but you might find it more addictive than Kirin Light.”