Thursday, January 6, 2011

Synapse to the Beat: Arcadia's "Election Day"

I adored my 64. I was a Commodore 64 kid. I had one and I absolutely worshipped it. I had floppy disks and floppy disks full of... er, without exception commercially-released original versions of software. There's no way I would ever trade video games with my friends.

Those disks were indeed floppy - huge and floppy, like a clown's shoes. And sometimes they had a label on them that dutifully annotated what was in them - but more often someone had merely scrawled some mysterious message on the label, and it required a good ol' LOAD "*",8,1 to figure out what was on it.

One of those disks had 'Re-Election Day' written on it. It turned out to be just a single program, a massive file that took up the whole disk and took ages to load. Nothing promising, really - I was an impatient kid. If it wasn't a game, I was going to be mad...

It wasn't a game. It was nothing more than ten or fifteen seconds of "Election Day", an eminently forgettable song from a 1985 Duran Duran side project called Arcadia. Just ten or fifteen seconds of music, nothing else. Payoff for, I don't know, maybe five minutes of loading time? What a rip-off.

Ah, but no... The Commodore 64 had a revolutionary soundchip. The bleeps and bloops that made up its computer music was way more sophisticated than the bleeps and bloops of ots competitors. And somehow programmers goet it to (badly) simulate a real human voice! It could say "Another visitor! Stay awhile! Stay forever!" It could also, in the scratchiest of voices, say "Hey taxi! Platform five, please!".

But this... This was entirely different. This was, somehow coming from inside that computer, the actual recording, with Simon Le Bon's voice and all. The sound quality was beyond primitive, but there it was... the computer not merely playing a song but actually playing a recording.

It's a quarter of a century later now, and nothing could be more banal. By now our computers are the main way we listen to recorded music. Music barely even exists anymore as a 'physical' medium: those zeroes and ones are all we have left. Who cares, right? The thing is, though, that one long-dead generation had Thomas Edison reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and my generation - or at least I - had Simon Le Bon. Same thing. Same primitive beginnings of a revolution. From there to here...
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