My father and I don’t really talk. When we do, I find myself in the distressing topic of my future: where the hell I’m going in life and why I’m not trying hard enough to get there soon enough. The three-hour car rides to and from my home in the Chicago suburbs and the U of I are often spent in silence, with an iPod cradled in my palm. Though we’d be sitting side by side in my father’s car, our minds have run so far from one another that we might as well have been on opposite sides of the Earth.
In the most recent trip back to the university, I decided to break our routine silence to ask my father if he still had Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Thriller had actually been one of his first LP records when he was just arriving in the United States to attend graduate school. But as he began talking about LP records, I realized that he wasn’t as interested in the artists as much as he was interested in the records themselves. He was there when the Compact Discs began to emerge:
“In the 70s, the CDs were placed in a small section in record stores,” he told me. “I remember buying both the LP and the CD of Thriller, and I was absolutely amazed by the waves on the back of the CD. You can’t see that on an LP. I knew that when I first saw this, I knew that CDs were going to be huge.”
My father proceeded to rattle on even further about the structure of the record player, about turntables and cartridges, and then launched fully into the topic of stereo systems, suddenly speaking of acronyms that came out so quickly in the conversation that I couldn’t barely find the place to interject with, “What on earth does that stand for?” But it made sense for him to get lost in his passions like this—my father is an engineer, after all—and he had gone through one stereo system after another as I was growing up. Whenever my father received new speakers or a new stereo system, the rest of us would retreat into our individual bedrooms while my father shook the foundation of the house with whatever music or movies would present the most impressive of sounds.
I had given such little thought to machines. I could tell you about entire discographies of Broken Social Scene, Of Montreal and Sufjan Stevens. I could tell you about all the artists expecting to release albums this year. I could tell you about songs with great collaborations, like the Feist songs off of Dark Was The Night compilation. If I encountered an absolutely mind-blowing song, I could give you a layer-by-layer analysis of what makes the song so great, down to its transitions, executions, instrumental components and lyrical quirks. But never, could I tell you about the difference between brands of stereo systems, the meanings of different song formats or, quite plainly, the mechanics behind what even merely generates music to begin with.
So it all boils down to what draws you to the sound. If we all enjoyed the exact same song, I would ask you: “Do you hear the shifts in the mood? Do you hear the buildup and the place where the song hits its prime moment?” My father would ask, “What do you think of the sound? Can you feel the bass reverberate on the side of these speakers? Do you hear what happens when I turn this dial?” And by no means is appreciation of music limited to my father’s or my own ways. You define the quality; then, make us hear what you hear.

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