Visiting Milan

I am currently in Switzerland for the fourth time since last September. But I have yet to leave Confoederatio Helvetica, the Latin name for what is now the state of Switzerland, during any of my trips here. That changed this past weekend when I traveled to Milan, Italy. Although I had visited Italy more than six years ago, this was my first trip to Milan. People I asked mentioned that it could be done in a day trip and so that is what I planned. Traveling with some colleagues from work I spent the day in one of the fashion capitals of the world. I strolled the streets of the Golden Triangle and peered into shops where I knew I could not even come close to affording the cheapest item in the store. I walked the ancient streets on my way to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle. After exploring the roof and intricate architecture of the Duomo, Milan’s centerpiece and massive cathedral, I admired the beautiful and colorful stained glass windows found inside. And I explored an outdoor marketplace away from the city center where the city’s vibrant immigrant scene was on full display.

Overall it was a fun trip. But I feel no need to go back anytime soon. I got a feel for the city during my short time in Italy and saw a few of the sites. What was most striking, however, was the difference between Italy and Switzerland. As one colleague later told me, as frustrating as living in Switzerland may be for someone not from here, you don’t fully appreciate it until you travel to other parts of Europe. I wholeheartedly agree.

Hey Mr. DJ

I was reminded this week of an old ambition of mine – I used to want to be a radio DJ. Not one of the morning talk show DJs or even an afternoon let-me-solve-your-problems DJ, but a late-night, slow-jams-playing, small-audience-listening DJ. The type of DJ not hired for their voice, celebrity appeal or wittiness, but useful only in his ability to choose and play good music. I wanted to play slow-jam R&B and smooth jazz hits for everyone listening at home or on the road after 10:00 pm. Of course, my life has gone in a very different direction. I never did seriously pursue a life of DJing as I guess I didn’t think of it as a stable career path; I ended up in the law instead.

But that doesn’t mean I have never been on the radio. While in Japan several years ago, I found myself spending two months in the mountainous town of Toyooka, near the Japan Sea. In the middle of the largest shopping center in the town was a booth in which the local pop radio station broadcast live. As it turns out, my American companion at the time and I came to know the DJ and were invited to be on the radio during her afternoon program. Her last name was Hashimoto, but her DJ name was Hershey. I will forever remember my on-air conversation in Japanese with Hershey. She asked us about our hometown (Seattle) and what we thought of Japan (liked it) and even allowed us to dedicate a song. I chose a hit song by Utada Hikaru and, after giving a shout-out to all my friends and family back in the States, dedicated the song to all of the Utada lovers out there in Toyooka. It was a fun experience and may be the only time in my life I am actually on live radio. The thoughts of being a DJ have died as I have grown older, but my love for music and choosing music has not.

Music’s Medium Through the Years

I look back at my relatively short life and am amazed at the changes in how I listen to music. I don’t go back to the days of vinyl records or 8-tracks, but I do clearly remember the days of cassette tapes. I remember having several briefcase-like containers that I could insert my tapes in. I bought several tapes as a youth and spent hours mixing and making my own tapes. Many of the boomboxes of the late 1980s and early 1990s had dual cassette tape players meant for people to record whatever songs they wanted on blank tapes. I made tapes for road trips, for working out, for relaxing, and so on. You name the activity and I had a mix tape for it. But of course, CDs had gained in popularity while I was still young and soon tapes became difficult to find. CDs were great because a listener could easily skip to the track they wanted without having to rewind or fast-forward. Options such as ‘repeat’ or ‘random’ became music necessities.

In 1998 as I was moving to Japan, CDs were still popular and, thanks to computers, people had begun to ‘burn’ music they wanted onto blank CDs, much as I did with my tapes. While in Japan I was confronted with mini disc players, or MDs. Although similar to CDs, MDs were smaller and enclosed in a hard case. They were also recordable and I swapped many MDs with friends during my two-year stay in Japan. When I returned to the U.S. I thought I would be at the forefront of technology with my state-of-the-art MD player only to find that the U.S. had skipped MDs all together and had gone straight to MP3s. Napster was still in nascent operation in 2000 (albeit illegally) and I obtained an education in digital file sharing through friends in college. Just for the record, I did not own a computer and did not download files illegally, but did receive burned CDs from friends from their music library.  

While in college I found Internet radio. Tired of listening to the MDs or CDs I owned at the time, I recall plugging in my headphones to a library computer and working for hours on end while listening to various stations online through Live 365 or MSN Radio. It was refreshing to be able to have access to countless genres of non-stop streaming radio whenever I wanted. Later in life, while in law school, I received an iPod and became familiar with iTunes. I copied my entire CD collection onto my iPod and for the first time became familiar with podcasts, then just becoming popular.

Today, I still listen to my iPod almost daily as I commute, but have found that I am generally tired of spending money for music. I doubt I will buy another physical CD ever again. If I want to listen to music these days beyond my iPod, I can access Pandora or Slacker Radio for free on my phone. And in the near future, Spotify will finally be available in the U.S. and will allow anyone to download any song on their computer for free. I can’t imagine how my children will listen to music. Really, what could be next after this? Smaller digital music files? Better quality streaming without any lags? Unlimited skips on free Internet radio sites? Music is here to stay, but the way we listen to it will forever change. My failure to imagine the next possibilities, I guess, is partly why I am not rich.