No Stairway!
  Sunday   August 24, 1997




The Usual Suspects

Got my first piece of mail responding to these pages; a two screen rant attacking one of Friday's suggestions to the "Oh. My. God." faction. Reposted with permission, I give you an excerpt from the verbal stylings of my pal Greg:

"I'll have you know, Mr. life-should-conform-to-me-or-else, MIDI not only doesn't suck, but is the backbone of MOST music these days. Nevermind the musical art-for-art's-sake crowd, the die hard accoustic musicians (most of whom are eking out a living at best), I'm referring to those who live and breathe and make a living in studios everywhere."

...and he goes on to explain how MIDI works, why it's nothing like Muzak, and he lists several seminal musicians and bands that use it. It was quite a rant and I'd obviously touched a nerve -- but he misunderstood what I said. And perhaps you did too. So let's review:

I was referring to web pages that for one reason or another are not Army material; i.e., they're not being all they can be. Within that context -- web pages -- MIDI does suck. It sucks because it's a sound effect that while no doubt is intended to enhance the viewing pleasure of a web page, doesn't. In fact, it detracts. With rare exception, this musical interlude is a lackluster, two-dimensional version of a song by someone's favorite pop singer or group. For example, Hansen, an annoyingly inbred trio who will be a long-forgotten footnote on the music scene before they ever sprout pubic hair. Hansen is bad enough, but Hansen interpreted via MIDI is cruel and unusual punishment. Enhancement it ain't.

But it's not just pre-adolescent popster tunes. MIDI is equally bad with classic rock and roll. "Stairway To Heaven" on MIDI is aggravated aural assault. I'm reminded of a scene from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," the one where the doodz are in the guitar shop where the prominently displayed sign reads "No Stairway." Point being that this sign applies to the Web as well. MIDI files on web pages, like the fumbling fingerings of an aspiring lead guitar player, bear very little resemblance to the original article. Sure, we get the basic musical guideposts of the melody, but there's none of the shading that makes the real thing a joy to listen to.

The problem goes beyond the neutered rendition, though. There's the damned endless loops. All of the offending pages have their selection looped so it goes on and on and on like a rabid Energizer Bunny. And then there's the control bar for it -- or maybe there isn't. Too many of these pages hide the control bar at the very bottom of the page so you have to scroll through it desperately, searching for the OFF button. Far too many don't even use the control bar, but have this almost invisible OFF button that requires a magnifying glass to find. The worst offenders don't have any controls at all; the file is there and you just have to live with it blaring through your speakers.

MIDI as background music on web pages just isn't helping the cause. That's all I'm saying. Even if I agree with your taste and like the song you've chosen, it isn't presented in a form I'm going to like. It sounds like Muzak, and I've already said what I'll do for that. If you want me to stick around and read your page then skip the MIDI files, because that's the quickest way to trigger my "back" button. Friends don't let friends use MIDI.

Trust me on this, people; I know what I'm talking about. Life should conform to me.

Or else.





Copyright 1997
Chuck Atkins