from The New Yorker 2.9.09 Dithering: Jonny Greenwood SASHA FRERE-JONES: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music? JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me. They can even put a helpful crunchiness onto some recordings. We listened to a lot of nineties hip-hop during our last album, all as MP3s, all via AirTunes. They sounded great, even with all that technology in the way. MP3s might not compare that well to a CD recording of, say, string quartets, but then, that’s not really their point. SFJ: Do you ever hear from your fans about audio fidelity? JG: We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn’t encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you’re already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands. SFJ: Do you think any of the MP3 generation—ten- to twenty-five-year-olds—want a higher quality experience? JG: No. That comes later. It’s those thirty-something men who lurk in hi-fi shops, discussing signal purity and oxygen-free cables and FLACs. I should know—I was very nearly one of them. SFJ: What are your feelings about the various audio formats? JG: Sonic quality is important. I’d feel frustrated if we couldn’t release CDs as a band, but then, it only costs us a slight shaving of sound quality to get to the convenience of the MP3. It’s like putting up with tape hiss on a cassette. I was happy using cassettes when I was fifteen, but I’m sure they were sneered at in their day by audiophiles. If I’m on a train, with headphones, MP3s are great. At home, I prefer CD or vinyl, partly because they sound a little better in a quiet room and partly because they’re finite in length and separate things, unlike the endless days and days of music stored on my laptop. SFJ: Do you record any differently now, knowing that the end result will likely be an MP3? JG: No, but it was interesting how some tracks fared the conversion to MP3 better than others. It was never bad. SFJ: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the MP3 age? JG: The downside is that people are encouraged to own far more music than they can ever give their full attention to. People will have MP3s of every Miles Davis’ record but never think of hearing any of them twice in a row—there’s just too much to get through. You’re thinking, “I’ve got ‘Sketches of Spain and ‘Bitches Brew’—let’s zip through those while I’m finishing that e-mail.” That abundance can push any music into background music, furniture music. SFJ: Freestyle here. Inject any relevant, burning thoughts. JG: I find this sound quality stuff both fascinating and ridiculous. It’s like the pixel resolution of digital cameras: higher numbers are better, but that discussion always pushes the actual photography to one side, somehow.