Rachel del Valle | A soundtrack for every task


Duly Noted | Digital music has changed the way we listen to music and the way we live


racheldelvalle

Rachel del Valle
Duly Noted

Photo by Rachel del Valle


A few days ago, while listening to Louis Armstrong as I painted my nails, I had a realization: I can’t do anything without a soundtrack. Anything. At all.

Eating, organizing, writing, reading, watching, cleaning, planning, playing. You name it, I have a playlist for it.

It’s like I think I’m in a movie. On wistful days, it’s like a Sofia Coppola film. There’s a lot of sad, mopey music, dark clothes, staring out of windows. When it’s sunnier, I’m in a Cole Porter musical. On those days, there’s lipstick. For the days in between, it’s Woody Allen jazz.

Digital music hasn’t only changed the way we listen to our favorite songs. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it has changed the way we live our lives.

Judging by the number of people I see wearing headphones as they order coffee, I’m not alone in my addiction.

It’s strange to think that, just 10 years ago, all I had was a Sony Walkman, a Christina Aguilera CD and a dream. Now I have thousands of choices. I can take them with me anywhere, listen to them at any time and not worry about scratching them or having to return to my sister so I can get my Michelle Branch CD back.

Just to clarify, I’m not really one of those “music is life” people. I have too little personal musical talent and knowledge to justify that kind of devotion. I just enjoy feeling like the protagonist of my own indie coming-of-age film featuring a witty screenplay and stylish production design.

This dependency started small. I’d be folding laundry and think, “Wouldn’t this be so much better with some Frank Sinatra?” I’d be buttering toast and imagine how good Belle & Sebastian would sound combined with the scraping of the knife.

Admittedly, it wasn’t always that poetic. Sometimes I just wanted to drown out the sound of the girls next to me at Starbucks talking about how drunk they were last night.

But then, inexplicably, I branched out.

Brushing my teeth? I’m going to need some Hall & Oates to make the Crest go down smoother. Standing in CVS, deciding which toothpaste to buy? I think some Glenn Miller would make me more decisive. Writing my weekly column? Fleetwood Mac really helps me with word choice.

My problem got much, much worse when Spotify happened. Normally, I’m a late-adopter with most newfangled online things. I have more pairs of socks than Twitter followers. But for some reason, I jumped on the Spotify bandwagon relatively early.

I don’t really buy into their whole “music is about sharing” spiel. It sounds a little too much like a kindergarten teacher for me. Instead, what appeals to me about Spotify is more selfish. Their approach to playlists, which combines their music with my iTunes, is brilliant.

Spotify allows me to supplement my iTunes “It’s a Good Day” playlist with songs I enjoy just enough to not pay for them. I can pepper in some Cranberries for a few days and purge after I’ve listened to “Linger” too many times. I can dance around to “Get Up Offa That Thing” every morning as I get out of bed. Hypothetically.

It doesn’t matter how sick of a song I make myself because there’s a seemingly infinite number of other options just waiting to be played as I clean my room or eat my breakfast or write my to do list.

I’ve only recently come to terms with the fact that some activities — like reading for class — are better without background music.

To be honest, I think I’ve known this for a while. It doesn’t really make sense that early peppy Beatles music would help with comprehension of Rousseau. But, like the discomfort of heels or the grossness of kale, I found it hard to admit.

I would sit in Fisher Fine Arts, headphones on, Walt Whitman in front of me, my mind on Miles Davis. While that juxtaposition of things is lovely, it doesn’t really lend itself to productivity.

So I decided to go audio-free for a weekend, just at the library of course. I left my headphones at home lest I was tempted.

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate the silence. And the ability to eavesdrop.

Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is rdel@sas.upenn.edu. Duly Noted appears every Monday.

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