A New Generation of (Generous?) Sound Devices

Dmitri Prieto

HAVANA TIMES — There was a time in which “pocket” transistor radios were a novelty. People walked around holding their small radios to their ears, listening to their music of choice or a baseball game.

For those who had lived in the era of vacuum-tube radios as large as a piece of household furniture, it was surprising to see how a device the size of a soapbox could perform the same functions.

The same thing happened with tape players and recorders that came to replace those complex reel-to-reel devices and elegant LP-players that looked like something pulled out of a professional recording studio.

I wasn’t around during those times. I do however recall the famous Walkmans, the arrival of CD players and the development of a sub-culture that seemed to be opposed to the miniaturization of devices.

While Walkmans (and later Discmans) delivered high-fidelity and stereo sound straight to the ears of those who owned these gadgets, we began to see a series of people – young and not-so-young – who went around (on buses, parks and beaches) carrying huge sound equipment fitted with powerful speakers. The interesting thing is that, many a time, they were alone and not part of a group of partying friends, carrying such large sound equipment for their own, individual enjoyment (and sometimes “generously” sharing their music with the rest of the humans on the bus, at the park or beach).

Listening to a small transistor radio or a Walkman seemed ridiculous to these individuals.

Then came MP3-players and a whole slew of digital audio paraphernalia (including the IPod), as well as cell phones that could hold an entire music store inside them.

And we’re again seeing the trend we saw a quarter of a century ago!

People aren’t fully satisfied with their miniatures and with a world of people where everyone listens to their music privately. Chinese companies have responded with pastel-colored gadgets that recall simple geometric shapes, such as cubes, cylinders and cones (I have yet to see a dodecahedron…pardon the tongue-twister). They are not the most ergonomic designs out there, but they are singularly beautiful…and of such sound capacity that they eliminate the need for headphones and allow for the “fraternal” sharing of music with one’s peers.

One can connect USB memories with a pile of mp3 recordings (preferably reggaeton) to these devices, and the musical satisfaction of a discerning crowd of bus passengers is guaranteed.

I’ve noticed these gadgets are becoming increasingly big. This growth nostalgically takes me back to those 1 meter by 30 centimeter double-cassette players with round speakers, like the one Cuban reggaeton artist Patry White (“The Dictator”) holds in the cover of one of her CDs.

We’ll probably be seeing new versions of these “collective” sound devices. These will perhaps spew out colored smoke, laser beams and foam while boisterously regurgitating the most recent reggaeton hit for the enjoyment of the entire bus.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.