Neil Young's New Sound

Neil Young's New Sound

SXSW Field Notes — Neil Young is well-known for his DIY-ethic in music but he's also applied it to fields ranging from filmmaking to inventing. Now he's on a mission to save music and launched a Kickstarter campaign for his ultra high-resolution music player at SXSW.

Everything you’ve heard is wrong. That was the message Neil Young brought to SXSW. Young came to say if you haven’t truly heard the music you love if you’ve been listening to MP3s, or any other digital format that compresses information in a song, sacrificing some of the most pleasant and satisfying aspects of the music to take up as little digital storage space as possible.

To change that, the godfather of grunge launched a Kickstarter campaign here for his new Pono music system on Tuesday at the music, film and technology festival in Austin, Texas. He said he initiated the project two years ago because he felt he needed to rescue an art form.

Pono is the latest example of Young putting his mind to something and going to extreme lengths to see it through. He’s also been working with engineers and investors for years on an electric car, the LincVolt.

In a presentation capping the technology part of the conference, Young showed a passion on stage that no other start-up founder who spoke in the previous days could match. His voice rose as he spoke about what was lost in an iTunes culture where individual songs were pale versions of what musicians intended and often bought separately instead of as part of an album.

“As a guy who had been making records for many years already at that point I was pissed off about that because I love making records,” Young said. “That’s what I do. I love every song on a record. I love every note on every song on every record. They meant something to me. They’re a family of songs that were telling a story of how I was feeling and they weren’t just filler.”

While video and photography technology constantly strives for higher definition, Young bemoaned that MP3s, the most widely accepted digital format for music was only 5% the highest recording quality available.

“People were still buying it because they love music,” he said. “But they were buying wallpaper. They were buying background sounds. They were buying Xeroxes of the Mona Lisa.”

Young did not give the capacity crowd at SXSW an opportunity to hear Pono’s sound quality during his presentation, but he played video testimonials from musicians who had, including Beck, Jack White, Patti Smith, Jack Johnson, Arcade Fire and Dave Grohl. By the end of his talk, Pono’s Kickstart has raised 75% of its $800,000 target.

Pono CEO John Hamm said they had chosen to raise money on Kickstarter to build a community around the system which plays any format of music from MP3s to ultra-high resolution 192kHz/24 bit recordings.

Young said he wanted to create “a new system that was not a format and had no rules, that respected the art, respected what the artist was trying to do, and did everything it could to give you what the artist gave.”

For more information on Neil Young’s Pono go to the project’s Kickstarter page.