What to make of a wireless system that has to be plugged in with wires.

What to make of a wireless system that has to be plugged in with wires. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

I have just written to the director of the National Security Agency in the US, pleading for help with a Christmas present.

My wife and I gave ourselves a wireless sound system for Christmas. My wife loves wireless. Well, to be more precise, she hates wires, in particular the tangle of wires that used to come with sound systems - those crossing the floor to speakers, power points, amplifiers and the like.

When you add to this computer, scanners, printers, chargers, modems, routers, headphones, external hard drives and the like, you soon have a spaghetti of copper and plastic, or more like a mix of spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghettoni and fettucine in copper and plastic.

Anyway, we unpacked the ''wireless'' sound system - a playbar and subwoofer. (''Why a SUBwoofer?'' my wife asked. ''For that money, couldn't we have a full woofer?'')

I quickly learned that we needed at least two wires: one for power and the other to connect directly to the house's wireless router. The instructions were plain. The wireless sound system had to be connected to the house wireless system by - well, yes - a wire.

It was going to be a long Christmas morning.

Further, to work the system, I had to download an app so that my iPhone could be the controller for the sound system. At least that meant one fewer remote controls on the coffee table. Indeed, we should stop calling the low table in front of the lounge the ''coffee table'' and start calling it the ''remote table''. After all, that is now its primary function.

I am now about an hour and half into the ''simple set-up'' and have not heard a squeak out of the playbar or even a low moan out of the subwoofer, let alone the clear voices of the King's College Choir's Christmas carols or the notes of Handel's Messiah.

Then, after much button pushing and internet searching for YouTube instruction videos (one of which spent three minutes telling me how to unpack the box and just 8.3 seconds on the critical wireless set-up) the app finally said the thing was connected.

But, alas, not a note from Handel nor a ''Hark'' from any angels singing.

So, I tried to connect to the internet streaming service Pandora. Success! Music!

Pandora is a very clever app. You search for your first song or piece of music and it then selects other music similar to it and plays for hours before it might play a single 30-second advertisement. The copyright owners are happy because people are occasionally introduced to music they may never have heard before but is within their taste zone and so might buy it.

But the trouble with these sorts of apps and Apple's iTunes is that they are hopeless for classical music.

They treat each track as a ''song'', so each movement in a single work is treated as a separate ''song''. Moreover, the labelling convention for classical music is quite mad. The ''artist'' assignment goes to the performing orchestra or soloist and the name of the ''song'' is the movement number. The name of the composer (the critical thing) does not feature.

Trying to gather the three movements of, say, Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto in iTunes and get them to play as a single work has extracted many an exclamation of ''Oh dear, why is this so difficult'', or words to that effect. It makes me nostalgic for the old 33rpm vinyl LPs where tracks are in immutably fixed order. I prefer not to stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus until AFTER the sheep have gone astray.

As it happens, I have found a way to order my classical CDs on my computer but on Christmas Day, ''on Christmas Day in the morning'', there was no way I could get the new music machine to read them. Hence the letter to the National Security Agency.

You see, the NSA is quite adept at reading files on personal computers. And I was just wondering if it could do me a favour. While it was reading the files on my computer in the study, maybe it could just drop a copy of the music files on to the music machine in the lounge room as they were on their way to Washington DC.

Now I accept that it will be impossible to do that for some of the files. There are a couple of subversive tracks on there. Bob Dylan's Times They Are A'Changin' and Joan Baez's We Shall Overcome might stretch the friendship with the NSA a bit. The NSA is supposed to help eliminate subversive activity, not promote it by copying it to lounge-room music systems.

While I was at it I asked the NSA if it thought all this file copying was consistent with the US government's view on copyright protection and the Australian government's obsequious acquiescence to it.

The US and Australian response to the ease with which people (and the NSA, indeed) can copy files, including music, movies and books, is to make the activity a criminal offence punishable by fines and jail, instead of a mere civil matter resulting in damages only.

They want the resources of the state to go to enforcing copyright for big corporations and do not ask what the public gets back. In theory, the works should go into the public domain after a while, but the US wants to lengthen the time so the public use is forever being shrunk.

I don't expect an answer.

Anyway, it is now Boxing Day and Joan Baez has been proved wrong: we have not overcome the technological difficulties of the ''simple set-up''.

Maybe by next Christmas I will have wired up an old CD player; traipsed wire all over the lounge-room floor; and relined the walls with shelves of CDs placed in alphabetical order according to composer.

Hallelujah!

www.crispinhull.com.au