Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Vinyl Word

I couldn't resist the title. Sorry. 

So, records... Old-fashioned, 33 RPM, vinyl records...

Don't run away -- this is not going to be an audiophile post, I promise. I'm not a fan of most 'Philes, to be honest with you. I am a fan of the Phillies, but not of the 'Philes, just to keep things straight. 

(Too much coffee this morning. Mea culpa.) 

Anyway, records. I like them. I just patched up the old stereo system with a new amplifier -- which gets used mostly for watching movies in 5.1 surround. (Surround just makes movies so much cooler. The first fight scene in the not-bad Gibson movie, The Patriot, will sell you on the merits of surround sound, if you are not already a believer.)

But, having gotten a turntable a few years ago, I have been rebuilding a record collection. 

There is a camp that argues for the merits of "analog" sound (records and tape), versus "digital" (CDs and MP3s) but, as a musician who works primarily in the digital world, I see the merits of both. (I do think, however, that one can hear a major difference between MP3s and streaming, as opposed to CDs or records. Too much to go into, here.)

This is not about sound quality, though; it's about the experience of listening to a record. 

When I decide to listen to an vinyl album, I have to put it on the turntable, drop the needle and sit back to listen. There is no easy "pausing" and there is no skipping of tracks without standing up, walking across the room and lifting the needle -- after which, one has to find the notch between tracks and carefully put the needle down in the right spot, which is usually a question of trial and error, laced with stifled profanities. (The other day, listening to Sting's The Soul Cages, I actually sat through "St. Agnes and the Burning Train." Who does that?) 

With a record, one commits to the act of listening with attention in a way one doesn't with playlists. And, halfway through, one needs to flip the record over. This, to me, is a refocusing of attention and an awakening of the body: standing up re-awakens the brain, which is why I sometimes tell my classes, mid-session, to stand up and then sit down again. 

And we can't forget the fact that albums were created as songs grouped together around a central idea or theme or vibe, in the past -- or, at the very least, were written during the same timespan and, so, share similarities, if only as a result of the songwriters' preferences or artistic development at the time. This is a completely different experience than setting the phone on "shuffle." (Around the time of the inception of the iPod, I had a young student tell me he listened to new albums on "shuffle" so he never got tired of the order. But the order was chosen for a reason...or, used to be.)

Undeniably, there is an element of nostalgia for a guy my age in listening to actual records: the large-scale cover art; the liner notes; the lyrics. But, listeing to a record used to be an active process, whereas now music has become more of a background thing for most people. 

I like the connection and the committment of listening to a record. And, yes, sitting between loudspeakers that are moving actual air and hearing sounds generated from a needle traveling through actual grooves in actual material must, in some way, make a difference. 

In case you are wondering, no: I never understood why people were nostalgic about the cracks, pops and jumps. They still suck. Which is why I highly recommend re-releases on 180 gram vinyl. 

Now get out there and spin stuff. 

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