Saturday, November 29, 2008
A blast from the past.
What? vinyl is still alive?
For those who are having senior moments and can’t remember them, or those who are having junior moments and haven’t heard of them, vinyl is the thing you spin on a turntable, a needle running through its grooves, producing the scratchy sound you hear in loudspeakers. Its last incarnation was the LP, or long playing record, which contained about a dozen songs in them, six to a side. I guess, that's where "flipside" originates.
I have read on the Internet that some labels in the United States and Europe have resumed producing vinyl records for new artists, though they’re a lot pricier now than they once were. The keeping of vinyl alive has a completely practical value. Which is that vinyl is superior in sound to the CD. That is at least the consensus among experts.
It’s nice to know that not all that is new represents an improvement on the old. I am not averse to change and newness. I certainly prefer the PC to the typewriter, manual or electric. But it’s nice to know that analog still has its virtues, or indeed its superiorities.
Using vinyl entails (re)entering a fairly unhurried world, where you invest some time listening to music, treating it as a real object of attention rather than collateral sound. But as always, there is a rub to it.
To play vinyl, you have to physically raise the lid of the turntable, slip the record into place, carefully lift the tone arm and lower the needle down to the edge of the spinning disc. At the end of five or six songs, you have to stand up, a not very easy thing to do if you’re plunked down on the sofa, tiredness beginning to ooze off you like the ebbing of the tide, to flip the disc over. And you can’t skip a song, unless you’re prepared to stand up before the whole side is done. There’s no “Next” on the player, or on the ultimate source of household wars, the remote control, to get past the unwanted track.
But vinyl has no end of joys to reward those willing to be initiated into its world. At the very least, it doesn’t give you a sense of life flitting by.
Looking back, the reason the old songs seem so memorable to us, quite apart from the mnemonic powers of nostalgia, was that we couldn’t just click the annoying tracks away, unless you were willing to go through the motions described above.
Listening to vinyl is not unlike preparing tea Zen-style. It is a ritual all its own.