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.


Healer68 said...

Yes, the experts are right about the superior sound of LPs. Although, the term "expert" is still based mostly on personal preference. Not scientific facts. But, even with the major inconveniences, LP records are a much better experience to those who ever try both analog and digital.

I grew up on turn tables. Back in the day, there were basically only two types of musical medium: records (LPs), and tapes (reel to reel or cassects). At least, that was the slang terminology for them.

Although you had a lot of "snap crackle and pop" in records, especially as they became worn, they had a much richer, deeper tone. Especially in the base range. Even without amps, you could EASILY blow out even a good set of speakers with a good base line and a good crank of the volume. Also, you usually have a constant and sometimes anoying "hiss" from tape as well as "bleed through" caused by low quality tape. Bleed through is when you can actually hear the music, in reverse, on the opposite track. In this case, track reffered to having only two tracks on a each side of a reel of tape, or two tracks on a cassest. Then you had the good old, bulkey 8 track tape cassets that came out after reels and before modern cassests. Damn what a mess. :(

Anyway, starting an LP is hard, and can be a real pain in the ass if the room was too dark. Not to mention, it can cause you to jump out of your socks if you have the volume way up and scraped the needle accross the record. Also, try threading a reel of tape through the heads then looping into the other reel, THEN putting said reel onto the second hub or w/e it's called. That's a lot of fun.

But, that's also what made listening to music so much more enjoyable back then. You were able to appreciate the tunes much more because, as Odette was saying, you had to get off your lazy ass and swap out records or cassets when the tracks ran out. And, the closest thing to "5 disc CD changers" were multiple record turn tables that would drop a new record after one was finished. Don't ask me how they worked.

Speaking of tracks, there was no such thing as rewind or fast forward with records. You had to look down and count the number of thick grooves carved into the record to know which song was which. But, that was still easier than finding a tune on reels or cassets.

Higher end reel and casset players usually had counters built in so you could kinda sorta tell where you were at any point along the tape and rewind or fast forward to the spots you want. However, if you didn't push the little reset button in between tapes, you're screrwed. There's no visible signs or markings on tape to give you a clue where any tune is and the players had little or now info about them.

By the way. To all you techno geeks who think you're real slick cause you "mix your own CDs", try doing that while swapping out reels, cassets or records every time you stop and start recording a new tune. Not to mention splicing a torn tape. Now THAT's skill.

As I said above, analog albums, especially LPs, have a a much deeper tone, and in some cases, more clarity. Just like the old vacuum tube stereos had compaired to solid state (hi fi) or digital equipment. I've listened to, or owned all of the above and trust me, you CAN tell the difference.

And, yes boys and girls. These things actually did exist. They're not just old myths told by your parents or grandparents to guilt trip you for asking them for money to buy a 2nd or 3rd mp3 player just because it has extra doohickies and what not. ;)

amna said...

ha ha ha, it reminds me of my golden childhood years at the farm when this thing was the most precious treasure in every household, who cares for the black and white TV during those years at the farm, everybody was keen to listen ballad songs after whole day of toiling farm labor under the burning sun.

Years ago, i happened to pass by in a garage sale where I bought lots of old classical records. Kept them for so many years hoping to bump in with that turntable record player but no luck until i decided to donate all those records in Salvation Army including my most treasured one,from the Sound of Music movie which was signed by Christpoher Plummer himself when he came to my workplace.

I don't know if those farm folks are still keeping thier record players but i doubt it since i saw already colored tv's and karaoke machines in their homes the last time i visited the farm.

Sid Brechin said...

Think the fact that a copy of the Beatles sold on Ebay last week for over 37,000 euros has anything to do with it.

Main difference is cd's and dvd's are digital sound lp's and 45's which only had two songs one per side and is the origin of the term flipside. Are analog sound the same way the ear hears.

As for harder not anymore. Jukeboxes with remote controls make the biggest lp collections no tougher than the simplest remote control television. If there is one thing the human race is good at it's that we are terrific at getting lazier.

blue_butterfly said...

Hi Amna, I am glad to see you here too. Oh yes, those were the days... I remember in grade school we have to practice the hula dance with the turntable planked on the floor next to us and Ray Coniff belting Tiny Bubbles as we sway our hips to the beat. Same when we did the Grease musical, Newtonjohn and Travolta cooing as we act out the scene. Memories...memories...

Anonymous said...

i remember when dances had records, and then came the tapes and everyone thought that was the 'in' thing.... vinyl has a romance to it that stays with those that collect and still use it... there IS a warmth to the sound that some really like, regradless of the pops and cracks in the audio.... if you have a good turntable and cartridge (needle) they can sound great, actually...

A friend of mine has an entir room of his house dedicated to his vinly collection, and he is quite proud of it... there must be thousands of records in there, and he is sooo carefull when he plays one, he wipes the record and cleans his hands before handling them, etc....

sonically, there are nuanses (spelling) to every audio medium that can be easily heard. The love of vinyl would be somethingwarranted over someone having a collection of 8track-s, hehehe... they are still tape, but an odd, proprietary concept. They might be next :)

I still have an old reel to reel tape machine, 2 track, but I use it mostly for converting peoples old tapes to cd's before the taped deteriorate... many older folks come to me and ask who does that at the music store, so I have made some re-samples and cd's of their tapes for them. (made a few dollars) It is nice to convert them for them, but its also nice to hear some older recordings, voices, and radio shows, and keep them listenable for future ears. But vinyl will still be around for those collecting and keeping that nostalgic, warm, 'sexy' medium.



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