Music for Pleasure

A colleague of mine, Alan Stevens, recently wrote in his (excellent) newsletter that he’d been converting his old vinyl LP records to digital files on his PC and commented on his nine year old daughter’s astonishment that they had music ‘on both sides’. It reminded me of the fact that new technology and new ways of doing things are usually more convenient, but not always better, or more fun. Listening to a vinyl LP (or 45 rpm single for that matter – which can be exhilarating) is a totally different experience to listening to a CD or iPod. I would say that it’s a better experience and this is why:

First of all the sleeve is bigger. At 12″ the photos are nice and big and the sleeve is satisfying to hold as you listen to the recording. Care is needed taking the record out of the sleeve impressing upon you the value of what you hold in your hands. You need to slowly lower the needle into place, it can’t be rushed. The sound of a vinyl record is an analogue of the actual sound that was recorded. That means it’s almost exactly the same. This is not true with digital playback which is a sample of the original, it misses data out. True audiophiles can hear the difference and will tell you that CDs sound ‘cold’ compared to the truer, warmer sound of micro-groove vinyl.

But I haven’t mentioned the best bit yet. The record only lasts about twenty minutes or less, even though these are ‘long players’. Then you have to get up, walk across the room and pick the needle up and turn the record over. This has a massive impact on how music was presented and listened too. Artists had to arrange the records with a great opening track and closing track on both sides, like two acts of a play. It also means that you don’t put a record on and then wander off, you actually have to be there and listen to it. You’re involved in it, it’s interactive.

When the record industry sold us shiny CDs they were interested in making a lot of money in the short-term, by re-selling us what we already had, more than they were interested in the quality of the music or the concepts of the album and single . But by changing the listening habits and making music more convenient somthings were lost.
For example, it’s only now, with the concept of downloads that the idea of buying one song (ie. a single) has come back into play.

We all seem to succumb to the marketing messages and the thrill of the new. New technology is like electricity, fire or money – neither good nor bad. It’s what you do with it that counts. Does a high-tech solution always add to the human experience? Or is it better, sometimes, perhaps on a sunny day with a picnic by the river, to open up a hand crafted wooden box to reveal a wind up gramophone which, without contributing any CO2 to global warming, will play a thick shellac disc at 78 rpm and the sounds of musicians and singers who knew nothing of mp3s and downloads, will fill the air. Let’s not give up on an experience for the sake of convenience. Keep your records, keep your CDs and keep downloading. There are times and places for them all.

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