“A record was like a massive flat mp3…. there was almost no information on it at all. It was very impractical – it could break or warp in the heat and get scratched…
…but it was better than your life.”
— Stewart Lee
I finally got my record player plugged back in. I unplugged it in late December to make room for a seven foot Norwegian Spruce that I’d covered in glass balls and low voltage white bulbs. We’d long since thrown that tree away and vacuumed up thousands of tiny needles and now it was time to re-install just one needle in its place.
There was an air of anticipation and excitement. My three children gathered around. From a massive pile of 7” black discs, some in paper sleeves with pictures on, some in plain green sleeves, they selected one.
Oliver (age 6) slid it out of its cover and I showed him how to place it on the spindle by touching only the edges. I told him to flick the switch on the left to ’45’. I lifted the metal arm over just a little bit and Mabel (age 4) flicked the switch on the right; once to make the platter spin and again to lower the needle into place.
We all watched as the disc span round and round at 45 revolutions per minute. A crackling sound, like that of a well established fire came from the speakers. Then, the room was filled with the booming mono sound of the most energetic 2 minutes and 35 seconds ever committed to the physical realm.
49 years ago, a few young men played and sang live in a recording studio in Abbey Road, London, using their voice boxes, guitars and a drum kit. The sound they’d made caused vibrations in the air which caused magnets to create electronic fluctuations along a wire which cause another magnet to re-arrange the rust particles on a lengthy plastic tape into a pattern.
Later, another magnet was affected by those magnetic particles from the tape causing low level electronic fluctuations in a wire which were amplified by a complex arrangement of glass vacuum valves to move a diamond tipped needle to vibrate. The needle was held still while a lacquered disc spun round at speed, allowing the needle to carve a spiral on its surface.
A mould was made from that lacquered disc and a glass disc was made from the mould. This was then pressed onto millions on lumps of hot vinyl plastic which were flattened into a 7” disc.
One of those discs found its way into a shop in mid 1963 and was bought by my Dad. 18 years ago when I got my own house, I liberated it, and now it was here, spinning around in my lounge with my three children jumping and dancing to the sound of the Beatles performing Twist and Shout live in 2012.
They were in room with us. This was no sample. No abstract digital file in the cloud from zeros and ones in a computer. They were here for real. (As real as a reflection in a mirror of you, is actually you, where a photograph of you is not you.)
That record is a time mirror that reflects their sound, via magnets and needles, right here from the long distant, unimaginable so-called past of 1963 to today, here and now. They were with us, alive and happy and infectious.
But more important that all that was the fact that my children were dancing and singing. Music was real. They could see it. They could touch it. They could choose it.
The past two weeks have seen Oliver become a DJ, going through my collection of singles and albums, intrigued how the large cover images may relate to the secret sounds hidden within the grooves. He’s playing tracks for his sisters to dance to, or draw to, or play to. He wants to be like Ringo and play the drums so he can come with me to my conference performances and provide the beat for my keynote songs.
He’s developed an ‘ear’. Some tracks he says are ‘too noisy’ or ‘too sad’. Mabel has lifted the piano lid and is more considerate in which keys she presses. She knows that some combinations are more pleasing than others. Our youngest is just 20 months old. When the records are on she smiles and dances and twirls.
It’s an involved process to choose which record to put on. You have to make a decision that will involve some physical activity that needs to be done with great care. The records are precious and fragile, and therefore by association, so too is the music. So once a record is on, it needs to play all the way through. It needs to be listened to, to be engaged with. There’s no easy way to change your mind, or to default to ‘shuffle’. You make your choice and stick with it.
Is there a danger, in our perceived search and adopted desire for ‘easy’ and ‘quick’ we are at risk of overlooking the experience altogether? After all, what is music ‘for’?
In our instant coffee, free download, always online world, do we rush through the day to get to the evening? Do we sometimes rush through the week to get to the weekend? Do we rush our children through childhood so they can grow up? And rush them through education so they can get some certificates?
Do we risk rushing the journey of life to get to the destination of the grave in the easiest and shortest possible time? Do we risk taking for granted the complexity of the human experience in order to dumb it down to effortless chicken nuggets that we can consume on the move?
Take a moment.
Dust off your own record player (whatever that might be) and put on a record. Choose it. Touch it. See it. Listen to it. Dance to it. Enjoy it.
Life is not about the needle reaching the run-out groove in the centre of the record.
It’s about the music in between.
Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.
Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.
For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com
And by the way. For those of you who read my blogs and take all the metaphors literally: this is not a blog about replacing new technology with gramophone vinyl records. If you thought that, this blog is not for you. You’ll find material better suited to your taste here.
This analogy will strike a chord with all of us of a certain age. Beautifully written, from the heart.
A good read mate. When I started on radio it was all about records. We used to line them up at the start and then wind them back half a turn, so they could be up to speed once we’d opened the fader. Happy days.
For me, the medium defines the experience – my dance 12″ singles are more exciting when played on my Technics 1210, the old 70s rock sounds as it should from an 8-Track cartridge (if the machine is having a good day) and the world is a more tranquil place when some light classics are playing as if in time with the turning of the big 10″ tape spool of my old Sony machine. Sadly none of that is an option in the car, so thank heavens for digital media and the ability to carry the music, if not the whole experience, wherever I go.
Fantastic! One of your greatest posts. RT’d. F/Bd!
Cheers, Andy. Well done.