Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Listening to a gramophone used to be an irksome business. Nowadays, however, it is possible to be altogether as absorbed in a fine piece of music.... as one would be in the concert hall."
Frank Swinnerton wrote the above in 1923.
"At last an orchestra really sounds like an orchestra; we get.... what we rarely had before-- the physical delight of passionate music in the concert room or opera house."
Ernest Newman wrote the above, about the advent of electrical recording, in 1926.
"Of greatest significance is the replacement of a conventional stylus with a laser beam that scans the record, thus eliminating not only end-of-side distortion but also the friction that generates record wear."
Mortimer H. Frank wrote the above in 1983, about the advent of CD playback.
Since the early 1980s, other things have also changed. Broadcast radio. Music in popular culture. What the eye sees when it hears music. Sheet music. Big hole records. LP records, tapes, CDs. The recipes for making the music: playing an instrument....turning on a radio....spinning a record......popping in a CD. The recipes for care of the artifact.... keep it clean.... put it back in its container..... etc. etc.
Now, similar to when the music industry once deemed the CD would replace the vinyl record, and with popular demand for live music performances less than ever, computerized music is flourishing in its newly miniaturized form, as bits and bytes on inter-networked computers and computer-like appliances. Freed from the irrelevant fetish you hold in your hand-- that record album, that digital storage disc-- music can just be its wonderful invisible self and show off its variety, its border-crossings, its moods, glow,the genius of its practitioners-- and never mind the business model that required garish advertising packages to attract the attention of store buyers. Internet radio in particular provides listeners with amazing tools for understanding and organizing their music listening.
A steady stream of new stuff can pour into the consciousness of anyone whether they are traipsing to a subway stop, sitting in a corporate cubicle, killing an infidel enemy or sending ringtones to friends. Music lovers can travel light while they behold the heaviest sounds.
In this light, alas, a collection of vinyl represents a time past, imbued with the values that attach to your sense of nostalgia (or not.) Lately in the store we have been adding dozens of sheet music songsheets and folios ranging from the late 1800s to around 1950. The often garish covers of these piano/vocal scores might promote the song, or feature the show the song appeared in; maybe even the stars of a film or musical theatre production. The illustration styles reflect the times. People had pianos not iPods. 78 rpm players, not hi-fi's. Radios, not televisions.
We've also put up a few Mosaic Records brochures. These lovely magazines from the 1980s and 1990s were the periodic catalogs of the company run by Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie. The lovingly and discerningly packaged jazz reissues on the Mosaic label incorporated both respect for the originals and the added value of care and significance. The brochure catalogs contain helpful discography information and intelligent articles about the featured artists.
Both examples of ephemera in our store-- songsheets from the early 20th century and reissue catalogs from the late 20th century-- reflect a certain place and time in the dissemination of popular music. Although we do link to amazon mp3 catalogs in our online store, we will always specialize in the older, advertising/artifact encumbered music media. You had to be somewhere to play it on the piano or spin it on a turntable. You couldn't just be anywhere to select your own music, as is possible today. The transistor radio (1960s) provided a glimpse at what we now can experience as exactly the music we want, anytime we want it. Still, I don't know when I'll stop reading the back of an album cover, probably never!

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