Friday, February 19, 2010

Vinyl Record Musing

It seems like 1-2 million new vinyl records are sold every year....up some years and down others....and who knows how many previously owned vinyl records have changed hands. In the midst of all the arguments over which has the better sound, it's easy to forget a primary distinction.
Going back in time, people used to compare radio sound, recorded sound, and live sound. All of it was "analog," whatever that means.
Consider the vinyl record. Even though it is mass produced, the sound comes from grooves cut in the record. Compared to a CD, or mp3, or wav or wma, it IS LIVE MUSIC. The record is making that music. What happened before the record was made may have involved tape or even digital mastering, but the RECORD IS PLAYING MUSIC.
The digital file, by contrast, is re-constructing music which resides in digital code. And, it's truly amazing how this has become the primary way of listening to music. People love it, while at the same time, it has laid waste to the whole business of music distribution and live performance.
The art of the club DJ was once about the vinyl record. Now software can do just about the same thing.
Selling records since 1997, we seldom know the age or motivations of our buyers. We've been selling books the same amount of time and most years, records are more popular than books.
Records--- bulky, labor-intensive, delicate--- are a big export from the USA to other countries.
And perhaps many people play them only once.
But, the intensity of that one play experience cannot be denied. The record, the music, the effort that went into it, and its cultural significance are handy stimulants available to anyone for a dollar and up.
The most fun of records is going back in time. Most people do not realize that before the late 1940s, records were mostly documents of a performance, rather than a corporate concoction in a studio that started out with the "raw materials" of musicians playing.
Many record fans are eventually led back to the 1920s and 1930s when recording was often a game of 'catch as catch can'.
Perhaps one day digital re-creations will display their lineage of romance and culture. It's probably a matter of demographics.
One artist who worked well with the detritus of analog imagery, including records and TV, was Nam June Paik.
The vinyl record has earned its place in the fields of mass production AND art.

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