Friday, 15 April 2011

The joy of a good record...

There’s something special about music. Clearly it wouldn’t play such a major part in my life and the life of so many other people if it wasn’t somehow special. The hundred year old technology of recorded sound should still qualify as one of the great achievements of our time. Yet it has become so ubiquitous, so commonplace, that it devalues and banalises that which it was invented to preserve.

From the radios in our cars to the music piped into every lift, the omnipresence of recorded music obscures the greatness of that music. Who sits in their local coffee house and ponders how many years of craftsmanship, practice and hard work went into the trumpet solo on the Miles Davis record that’s playing? I’m pretty sure it’s just me. For that matter I’m pretty sure I’m in a minority even noticing which record is playing. There’s so much wonderful music out there, and yet by putting it everywhere we go, we forget its brilliance.

Indirectly this lack of value placed on music manifests in underpaid musicians and the fact that no one stops to listen to buskers.

All of which, by somewhat circuitous route, bring me to my love of vinyl. I’m no Luddite. Digital music has much to offer. Reduced recording and distribution costs associated with the digital format mean many wonderful artists are easily accessible who wouldn’t be otherwise, and as if to prove that point I own two packed mp3 players. But, in my life at least, digital music seems to inevitably form the background to some other activity, whether it’s listening to my mp3 player on my run, streaming internet radio as I type this, or even the CD that plays in the kitchen as I make dinner, it always seems secondary to the task in hand. We put on digital music, just to ignore it.

A good old fashioned record doesn’t do that. You can’t put a turntable in your car (not since the invention of the speed hump at any rate). You can’t spin a Long Player on your jog. Records are beautiful, bulky delicate things that need to be handled with love. So when you put on an LP you have to carefully drop the needle onto the crackly surface, sit down in your living room and actually listen to the warm sounds flowing forth. A little ritual to pay homage to the miracle of recorded sound, to the fact that this music is so good it couldn’t be left in the moment it was played, but instead needed to be preserved to be repeated and enjoyed again and again.

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