Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Musical Renaissance

Every now and then I find some very interesting and compelling opinions and stories about vinyl records. I want to thank Joesph M. Jamison for allowing me to reprint this splendid article from the web site

A Musical Renaissance

By Joseph M. Jamison

Do The Evolution

There are two things I know: diamonds are forever and music is timeless.

Since man began walking upright, music has been a mainstay of life. Whether it was a stick being banged on a rock with precise repetition or Neanderthals grunting together in perfect harmony, there has always been music. Kurt Vonnegut said that the only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.

The problem was, in earlier times, the only way to hear your favorite artist was to attend a live performance. These performances, of course, were reserved for the wealthy and most fortunate.

A technological revolution came in 1877, when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Unfortunately for audiophiles, the light bulb in Edison's brain was conjuring up other ideas; while the phonograph allowed users to record and playback sound, the full potential of music was never tapped. It wasn’t until 1888, when Emile Berliner invented the gramophone and used discs to record sound. The modern recording process was born.

Since the days of the gramophone record, the list of audio formats is, in a word, lengthy. Some formats revolutionized the consumer market, some were used for production only, and some were just tossed aside. First to evolve was the 78-rpm record, followed by the LP and 45-rpm record. The 4-track and 8-track cassettes never had a chance and cassette tapes (elcasets) came and went. Compact discs changed the market when they were introduced in the early 1980’s, making every other media format obsolete. Experts predict, however, that the compact disc will soon be an afterthought with the surge of digital downloads.

Spin The Black Circle

Even though CD sales have been plummeting and digital downloading is on the rise, music purists and collectors alike still buy vinyl records. In fact, the numbers indicate that vinyl is making a comeback. They’re big, clunky, and difficult to store, but people love them, myself included. We have our reasons:

1. Quintessential - Vinyl records are the original format in which music was produced. There is a certain romanticism to listening to a vinyl record that other formats just can’t provide.

2. Conceptual - Artists often would have different themes for each side, which just can’t be done with a CD.

3. Distinctive - The sound quality is different. I didn’t say better, I said different. The grooves in the record produce a sound that has yet to be matched by any other format. The frequency is lower, and the cracks, hisses, and pops are just, well, awesome. Listen to the Cold War Kids' Robbers and Cowards in both vinyl and CD. It’s an excellent example of why the vinyl record is perfect for rock music.

4. Artistic - The packaging is bigger, allowing for much broader canvas for album artwork.

5. Accessible - The production of USB turntables allows users to transfer audio from vinyl records to a computer and turn them into mp3s. Part of the reason for the rise of cassette tapes and compact discs was the portability of them, allowing users to take them anywhere. With the USB turntable, transferring that unique vinyl record sound into your pocket is now feasible.

6. Sleek - No more crap. Compact discs allowed artists to cram as much music as possible into one disc, and sometimes led to songs that were just album fillers. On an LP, however, you can only have 45 minutes of audio. It better be good. Ben Harper’s Lifeline was recorded specifically with the vinyl record in mind. The result is 40 minutes and 54 seconds worth of acoustic soul genius.

I Am Mine

I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t buy compact discs or download mp3s. I prefer vinyl and if the album I want isn’t available, I’ll go for the compact disc. I like the portability, availability, and practicality of mp3s, but only download when it's necessary. If there is a song I like by an artist that I am not a huge fan of, I’ll download it. If I want to check out an artist, I may burn a compact disc of a friend or file share. However, there have been countless times when I burned an album, listened to it, then went and bought it.

I don’t listen to music just to listen to music. I listen to music to hear music, and the mp3 has made listening to music all too casual. There’s just nothing tangible to an mp3, nothing that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Don’t get me wrong, mp3s are valuable and have their place in the music world, but I hope that they don’t go to the forefront. In my perfect world, everyone would own a USB turntable, compact discs would cease to exist, and record labels would only produce vinyl. Music lovers would go to their favorite record store for albums, transfer their vinyl to a computer for accessibility, and everyone would feel fuzzy and warm inside. Especially me.

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