Sunday, August 17, 2008


For years I have stared at a long shelf full of vinyl LPs, my soul flooded with conflicting feels of irritation, nostalgia, bafflement, longing. What should I do with them? Throwing them away was out of the question; but, equally, what were they actually for? The conflict was such that I never actually dared look at them. But, yesterday, I received an early birthday present - a turntable to go with my now ageing stereo system. Having been bought this device in Norwich, I then immediately stumbled upon a bewildering number of shops selling vinyl - Norwich is a strange and wonderful city. Blood rushed to my head and I bought LPs by Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Cocker and The Hollies. Emboldened, I returned home to flick through my own collection. Tears filled my eyes as two tracks I thought I would never hear again - The Byrds' Truck Stop Girl and Kevin Ayers' Shouting in a Bucket Blues - filled my room. Much has been said about the quality of vinyl versus CD. I'm still struggling with it. But there is something about the sound, a certain, for want of a better word, materiality. It is, perhaps, the lack of the absolute silence you get with CDs. The air seems, somehow, more occupied with sound by Vinyl. But this requires more thought.


  1. All true, and it's a warmer, fuller sound too - and what can beat the nostalgic thrill of opening a gatefold album? The 12" sleeve is a glorious thing compared to all the meagre upstarts that have come since - no wonder so many people, not all of them in Norwich, still love vinyl...
    Gram Parsons GP, the artwork - does it get any better?

  2. That's a nice story! I think its great that you have a vinyl player now, so you can re-discover some of those old gems, or perhaps discover some hidden gems.

    On the vinyl vs CD (etc) debate... I don't know the details of the debate, so forgive me. But I guess the conflict can be made out in two ways, first there are the technical qualities of the media which are (partially) responsible for producing the sound, and this is obviously quite different in the case of analog vinyl to other digital media... You can then, I guess have a debate about how digital is a superior technology (or at least digital music presents a superior technology than analog music)... no doubt the technical aspects of the medium will be cited here... However in judging a technology to be better than another we need to ask "according to what standards or marks?"... if the standards would be "pure technological standards" then (a) what would they be? (I really don't know what they would be), and (b) if we settle on some technological standards the conclusion "X technology is technologically superior to y" is surely an uninteresting conclusion to those of us who care about the sound (qua aesthetic property) and the music. So on the first way of understanding the debate it is (potentially) quite uninteresting... This brings me to the second way of understanding the debate.

    I guess the second way links in with the first since confronted by the above question "by what standards" one would not invoke pure technological standards, but rather aesthetic standards. That is, instead of saying digital (or whatever) is a better technology because of the pure technological marks which it wins by, it is a better technology because it produces superior aesthetic qualities...

    The problem is when the debates get mixed, so that you get (what I regard as) a confused attempt to account for aesthetic value in terms of technological value, in other words, a quantitive basis for aesthetic value. You can have it both ways, you can say, the technical qualities of digital are superior (by the tecnological standards (i'm not saying this is true btw, just a hypothesis)), but the aesthetic qualities are a different matter (yet to be decided). In my view the more interesting debate is the aesthetic debate. I'm not saying it should be had independently of technical considerations, but its just that the role of such considerations needs to be properly understood... so if a technical property of digital media is invoked in the aesthetic debate its role needs to be accounted for rather than assumed.

    My own view, for what's its worth, is a kind of "particularism" about aesthetic qualities, that is, in some cases analog will sound better, some digital will sound better... but we shouldn't expect an answer to the general (aesthetic) question "which is better, analog of digital?".


  3. In nearly every town and city in Germany there are shops specialising in vinyl records, packed to the gills with music of every hue, magical places, usually next door to camera shops selling 50 year old Leicas and Nikons. Our own collection still dominates, from Clinton Ford to Kai Winding and Callum Kennedy, Count Basie to Carole King. If you really want to enjoy your vinyl I offer for sale, unused, a Garrard 401 complete with SME 3009 arm, coming to you shortly via Ebay.
    If you can live with the occasional crackle and pop then vinyl's your man, or even better, open reel tape.
    Luddites r us, long live Luddites.

  4. what, is it Sad Bastard Sunday and no one thought to let me know?!!

    Rock on!

  5. Oops. I had a lot of vinyl records too: Carole King, Jackson Browne, Bread, Billy Joel, the Eagles, The Police. But unlike you folks, since I no longer had anything to play them on, I discovered they worked very well as skeet-shooting targets for the rifle-lovin' son o' mine.

    I am a philistine, sans doute. Call me vandal, call me Goth, just don't call me a Luddite!

  6. Blood rushed to my head and I bought LPs by Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Cocker and The Hollies. Emboldened, I returned home to flick through my own collection. Tears filled my eyes as two tracks...

    On second thought, maybe I'll give that de Vany diet a pass.

  7. Vinyl is nice, but the fact remains that every time you play an LP the stylus degrades the groove -- no matter how expensive and well engineered your turntable and tonearm may be. I suggest you digitize your favourite & otherwise unobtainable albums right away. It's time-consuming, but then you can make as many copies as you like. After that, you can breezily play the LPs to death (as I did to my first copy of The Velvet Underground).

  8. There is a deeper space to the sound of vinyl. There's the artpiece of the record as a whole obviously including the beauty of vinyl, but there's also the element of the ritual involved with vinyl. Man is united through time by ritual behaviour, and the careful removing of the record from the sleeve, the placing it on the turntable, putting on the needle, removing etc at half-time means the listener is far more involved as an active agent in the ritual of listening to the record. This ritual is an enforced immersion in the present, a slowing down of time, all which places one in a more receptive mood for listening to the music in the state of alert passivity on which artistic experience depends. In contrast, taking a cd out is a pretty empty thoughtless action, and there is no real movement into this silence. This ritual with vinyl also obviously forms a thread with one's earlier self that enacted the same slow movements so often.

  9. Is the Q a bit like milk in a bottle or milk in a carton. You might like the bottle, the feel and so on. And you might even notice the difference in the mouth. But surely if you were going to move house, being that fussy, it is nearer the cow not the bottle.
    I believe that as yet no-one in their correct mind has held up music 'on' anything as Art beyond the music itself. Not Art in the way a good photo can be Art.

  10. Interesting comments. LP album artwork was indeed a wonderful thing and you're right, Craig, different technologies apply to different cases. I'm sure vinyl's better for rock, CD for classical. I know, Dennis, about the degradation. One is constantly aware of this with vinyl. But perhaps this gives it an attractively fatal quality

  11. Andrew has a point - i feel some pieces of music, e.g. Mozart's Don Giovanni or Handel's The Messiah, shouldn't be played too promiscuously, casually, but should be ritualised. i only play Messiah round about Xmas or if i suddenly get a yearning for it.

    Back in the day, i guess folk would have the music sheets and could maybe play parts on the piano or violin or whatever, but if you wanted to listen to Wagner, by God you had to go to Bayreuth and endure the whole bloody spectacle. Some things shouldn't be too easy, too casual. This is probably one reason i've hardly read any poetry in 4 years (since i began working) - i can't manage the stillness of mind i need to appreciate it, to contain the words.

  12. In my youth, we used to turn old vinyl into flower pots, aided by a little gentle heat.

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