Monday, May 10, 2010

An Analog World

Want to listen to some Jazz music? The invitation came from an elderly neighbor on a muggy Spring night a couple of years ago. He was in his very late 90s, and his wife had died a few months earlier. He was always kind of dapper, often wearing bow ties and resembling a smaller version of KFC's Colonel Sanders. For years, he walked the neighborhood, usually in the evenings with his wife, before her health deteriorated.

So I went down the street to his house to listen to his music. As I walked up his porch steps from the street, I could hear blaring from one of those furniture sized, 1960s vintage "hi-fi" stereos. It was too loud for him to hear my knocking so I walked in. He was playing big band music, oblivious to the fact that the player speed was set at 45 rpm for a 33 rpm record. There was a speedy quirkiness to the sound that can be described as both fun and creepy. I switched it to the correct speed as he came out into the living room from his kitchen, offering me Oreos from a package. It occurred to me that this had probably become his normal dinner fare since his wife passed. We listened to a few records, and he told me about what he did before he retired. He had worked as specialist in archival paper for the federal government. Which as someone with a deep background in print design, I found fascinating. When I got home I thought about how paper was going the way of vinyl records and becoming obsolete in the digital world. It seemed that way for most things you can hold in your hands. As the Summer wore on, when I did see him out walking--which was less often, he seemed to be increasingly confused about where he was. Late one night he walked into my kitchen through the side door thinking he was home. I escorted him to his house a few doors away.

He's gone now, but I thought about him this week while going through a trove of old LP records -- classics from the late 60s through the 70s. When I found them, I thought I'd rip them into my iTunes collection, maybe burn some to CDs, then get rid of the cumbersome collection of 12 inch albums. I got a USB turntable -- a device designed to digitize old records, so you can make CDs, put them on your iPod, ect. It came with software that magically removes the pops and cracks from the records. But, as I started to play and record the old Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Elton John and others, those imperfections became part of the sound that made them unique.

The real value in the old records isn't just in the music. It's in the anticipation of those first few seconds of scratchiness after you drop the needle onto the vinyl. And the pops and cracks that come at different times on every record. And the square foot of artwork that envelops each. The songs aren't just file names for code on a hard drive. They're physical impressions etched in vinyl. Digital media is great. It's crisp. It's precise. It's clean. You can play it, send it, share it and copy it. You can do anything you want with it. Except hold it in your hands.

Copyright 2010, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think you can hear MORE of tje music on the albums. There is something magical about the experience for sure, that some people will just never know.