Recently, I re-discovered vinyl. I am a late entry — this is clear as I stalk the web for information and records. My endeavor began on Spotify where I added Yusef Lateef’s Eastern Sounds on my playlists — making sure to make the playlist accessible on and off line. Business trips have made creating music to listen to as I travel a part of my pre-trip ritual. At the same time, I have been working on a project that involves using images from lost cultural ephemera several layers below obvious, yet significant.
One of the areas pursued was record labels from ’20s era blues where my knowledge really began and ended with a passing familiarity with Robert Johnson and his mythic deal with the devil. The advent of the Edison cylinder and the subsequent flat 78 rpm phonograph record enabled blues and jazz to become the first musical art form to document its growth through recorded material. Race records, which were made by subsidiary labels of major recording companies, captured this phenomenon on vinyl with labels like Victor, Vocalion, Okeh, Perfect, and others. Seeing and touching original 78s and sensing their relative weight evoked a significance not only physical but spiritual.
Naturally, for me, I felt compelled to listen to my latest musical obsession on vinyl. Unfortunately, I knew very little of how to do so but thought buying the album on vinyl would be a start. Album ordered. Need turntable. Researching the web, I discovered there was a factory in the Czech Republic — actually in Litovel, east of Prague — that has largely ignored the digital era continuing to work on and produce turntables called Pro-ject. They also make turntables for another company called Music Hall. Other audiophiles will know of infinitely better turntables by more amazing companies, but this whole idea intrigued me. Business people deciding to pursue analog technology almost as if the digital movement did not happen. It is almost a parallel universe evolution thing: analog is to digital as cro magnon is to homo sapien… Moreover, modern turntables provide an amazing study in the interplay between functionality and aesthetic.
I began to think about the idea of evolving design surrounding a technology largely deemed “obsolete.” Yes, digital is more convenient and ubiquitous, accessible and democratic. But most will tell you — beyond the little hiss that happens from the flecks of dust playing — that vinyl sounds more real, warmer, fuller. Analog attempts to capture the sound as it is and does not convert it in some way — no matter how great the means of conversion. Okay recording is a conversion but you understand what I am getting at. That is the beauty and appeal for me.
This relates directly to something I am involved in, which involves the design and development of denim. Denim as a fabrication works because it is durable and wears in beautifully. Yes, it has evolved into different fits and shapes. Yes, technology has come along adding stretch, which really created the whole premium denim phenomenon in women’s jeans. And now we have water-resistance, odor-fighting, and other nano-technologies added to this fabrication. But the ultimate appeal for me is its original value premise: durability and wear-in. It is an analog aesthetic.
Denim purists will try to re-create the past and there is value in that. But for me the excitement is how this will evolve into the future. Is denim — like analog — something that can evolve and stay “modern” in its retroactive way in the coming decades? Perhaps more so. For me, the analog aesthetic is about holding on to my early self as I focus on an endeavor by creating something prescient today. This dichotomy is something that has creeped more and more into my work — at it’s core, it is simply the old clashing with the new, the past existing simultaneously with the future. And getting that mix right, to look as if the oxymoron works is the vinyl manifesto.
Oh… so I found an entry level Pro-ject Debut III on eBay for a good price. But I did not realize I needed a pre-amp to play through my digital receiver. Fortunately, my old analog Harman Kardon receiver was only a storage box away from coming to the rescue. After setting up the turntable — somewhat complicated with a counterweight, tone arm balance stuff, I sat down and listened to the aforementioned Lateef album’s “B-side” enjoying all but especially “Love Theme from the Robe” and “Love Theme from Spartacus.” I have moved to Miles Davis’ Ascenseur pour l’échafaud soundtrack which has its own great story of an Hegelian synthesis of sorts.
Where should I go next? Recommendations on vinyl are highly welcomed.
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