The Analog Aesthetic or the Vinyl Manifesto

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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11 thoughts on “The Analog Aesthetic or the Vinyl Manifesto

  1. Paul

    Hello all,
    Seems like many of us “Paul’s” are responding…  
    – USB Typewriter – way cool .  
    – Yes, ProJect does have the phono box – I may reserve the right to only listen to certain albums on vinyl but, realistically, the phono box may be a near future purchase.
    – I wil check out the next record store day as AMoeba in Berkeley is a participant…

  2. Kenny Colvin

    Love the article Paul! It combines two of my favorite things analog technology and the Czech Republic.  I am a little disappointed the pro-ject turntables are so modern looking…but I digress.I love analog records, but also analog production methods, thats why I fell in love with letterpress printing (and made it my full time job).  There’s something 100% authentic about design that comes from using worn wood type letters from the 1800’s and metal type only in set sizes (12pt, 24pt, 36pt etc).
    Perhaps you might enjoy a recent wood type art print poster I printed:
    {See more Details}

  3. Paul

    Nice article, and sensible comments too. Project make a pre-amp with a USB socket called the Phono Box, which allows you to capture mp3s from your analogue source. Ideal in situations like 78 documentation. However you should be aware that you need a specific mono cartridge for 78s on shellac, if you want to get them to playback properly.

  4. Paul

    Right on, Paul!  As process and approach for design, the concept translates.  The depth in the work as in the sound is a natural outcome.  Thanks for the insight.  Typewriters a great example.  I confess I miss the feel of the keys when writing on a typewriter – but not the lack of immediate editing regardless of correction tape and liquid paper….

  5. Paul Bunyar

    I have recently tried to use an Analog Before Digital idea when designing. I need to slow down and think through projects with a process that is step by step from creative briefing to ideating to sketching to researching before getting on the digital box and producing. It makes such a big difference in the quality and depth of my work.
    Some other additions to the analog aesthetic: typewriters [even ones modified to be USB keyboards], film cameras, even the Moleskine calendar/notebook rather than the smartphone.

  6. Paul

    You are correct.  Should have inserted “shellac” for “vinyl” in that paragraph…  Never claimed to be an expert so thanks for the “learnin'” – should have been clearer on this having held a few of them directly in my hands.  they are suprisingly heavy and solid…