Respect the Grooves
I want to talk vinyl for a moment.
Vinyl is experiencing a strong revival, and despite a few annoyances that come along with any trend, I’m digging it because it’s my current format of choice when sitting down for a listening session. We’re getting more new releases and reissues on high quality pressings, and the folks making hifi gear are making better sounding components at all budget levels. I do stream music via Tidal (HIFI) often, but I’ve brought the vinyl hang back in my house, and it’s inspired me to start the podcast. When I was a teen, my friends and I would sit for hours and listen to records. We discussed and internalized it, and it became a part of who we were.
Perhaps we don’t all have that kind of time now, but it’s the spirit of the thing. Vinyl is high maintenance, but given the proper care, it can sound phenomenal.
It appears we’ve a tendency to romanticize it and dismiss it as an outdated format in the same breath. Or, those cds we now throw away (donate) because we don’t have a cd player? Both generally contain everything you need to connect to the music – it’s just that most of us haven’t had the tools to listen properly. And, convenience has overcome quality again. Most of us have replaced physical formats with a poor quality digital stream. I know this isn’t a new problem, but doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change. It’s also not the key issue here.
We’ve stopped listening, for the most part. Yes, everyone plays music all day, with their phones and mobile devices, and through their earbuds. But we’re not really listening, are we? For example, I suggest that listening to music while we workout is simply an attempt at performance enhancement. We choose the songs that boost endorphins and our mood. It’s mood control. Better that then using the less healthy alternatives, sure. I do this too, though this is not about the music- our phones becoming something like the Penfield Mood Organ, as imagined by Philip K. Dick. Our phones being less scary, invasive, and effective, perhaps.
My problem isn’t that we listen to music while doing other things, but that we only listen to music while doing other things. Music has been relegated to the pharmacy with the rest of the stimulants and antidepressants.
This is where we live now. We no longer have the attention span to absorb complex, or lengthy material. It’s a part of a larger crisis, ya – music is simply my weapon of choice. I humbly submit that music can be as compelling as any Netflix or cable series. Great music, recorded well and played back properly can enthrall. Of course, this requires our full attention, and possibly some effort on the listeners part. The rewards for the effort are great.
The Craft Boom
Craft brewing exploded over the past 20 years, and distilling more recently – both alongside the growing foodie culture in the US. We’ve learned that we want better quality food, prepared with the highest level of skill. We’ve grown to respect the ingredients, many returning to old farming and preparation practices kept by generations past. More important maybe is the blend of new and old – using the best practices of older generations to fuel new techniques and technology. And, we’re willing to pay more for it. Fast food is no longer acceptable.
I submit that our current music culture is fast food culture. More of everything all the time, but at a much lower quality. Empty calories. And, just like a better understanding of cooking techniques and ingredients has enriched our dining experiences and driven us to seek out better quality food, a little learning may just earn music and the artists the respect they deserve.
I’ve not yet touched on how much you’re missing when listening to music through your phone and $10 earbuds. How you do things is often as important as what you’re doing. I’m not arguing that you should spend thousands on stereo equipment. But I am sure once you hear music played through high end gear, you will want to. I believe the effort and investment will payoff.
For me, a return to vinyl and glass (tube amplifiers) is about engaging with music on a deeper level, and sharing it with the people around me. It’s about being in the moment. Nothing compares with live music, but with some effort, recorded music can get us close. Time to elevate music again.