Analog Music

There's something magical about vinyl records. I've begun, for the first time, to listen to classical recordings in our music room on a record player instead of CD player. I love the experience of it, the physicality of the interaction between needle and wax, the very idea of analog recording. Digital recording feels false, somehow. To take one form, (the unique vibrations in the air that make up a piece) and then to scramble it into an artificial language that needs to be reinterpreted again to be played...I feel like something is lost in between.

To be sure, playing a vinyl is not the same as listening to music live. But the process is far more unified. Every indentation on the record has a direct correspondence to a particular sound. You can see the music there, etched into the surface. It keeps the music as it should be, a physical thing, as opposed to an ethereal digital code, teeming and multiplying on the internet.

With the demise of the CD, vinyl records are making a major resurgence. Consider: people can now essentially get any piece of music they desire for free, and yet they pay good money for a record. This, I think, is to be expected. I believe that it is only when the form of a thing becomes liberated that people begin to realize that it was exactly the limitedness, the scarcity of the thing in its embodied state that gave it is value. Matter imposes restrictions on how art can be experienced, and in the long run, we prefer it that way, because the restrictions of matter are fundamental to the human experience of life.

Having music and movies in digital form on my computer makes it tempting to skip through it, listen to a snippet here, a scene there. This sort of interaction is extremely destructive to the artistic experience. It encourages, as so much technology does, an ever increasing level of ADD in daily life. Facebook is bad enough, and things like Twitter make me sick. The notion that one day you will need nothing but your computer for entertainment, and that it will simply transform itself into what ever you wish as you need it strikes me as something horrible and very non-human. One of the reasons that philosophers and the Church have fought so hard to defend the right to private property is that they realize that the appropriation of the physical world to oneself is a very natural and human action. Our clothes, our land, our houses are an extension of ourselves, and I believe that when we begin to transform our possessions into immaterial shapes, we do injury to our own nature.

There is an analogy of sorts between this and other destructive trends in our century, such as contraception. The need for convenience and immediacy above all else blinds us to the fact that inconvenience and the limited nature of our lives, both in space and time, are what give rise to our richest experiences. Try to grow a plant in a space station and it will be a monster; grow it under the constraints of gravity and it takes on form, and resonates with purpose. Or look at the way we play games; the games in which one has the fewest kinds of moves, such as Go, provide the deepest and most rewarding experience.

This is one reason why I am so in favor of liberating music, books, and such on the internet. Reason and experience have both shown that doing so will only increase the exposure and appreciation for live concerts, physical records, and the beauty of the written and printed word. In the end, however much our Platonic urge flees from the physical, our material nature takes hold.

Note: Do you want a vinyl record player/recorder that's as beautiful as it is gloriously low-tech? Look no further.


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