Sunday, April 17, 2005

For My Man Jeffers

A link to someone who is both a vinyl head and an ipod head: proof to the good minister that these are not, in fact, mutually exclusive positions.
Many people assume that I'm sort of Luddite because I prefer vinyl and vintage tube amplification. They have this image of me as someone who fears change, who cringes at the prospect of new technologies, and, from the looks of the some of the emails I received after commenting on the demise of SACD, someone who probably makes his own shoes and churns his own butter. In the real world, however, I'm as much of a gadget-freak as any modern American. I have a cell phone with GPS, a laptop with wireless Internet access, and until recently I even drove an SUV. I embrace any new technology – as long as it makes sense.


The first time I heard MP3, I was utterly disgusted with the sound quality, and disgusted with the direction that music reproduction was taking. Then I was told that the sound quality of MP3 would be better if you bought this particular piece of software, and coupled it with that particular piece of computer hardware, and then transferred the files using another particular interface, and I was already shouting "Stop, stop, stop!" This is getting way too confusing. This is what's sinking the new digital fomats such as DVD-A and SACD and multi-channel surround and home theatre as we speak. They made it too complicated, and it turned everyone off.

The iPod, however, is simple. It's small. It does everything. You can listen to it in your car, in your home, anywhere. If you like staying home and playing on the computer, you can download new music from there. If you like going shopping at the mall, you can buy your music there. You can download entire albums. You can create your own playlists. It's fucking fabulous. And I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know about the thing.

So the real question is, how can we, the vinyl anachronists of the world, care about such a product? I think the answer is that for the first time ever, no one is trying to replace your record collection with something better. For the first time, a new technology exists that actually complements listening to vinyl.

First of all, the iPod was designed with active people in mind. The last time I checked, listening to vinyl is a fairly passive activity. Sure, there's the beloved ritual of cleaning records, placing them lovingly on the platter, and gently (very very gently, if you own a Koetsu cartridge) lowering the stylus onto that smooth black surface. But you're not exactly burning a lot of calories listening to LPs (digiphiles: insert nasty, sarcastic comment about having to get up every few minutes to flip sides here).


We're really talking about two types of music listeners here, or, if you're me, two sides of the same listener. I think that once you put aside the DJs and turntablists who are, as much as I hate to admit it, helping to keep the vinyl industry vibrant, your typical analog freak is someone who listens to a wide variety of music that may not lend itself well to the iPod format. I'm talking about classical music, and maybe jazz and some other types of music as well. Sure, listening to classical music on your iPod on a plane flight might be the most perfect way to beat jet lag. It doesn't really matter that Apple is marketing the iPod to rock and pop lovers, but let's face it, classical music is dying a slow, protracted death in this country, perhaps the world.

Modern recordings are few and far between, especially if you have to hire an orchestra, pay them union wages, and rent a hall big enough to record them, only to sell a few hundred CDs, which is exactly what's happening these days. In other words, the majority of classical music is available only on, you guessed it, LPs. It's entirely conceivable that classical music may disappear with the Baby Boomers. I really hope that doesn't happen.

The iPod is definitely the wave of the future, but LPs will keep us connected to the past better than any other format. I've heard some of the iPod backlash, however. One thing that keeps popping up is that music downloading is killing the album as a general concept. It's all about the singles, the songs, the quick buck.


four legs good said...

It's true that there are shockingly few new classical records being recorded, but I take heart from the fact that older recordings are preserved in all their glory in digital format.

And they sound just fine on my iPod. BTW, I don't download anything (or upload either) in MP3 format. Use either the apple lossless or the full version. It's worth it in sound quality.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I just bought one of those new transistor radios

Rmj said...

Finally got my response posted.

It went a little long, so it's over here.