Vinyl Dreams

I attended a reception last week at which the hosts provided music chosen by live disc jockeys. When I wandered to the back of the room to see who was playing what I was astonished to see a dual turntable spinning real vinyl record albums. I asked the disc jockey — who turned out to be the creative director for a digital music firm — why the archaic technology? Wouldn’t it be simpler to plug in a playlist loaded onto some MP3 device?

“There is something ceremonial and tactile about taking out the albumn and handling it,” I was told. Playing CDs doesn’t offer the same aesthetic pleasure, the music lover said. They’re cheap plastic. Handling them is an insult. What do they cost to produce? A dime! CDs are nothing but a to capture copyright royalties on the flimsiest of formats. And besides there was a better sound reproduction in the analog format. “

I wish I’d taken notes, there was so much passion in the reply, but it was a party and my music-loving source started backpeddling as soon as I identified myself as a professional scribe. Something about subtly dissing digital music when that was their day job.Suddenly I started getting, “I love music in any form.”

I understand. Many professionals despair of the gap between what they envision as their mission and what they can actually sell. All too often it’s a watered down version of what they would prefer to deliver. I wonder why? It’s not a trivial question in an era when self-publishing is becoming common. Will we see a revival of passion-driven media or will more “prosumers” be driven to the same compromises that typify mass media?

Make mine live! As chance would have it not long after my encounter with the album-lover, a friend took me to a live concert at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater to hear a band called Manu Chao. It was a perfect night, just enough breeze to be comfortable, incredible acoustics and a crowd that reflected the performers’ incredible energy. I knew nothing about the group beforehand; for me it was a chance to connect with a friend. And the songs were for the most part sung in Spanish and so I only picked up a few words here and there.

But as I danced to the rhythm in the sway of the crowd’s excitement I thought this was the essence of music — the tribal, hive-mind experience that strikes some private chord. Yes, we can now digitize it and carry it with us in devices slimmer than cigarette lighters and pipe this stuff into our ears when we’re riding the train or jogging. But the further we get from the raw and primitive experience of live music the less powerful it becomes. Funny, when I was looking up Manu Chao, the search engine offered ads on the side: Manu Chao ringtones, read the first advertisement. In the first place it was probably a come-on. I somehow suspect that this anti-establishment band has not yet distilled its music into that particular format. But even if it were true, why bother? What am I going to get from a Manu Chao ring tone that wouldn’t be an insult to the music’s intent?