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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Materiality

Fifteen years ago, at the time of the release of "Harvest Moon", I interviewed Neil Young. At the time I didn't think I'd got much out of him but in retrospect he said a great deal, albeit in very simple terms. He's the one who said to me that songs were "just thoughts", which is still the best definition I've ever heard. Anyway, he was in the midst of his anti-digital period and he said "CDs just don't make you feel good like vinyl does. The highs are too high and the lows too low."
Nick Lowe was talking about the same thing the other day. "These days there's a loud knob and everybody's reached for it."
This afternoon I cleared the piles of CDs off the top of the deck and played a load of vinyl: "Doctor John Plays Mac Rebbenack", "Shirley Collins and the Albion Band", Albert Collins's "Love Can Be Found Everywhere (Even In A Guitar)" and the first Joy Division and Pet Shop Boys albums.
I'm not a sound engineer so I can't explain why it should be so but I'm sure Neil Young's right. There's something sensual and forgiving about analogue and vinyl, no matter how high you crank it up.
The real revelation is Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express". You would have thought that the more mechanical the reproduction the better here. You'd be wrong.
The opening track "Europe Endless" is affecting on vinyl in a way it can never be on CD. In fact it breaks your heart.

6 comments:

  1. David, may I suggest you read this article:

    http://www.stylusmagazine.com/articles/weekly_article/imperfect-sound-forever.htm

    The 'loudness wars' is a subject of heated debated amongst engineers, who mainly blame their clients for forcing overcooked sound levels on to CDs. It is not so much that CDs are inherently worse than vinyl, but that modern digital software has allowed massive compression of dynamics on to CD which sounds just horrible. There is plenty of material on it out there on the web.

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  2. Last year in part as a reaction to the ease of the iPod (and I do like my iPod) I wired up an old family Sony with turntable and bought a new stylus for it. I felt I needed some of my music to be experienced in a static location, plus I had some old vinyl I wanted to get going again. I agree, the sound is better than I remember, the sleeves are fun and I'm moving towards buying new releases on vinyl and sourcing a digital version from "somewhere else". At War With The Mystics was the first new album I bought on vinyl for about 18 years, and it suits the medium.

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  3. Anonymous8:22 pm

    It's not just the sound, it's the packaging. The Pet Shop Boys albums on vinyl are like works of art! I also recently played the first PSB album and was absolutely amazed at the inner sleeve, hundreds of tiny pictures - all different. I think I once read that the inner sleeve was originally the main sleeve. Maybe the next time you see Neil, David - you could ask him?

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  4. Anonymous8:32 pm

    What's scary is that Harvest Moon, which I think of as one of Neil's recent records, is 15 years old!

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  5. I was just thinking about the longing you used to get when you were waiting for the latest album by your favourite group to be released. And you only get that longing for vinyl; CD's - and especiallly downloads - just don't give you that Proustian rush.

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  6. thommo8:55 am

    Ah, the mighty Rega P2. Made in Southend-on-Sea* by artisans from Dr Feelgood and the Kursaal Flyers**.

    Yes, of course vinyl sounds wonderful, but to be fair, it does need a level of competence in the equipment to do it justice that CD's don't in this d & a. Your Rega will be viewed as ludicrously expensive by most Joe Q. Music Buyers out there.

    A £50 dvd player from Tesco will sound more than adequate for the vast majority of people with CD, and probably about 85-90% of what a multi £000 pound cd player can produce. It sounds good but the whole things a bit soulless, isn't it?

    However, the initial outlay of the decent record player (ebay can ameliorate that pain, too, if you know what you're looking for) is offset by the cheap nature of second hand records, and records that haven't appeared on CD yet.

    I'd wager that there are more than a few Word readers of a certain age that don't have turntables but haven't been able to perform the life surgery of getting rid of their records.

    Basis for an article, possibly? The whats, whys and wherefores of resurrecting that old copy of "Cut The Cake" or "Obscured by Clouds". Including showing how easy it is to record an LP onto CD/mp3/iPod?

    One last thing, and this may be old news, but vinyl buyers should be aware of musicstack.com, but don't browse with a credit card in one hand and a carafe of red in the other. If you do, any resultant bills are not my fault.

    * true
    ** possibly not true

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