the sound of
a fresh needle on
a life force breathing
under the music
I’ve always loved old technologies, and have now lived long enough to see about half a million of them become old.
Technology is perpetually in transition; part of the generalized anxiety of the modern age is having more capability to do things than we have the emotional ability to absorb. But, on to the topic at hand.
I play the piano; I learned to play for two main reasons. If I think back to the age I started, my reasons for wanting to learn were:
- To impress girls.
- To be able to hear music when I wanted to.
The second of these two reasons is one that no longer exists for most people. Anyone online has access to virtually every piece of music ever written. The first of these reasons is still out there, boys still want to impress girls. But you can trust me on this one: don’t go into classical music if this is your primary goal.
Reason 2 did still hold, at the time: by learning to play the piano (which is itself a type of technology for producing music, although we rarely think of it in those terms) I was overcoming an obstacle to hearing music. It did involve work on my part, but few technologies leave us with nothing to do. They just enable us to do something we can’t do directly, using only our own bodies.
As a child – I was born in 1962 – the predominant means of playing recorded music was through so-called “long-playing records”, known at the time as LP’s. These were manufactured out of vinyl, and playable on record players that usually had two or three speeds, depending on the type of record being played. (“45’s” were another type of record, known for the speed at which they were played.) Not only did people play records at home, radio stations played them as well. In fact, the term “disk jockey” for a radio station host came from them having to perform the task of changing and managing the many record disks the station played during a session. That became shortened to DJ — a term still used, even if the person DJ’ing is using digital music files with nary a disk in sight.
Vinyl records use analog rather than digital technology. Analog technology can provide for better reproduction of the original sounds than digital does, which is why vinyl records have made something of a comeback. The primary advantages of digital have to do with space (digital is way more compact, physically) and transfer (i.e., no record needles).
Very often, a “superior” technology gets beaten out by an “inferior” one that is cheaper or more convenient. What is unusual about vinyl records is, not only have they not disappeared, they’ve had a resurgence.
We become emotionally attached to technologies, not because of the technologies themselves — at least initially — but for what they provide. I absolutely love, love, love pianos, but it’s because of music, not the actual wood frame and metal strings.
Although, I’ve come to love those, too.
Some people love vinyl records, because of the sounds they’ve heard, or continue to hear, coming out of them. They also love the album covers, the artwork, the album notes — other things incidental to the technology, but tremendous enhancers. This is a type of love I thoroughly respect, even if I am not an audiophile myself.
One day, the technology we are using right now (me to write, and you to read) will be superseded and replaced. Maybe we (or future “we’s”) will look back fondly on the age of blogs and computers as a sort of quaint look into a simpler time in history. Sort of like the horse-and-buggy era.
Because the cutting edge always dulls with time.