Because I recently revamped our turntable and bought a bunch of great records, I am currently thinking a lot about vinyl LPs again. We let the table gather dust for almost a year, only because there were other things we needed to tackle, and the maintenance it needed took me a good full day (new lead wires, bearing and motor lube, new belt, new cartridge and alignment, etc...). It's a Thorens TD145, but that's not important here.
Now that the table is up and running, we are loathe to put on a digital record. We just don't do it. I think the main reason is that it's so much easier to put on an LP. Pick it up, pull it out, put it on the platter, give it a wipe, drop the needle and away we go. No scrolling through menus or dealing with annoying software (and iTunes has just become a mess, so we use more elegant software, but still, then we have to hook up the computer, or at least our digital player, but then we're back to scrolling again).
The physicality of vinyl is something that everyone talks about, but I don't know if we talk about the actual ease of its physicality from a practical point of view. Computer-based music *seems* so much easier, but we all know that a good old cook book on the shelf is so much easier than getting out the iPad and opening an app and scrolling through all those countless recipes. There's something easier about a physical newspaper, too. "Throw me the Arts Section, would you?" Whoosh--straight into your hand. Turning a page or throwing a newspaper section are a simple tasks. Scrolling is typically less intuitive, less accurate, more steps, more distractions. Analogies are vast and many, but there is something inherently easier about physical objects for certain tasks, and when those tasks are things that are meant to get you away from work--which for so many involves computers and devices all day--then the physical experience is superior for many reasons. That, obviously, includes vinyl.
And it's a 3D experience, too. When we think about the ultimate graphical user interface, we imagine some holographic thing from Minority Report, which, when you think about it, isn't very different than a bunch of physical objects there in the room with you. The ultimate irony of virtual reality is that it's striving to replicate the 3D world we already live in. Your vinyl record collection is already a 3D library through which you can wander in that sweet realm we call reality. My theory is that the more we digitize, the more we will crave physical/analog alternatives. But it's not just nostalgia that's got us longing for the physical, the 3D; it's also a longing for something more elegant and more practical.
And for those who argue that it's about the sound, I say no. Vinyl can and does often sound amazing, but it's such a crap-shoot with LPs, and very few people have truly great turntables and stereo systems. More often than I'd like to believe, my vintage and modern albums are less-than-perfect in one way or another--surface noises so loud my cat wakes up, distortions I'd rather not admit were in my collection, phasey hi-end and so on. And most people's tables are also less-than-perfect, let's face it. Yeah, audiophiles get their tables sorted out, but the majority of people who love vinyl on the daily are listening on systems that are mid-fi at best, and often downright bad with misaligned cartridges, grumbly motors and worse. The point is that the core appeal of vinyl is just not about the sound. It's about the convenience and elegance of the medium, and the fact that it's not making you scroll down yet another screen. This vinyl craze we're experiencing is more about the way a vinyl rig and library become a 3D interactive space we call home.
Allen Farmelo is a record producer and founder of Butterscotch Records www.butterscotchrecords.net
Photos by Christopher Vetur