Thursday, December 29, 2011

Buy a turntable

Go here.
That's mainly an instruction to myself, but I invite you to do it, too. My first Sony turntable from 1981 finally died once and for all in the mid-00's, and like a big jerk I did not replace it. Since then CDs and mp3s have become my main formats by default, with my crates of LPs sadly exiled to the basement. I didn't realize how impoverished I had made myself until I walked into a record store the other day and started handling records again.

I immediately noticed that:

- Used LPs are cheap. In 20 minutes in the store (Crossroads Music in Portland, a used record co-op) I found a couple of dozen easy purchases I have never seen online, for 3 to 5 bucks. A lot of classic recordings were reissued many times with different packaging, and tend to be dirt cheap. Some things have gone up in price- Miles Davis In Concert cost me $4 in the mid-90's, before people started liking 70's Miles again; today I saw it for $8. The most expensive things I would've considered buying were about the same price as a new CD.

- Computer music is formatted for casual listeners (or "amateurs"), which you are not. As a musician, albums of music are your medium- they are your large-scale works. You need to have a strong sense of the collection of tracks as a whole, played in a certain order (preferably with an A side and a B side) and a certain amount of time between tracks, strongly associated with a title, the artwork, the group of musicians who played on the record, the songwriters, and the recording date, studio, engineer, and producer.

- By the way, have you ever searched for Tony Williams on iTunes? They tell you only albums he recorded as leader. No indication whatsoever that he once played with a minor group known as the Miles Davis Quintet. Same with Elvin Jones- searching for him returns a big fat "Coltrane who?"

- The packaging is incredibly efficient. To get all of that info, you turn the cover over and look. Instead of the dozen-plus clicks it takes to open a file browser and rooting around for the info file, or googling the album title and clicking around within a couple of different sites before you maybe find the information you want. Or just succumbing to the inertia and never finding out.

More reasons/observations after the break:

- Your music-purchasing dollars go to local, music-loving small businessmen instead of into the coffers of corporate behemoths who are just going to use it to lobby the government allow the harvesting of artists for their bodily fluids and minerals.

- It's like a weird form of time travel. Digging through those records puts you vividly into the musical environment of the pre-1990's, which is where all of your favorite drummers older than, say, Dave Grohl grew up. Aren't you curious about their world?

- There are a lot of things out there that were never issued on CD, let alone on iTunes. True, there are bloggers ripping out-of-print LPs and posting the mp3s online- who I follow pretty closely, in fact- but again, there are a whole lot of recrords out there, and in one trip to the store I found things I've never seen online in any form.

- LPs are the most human format; the package is big enough to hold in your two hands, and read/view like a normal book. CDs have never been very satisfying to use, with the miniaturized art and type, and the obscure playback method. It's no wonder people are giving them up so easily. From there you're not losing that much going to this extremely diffuse presentation of a randomly-named collection of computer files with the vital information buried on your computer, or scattered around the internet.

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