Vinyl LP records are back. A lot of people I know own typewriters. Many musicians, photographers and other artists record their work analogue and then transfer it to digital later for distribution. Examples include musicians recording to old fashioned tape machines and photographers using various film cameras, working in the darkroom and then digitally scanning their work. What does this mean? Why do people continue to use obsolete forms of technology? The answer that I’ve often heard when discussing this with people is that these technologies still work well, they still exist and are in fact better suited to certain uses and forms of expression than more recent inventions. I will try to summarize here some of the ideas I’ve heard knocked around lately plus add in some of my own thoughts that I’ve hatched while trying to write this article!
There is a dual relationship developing between the physical world and the digital world. People obviously want to go into the digital world, but they want to leave it too, out of a pure physical and psychological need to see, hear and touch something plain and simple. On a personal level and on a cultural level people are also judiciously considering their notions of technological progress. Practically speaking, through a process of trial and error, they are finding out what forms of technology work best in different situations.
Digital: Looking at information on a computer screen, or even typing in album titles, pressing play and listening to music on a computer – all of this is like looking through the glass at a diorama in a museum, with the feeling that if you stepped through the glass it would all come alive.
What’s the difference between digital music in a computer and a vinyl record with its sleeve? I think that CDs will eventually die out, and in the short term will be used mostly to transport music from a vendor to one’s computer. Most people will get and listen to their recorded music digitally, and some smaller number of people will gravitate towards vinyl records. These people will use digital music to some lesser and practical extent, such as when traveling, listening to internet radio or to something unavailable on LP. For myself, if I hear something I really like and treasure I’d want to own it as a physical object on LP, where as something I were only lukewarm about I might want to just have filed away digitally.
Why are these music lovers attracted to this older form, why has it been selected? Yes, records do sound better than digital, sometimes surprisingly better. It’s a warmer sound, fuller – not so cold, hard and matter-of-fact as digital – there’s some surface noise and a crucial bit of remove that is desirable in a recorded medium. But there’s more to it than that, having to do