Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Sublime Delights of a Curmudgeon

A few days ago, I purchased a used and rare Keith Jarrett record album (that's right: vinyl), called "Shades," for just a few dollars at our local establishment, Twist and Shout. I have never seen it re-released as a CD, although there is an import available. It features the subtle and incomparable drumming of Paul Motian and the virtuosity of Charlie Haden on acoustic bass, the visceral beauty of Dewey Redman's tenor saxophone, in addition to Jarrett's unmistakable piano playing (and mewing).

Today I played side one on my 1973 turntable, through an equally old tube amplifier. I listened through a new pair of headphones. After adjusting the old amplifier to shake out the buzz and hums (it takes some coaxing), I listened to the rich analogue audio of master musicians from 1976--on technology mostly from the same era. Yes, albums sound better than CDs--much better.

This medium is inefficient. You have to change the album every 15-20 minutes since the needle goes to the end and just stays there. Albums are bulky and somewhat fragile; they are easily scratched and have to be stored carefully so they do not warp. You have to clean the needle periodically, as well as the albums themselves, which are magnets for dust.

This experience is tactile as well as sonic. Albums are also more visually-oriented than CDs, since the cover art was taken very seriously by many artists. (Impulse records was justly famous on this account. See Ashley Kahn's book, The House That Trane Built.) This album features a mysterious, abstract painting on the cover--which is far larger than anything on a compact disk. You use old things that retain their value and meaning.

It is sublime.

Miniaturization and efficiency are overrated.


Kamilla said...


I've been meaning to ask you -- are you familiar with Dave Canfield and Ars Antiqua? Talk about vinyl - the man's personal collection is so large the LOC is buying it in sections. And you should see their garage, Carole can't even get her vehicle in there to park.


anna said...

I completely agree with your comment on music mediums because I enjoy very much the artwork created for albums. Since almost everything now is digitized and downloadable, the art is now secondary, I would suppose. I miss it! But I no longer have a turntable and currently own an iPod, so I am directly enabling the demise of my favorite mediums.

Mike Florio said...

Not necessarily Anna. It's illegal downloading that's killing album sales (yes, cds are "albums" - just with aluminum-coated plastic discs instead of vinyl ones). You are paying for your downloads, I hope!