Monday, July 16, 2007

Move over iPhone - here comes vinyl

The format was supposed to have been badly wounded by the introduction of CDs and killed off completely by the ipod-generation that bought music online. But in a rare case of cheerful news for the record labels, the latest phenomenon in a notoriously fickle industry is one nobody dared predict: a vinyl revival. Latest figures show a big jump in vinyl sales in the first half of this year, confirming the anecdotal evidence from specialist shops throughout the UK.

It comes as sales of CD singles continue to slide - and it is not being driven by technophobic middle-aged consumers. Teenagers and students are developing a taste for records and are turning away from the clinical method of downloading music on to an MP3 player.

The data, released by the UK's industry group BPI, shows that 7in vinyl sales were up 13% in the first half, with the White Stripes' Icky Thump the best seller.Two-thirds of all singles in the UK now come out on in the 7in format, with sales topping 1m. Though still a far cry from vinyl's heyday in 1979, when Art Garfunkel's Bright Eyes alone sold that number and the total vinyl singles market was 89m, the latest sales are still up more than fivefold in five years.

For record stores, the resurgence has meant a move from racks of vintage Rolling Stones and Beatles releases to brand new singles and younger buyers. "The student population seem to be loving the 7in," says Stuart Smith, who runs Seismic Records in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He sells 300-600 records a week and is preparing to launch an online store. "I'm still not sure about the MP3 generation. You can have a full hard drive and nothing to show for it. Record collections are very personal. You can view into a person's soul really," he says.
That story is in today's Guardian. And the header photo is a view into my soul. It was taken a few minutes ago and shows an LP from Deutsche Grammophon's 1973 Schoenberg, Berg and Webern orchestral set playing on my Thorens TD125. This Second Viennese School overview was played by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and, to my knowledge, has never made it onto CD complete, although I have the 'highlights' CD that was compiled from it in 1999. (Listen to brief audio samples here)
Producer of the set for DG was Hans Weber with Tonmeister G├╝nter Hermanns. The Berg Drei Orchesterst├╝cke Op. 6 was recorded in Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin, all the other works were captured in the Philharmonie. The vinyl pressings are out of DG's top drawer. Mine are still pristine, and sound absolutely magnificent. For audiophiles the rest of my replay system is an Audio-Technica AT-F3/OCC moving coil phono cartridge, SME Series lllS tone arm, Arcam Alpha 10 integrated amplifier, Sennheiser HD 580 headphones, and B&W Nautilus 803 speakers.

The lavish booklet that came with the DG set can be seen in my photo. It includes a serious analysis of each work, wonderful full page photos of the composers, and a biography of Karajan that takes hagiography to an Olympic level. Special mention should me made of the cover design by Hartmut Pfeiffer. (Is that the same Hartmut Pfeiffer who is credited as one of the conductors on DG's Stravinsky overview?). The cover graphic becomes a work of art on the 12" by 12" LP box. When reduced to a 4.5" by 4.5" CD liner it becomes as disposable as an MP3 file.

Karajan's lush 1973 interpretations of these Second Viennese School classics, and DG's 'spot-lit' microphone technique, are completely out of step with today's minimalist zeitgeist. But these vinyl LPs provide a window into my musical soul, and they challenged, educated and inspired me when I bought them back in the early 1970s.

As I took the DG LP of Schoenberg's Orchestervariationen Op. 31 off the turntable I switched the Arcam amplifier over to the tuner and saw into the musical soul of BBC Radio 3. Rob Cowan was challenging, educating and inspiring listeners with an orchestral arrangement of April in Paris.

More riches from my Thorens TD125 here.
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4 comments:

JW said...

Wow, you're taking me way back! For those of us who really loved music and that particular vinyl sound, the above post is just straight hi-fi pornography! Thanks for the memories.

Pliable said...

Amusing that this post made it onto
iPhonews.com

Pliable said...

Email received -

Vinyl? - yes, for sure.

Take the avant garde in classical Music, take improvised Music, take free jazz, etc.

Examples of recordings ( vinyl) which have never ever been re – released on CD are plentiful.

Today I got the last newsletter from Downtown Music Gallery ( NY): nothing but vinyl.

In Jazz: this blogger, http://destination-out.com/#/blog/200605314357.php makes it all available, drop after drop.

Luciano Berio. There’s this : http://mac-texier.ircam.fr/textes/c00000008/. There’s also a site where you can find all his music, which wasn’t released on CD. Only on vinyl.

Pliable said...

Email received:

Hello, I also remember listening to that DG album of Second Viennese orchestral music on LPs - my first hearing of some of those pieces, when I was a college student.

What I believe is the full musical content of the original album has been issued on a 3 CD set by the Musical Heritage Society, a record club based in New Jersey that re-releases many discs originally issued by the big labels. They also offer recordings unique to their own imprint. Musical Heritage Society discs are available only to members of the Society - it is one of those subscription services, like the Book-of-the-Month Club. I don't know if membership in the club is available in Europe, or if there are restrictions due to copyright issues. The same organization also runs Jazz Heritage Society - a similar organization for jazz recordings.

Of course, the MHS re-issue lacks the large format book that came with the LP edition...

with good wishes,

James Primosch
--
Dr. James Primosch
Robert Weiss Professor of Music
Department of Music
University of Pennsylvania