In 2015 the big new technology trend is the 'internet of things'. In this the focus shifts from software to physical objects, with digital technologies moving from being an end in themselves to a tool that increases the utility of 'things' such as cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines and wearable devices. The internet of things provides an interface between the physical and virtual world, and its emergence sends the important message that no matter how clever the technology, digital solutions can only enhance and not replace physical interactions. This message needs to be taken on board by the classical music industry, where the obsession with virtual content has turned streaming into flooding. Confirmation that the virtual can never replace the physical is also coming from within the music industry: in 2014 9.2 million vinyl records were sold in the US, the best year since the monitoring of vinyl sales by Nielsen restarted in 1991. Received wisdom tells us that vinyl sales are booming because analogue records sound better than digital CDs. But in an article on quartz.com music industry commentator Bob Lefsetz begs to differ, explaining that in his view:
Vinyl is agitation against a disconnected society where we have no way to display our identity. If it were really about sound, people would be gravitating to Deezer Elite and Tidal. But they’re not, because they don’t want to hear better sound, they want to own something.The money quote is that classical listeners want to own something, whether it is owning a physical CD or LP, or owning the shared experience of hearing great music live in a concert. Classical music must embrace the shift from the virtual to physical by celebrating the music of things in the form of physical recordings and live performances. Quite rightly much attention is paid to the musicians who make live concerts possible, but too little attention is paid to the dedicated retailers who make owning CDs and LPs possible. Saturday April 18th is World Record Store Day, an event that celebrates the culture of independently owned record stores. Without independent record stores On An Overgrown Path would not exist, and there have been many celebrations of these dedicated retailers here over the years. Physical recordings are more than vinyl LPs or polycarbonate CDs: they are also bold visual statements that express agitation against a digitally connected but physically disconnected society. So to celebrate the 2015 World Record Store Day I offer bold visuals from a CD that I discovered recently in one of the world's great record stores, Concerto Records in Amsterdam. Oud virtuoso Haytham Safia was born in Northern Galilee, but is now based in Europe and the artwork is from his CD U'D on the Dutch Loplop label. I will now leave you with those ravishing graphics as I am swapping the virtual world for the music of things and travelling to Fez for the Sufi Culture Festival. As Sufi master Rumi instructs us in the Mathnawi: "Say less, learn more, depart". Back soon insha'Allah.
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