A record is so much more than the record
'For a fan, a record is so much more than the record. It's a signifier, a membership card, a memento, a coveted treasure, a life's pursuit, a piece of art, but most of all (for me) it's a bridge, the physical incarnation of the connection between the artist and the fan. The record contains a literal translation of the vibration that occured when someone sang something, beat something, strummed something in a studio or a bedroom somewhere; the needle bounces along on those vibrations carved into the vinyl. It's the music of course, but it's also the whole package - the art, choice of songs and their ordering into A and B sides, the cover image, the liner notes, the labels, the color of the vinyl, and the messages etched onto the smooth, blank inner ring of vinyl.'That is Mac McCaughan, founding member of rock band Superchunk, co-founder of Merge Records, and solo artist and blogger under the name of Portastic, writing in The Record, Contemporary Art and Vinyl. This generously illustrated book catalogues the exhibition of the same name which was presented at Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina from Sept 2010 to Feb 2011 and which opens in the The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston on April 15. The Record, Contemporary Art and Vinyl, explores the culture of vinyl records within contemporary art from 1965 to 2010 and the accompanying book adds authoritative essays to illustrations of vinyl inspired art. But the book is much more than a sumptuous coffee table volume, because by looking at the past it tells us about the future.
Mac McCaughan writes of vinyl as being a literal translation of the vibration created by the performance, and of the LP as being a bridge, the physical incarnation of the connection between performer and audience. The same concept of literal translation informed my recent transmission theory post and the same bridge was encapsulated by Benjamin Britten in his 'holy triangle' of composer, performer and listener. Digital culture is destroying that bridge and the literal translation of vibrations is being replaced by Twitter hashtags. A record is so much more than the record, music is so much more than the binary digits, and a concert is so much more than the next twittertunity - move over iPhone, here comes vinyl.
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Example - "...music is so much more than the binary digits." It's also so much more than rumble, hiss, a growing number of ticks and pops, and the occasional scratch.
"Digital culture"? In regard to music, digital is a recording technique, nothing more. And how did Twitter get in here as a criticism of digital recordings?
Frankly, this all sounds to me like nothing so much as the lamentations of 78 lovers when LP's came out, or of lovers of acoustical recordings when electrical recording took over.
In both cases, there were cries that although noise was down, some of the real music was being lost or misrepresented, and the culture was suffering.
And of course there are those who insist that real photographers use film, or even that B&W is a more honest medium than colour.
Some things never change, it seems.
"Nostalgia isn't what it used to be ... and what's more, it never was."
(Can't find the source for the whole quote. Peter de Vries is credited wth the first part.)
But we have been down that road before. So let's leave it to the LPs and CDs to go round in circles.
If there weren't an ocean between us, I'd offer to buy you a pint or two to facilitate a "full and frank exchange of views."
I have to disagree that the digital world is "destroying that bridge," however, because digital culture is building separate bridges, ones that people can walk on to thousands of different composers and genres in an instant. I feel more emotionally connected with vinyl, but electronic music allows me to listen to become more familiar with certain composers, which also makes me feel connected to them.