Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Record Collecting Manifesto: Prologue

Counter-clockwise from left: LP cover, CD cover, mp3 cover

“All that is solid melts into air” is the Karl Marx quote that’s used as a title to Marshall Berman’s book on modernism. To put it simply, Berman defines modernism as the struggle to make ourselves at home in a constantly changing world. He adds, “To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradiction…. It is to be both revolutionary and conservative… longing to create and to hold on to something real even as everything melts.”

In the narrow scope of recorded music, the digital format is the perfect expression of modernity as it allows for constant change. First, there was the compact disc, then the super-audio compact disc and DVD-Audio, and now mp3, FLAC, and countless other digital music formats. Blu-Ray is on the horizon for recorded music. Trying to keep up with these format changes feels like a nihilistic exercise in consumerism. You will never be happy staying with a single digital format, because it will inevitably be replaced by a “better” format. The advertising pitch for compact discs when they were introduced--“perfect sound forever”—that convinced so many people to ditch their record collections turned out to be a lie. Not only do CDs sound worse than their vinyl equivalents, they are now heading toward obsolescence.

Collecting and listening to vinyl records is an attempt “to hold on to something real”. Some may consider it a nostalgic and conservative reaction to changes in music formats. To me, it’s about jumping off the runaway capital-driven freight train and trying to create a comfortable and enjoyable place, off the tracks, that feels like home.

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