Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts of a Materialist

I am a materialist. In the past that would be putting myself down. It would be confessing that I was shallow, attentive to consumer goods at the expense of spiritual and intellectual pursuits. Being a materialist means something different to me now—more like keeping engaged to the physical world and appreciating the beauty in objects. On a superficial level, my materialism is expressed through the appreciation of vinyl records, with their often creative covers, well-written and informative liner notes, and high-quality mastering. MP3s and other digital music formats don’t exist in a physical world. Our engagement to the music has been reduced to an immaterial context. The way music is presented now provides fewer opportunities for creativity.

Another example of the contrast between the material and immaterial worlds we live in are childhood war games. As a boy, I often played war games with other boys in the neighborhood. We would use construction sites or the woods as battlefields. We used baseball bats as rifles, empty beer cans discarded by construction workers as grenades. We had to make up a narrative and adopt roles to set the action. It was fun crawling through the dirt, pretending a Louisville Slugger was an M-16, on a sneak attack on an imaginary fort. It was an extremely physical game and at the same time it was extremely imaginative. There were a lot of details we had to fill in ourselves to make the war seem real to us.

You probably know where I’m going with this. Video war games provide you with none of the physical engagement of the war game described above, and perhaps more importantly all the details are filled in for the player, leaving little room for the imagination. Video games are little more than elaborate and virtual mazes. The games are about directional choices the player makes and his dexterity in overcoming obstacles.

So in my current view, materialism doesn’t stand opposite of the intellectual and the imaginative or even the spiritual. The physical world co-exists necessarily with the spiritual and intellectual world. It is the immaterial world of video games and digital music that is a step removed from the intellectual, imaginative, and spiritual aspects of life that we value. In this modern context, materialism isn’t such a bad thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Album Cover Gallery: Novel Covers

Special edition of Talking Heads' Speaking in Tongues designed by Robert Rauschenburg: The album comes in a yellow transluscent case. The vinyl is actually clear. The design you see are on two circular transparencies that go on either side of the record. Artsy fartsy.

First US pressing of Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request has a lenticular plastic 3-D image of the band (which is hard to capture in a photo)--artsy fartsy in the mind of a 13-year old boy.

First UK pressing of Bob Marley's Catch a Fire has a cover designed like a Zippo lighter. It flips open like a Zippo, too! Fuck art. Let's light up, man.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Primary System vs. Vintage System

I've been really enamored with the vintage system set up in the bedroom. It's just so pleasing to listen to that I had thoughts that it was all I needed. Who needs a hi-fi system that has a price tag of a mid-sized car? Well, last night I listened to a couple of records on my primary system, Bobby Hutcherson and Harold Land's San Francisco (original Blue Note pressing) and Neu! 2 (original UK United Artists pressing). Then I moved to the bedroom to listen to the vintage system before turning in for the night. This wasn't an intentional comparison, but it was the first time I listened to the two systems back-to-back. The vintage system sounded muffled, less clear, and the sound-stage was smaller and less defined compared to the primary system. The bass was also boomier and less defined. When I first listened to the vintage system I was surprised how close it came to the sound quality of my primary system. Last night I realized that impression was obviously an illusion. So, critical listening will be done on the primary system. The vintage system is perfect for casual listening in the bedroom. One advantage it does have is it does take the digital edge off many modern recordings and makes them more listenable. The comparison with the primary system hasn't diminished my appreciation of the vintage system. It still sounds wonderful. My appreciation of the primary system has only increased.