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How did Ill Mitch get into my record collection? Honestly. I’m not joking.

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Another gem from Cat and Girl.

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Comic from the always funny Toothpaste For Dinner 

I usually don’t like to talk to people about records. And when I say ‘records’ I mean the black vinyl disks with music on them. I love talking about the music on the records. When I refer to the music on a particular black vinyl disk I use the word ‘album’. I also apply this term to CDs and music bought off the internet, kind of a catch-all phrase for a collection of songs by an artist (or artists) regardless of medium.

The worst record conversations are with people over the age of 40. And record collectors. Record collectors can really piss me off. And if someone is a record collector over 40 I really get nervous. I think of myself as an enthusiast, not a collector. The main difference in my mind is I buy and hold on to records for many many reasons. Because I like the music, the cover art is cool, the notion of the record is interesting, etc. Collectors buy and hold on to records because of a perceived monetary value. This is understandable since collectors need to draw an income, or a return on investment from what it is they are collecting. Now, I must confess I’ve made a little money selling records. Once. Because I got really lucky. I came across a bunch of picture disks and a couple sealed copies of some rather popular records from the eighties. I bought them for a dollar a piece at the Salvation Army, and tripled my money when I sold them at Cheapo. That was the only time. I don’t regret it and I’ll acknowledge it, but making making money and reselling records is not my motivation for buying them in the first place.

The reason I hate conversations about records with people over 40 is because it’s ALWAYS the same exact conversation. Here’s how it breaks down:

1.) 40 year-old discovers that I own some records.

2.) 40 year-old states that it’s unusual for someone my age to own records.

3.) 40 year-old tells of their record collection when they were younger.

4.) 40 year-old asks me what records I listen to. Most times they are totally unfamiliar with the records I buy, because I buy random records for the reasons listed above.

5.) 40 year-old tells of how their record collection either a.) was sold off/stolen/abandoned by family/friends/girlfriend/boyfriend; or b.) still resides in their basement/parents basement.

6.) 40 year-old expresses interest in acquiring said records and listening to them again.

7.) 40 year-old tells of the audible difference between records and CDs. This statement leads eventually to the fact that some records were never transfered to CD.

8.) And on, and on, and on …

I’ve left out most of my responses because usually I just smile and nod, having heard all the nostalgia a million times before. I also limit my responses for the simple fact that I don’t want to encourage this dreadful conversation.

Just this morning I was in the bathroom at work and the guy who comes in once a week to water the plants walks in and begins the ’40 year-old Record Conversation’ at step 4 (he had completed steps 1–3 at an earlier date). Now I’m not one for talking about ANYTHING in the mens room, (I think it’s something I picked up in the Boy Scouts) let alone records. So, this guy is at the urinal T.C.O.B. going on about records. I’ve already washed my hands and have my hand on the door waiting for an opportunity to make a quick escape. But this guy just keeps going. He finishes his business at the urinal and he just keeps talking (he’s at step 8 now). He washes his hand and he just keeps talking. We are both ready to leave the men’s room since we both have no further business to conduct in that setting, and he just keeps talking. We end up leaving the men’s room together, and the ‘conversation’ spills out into the atrium of the building. I’m nodding and interjecting with the required ‘yeah’ and ‘that’s interesting’ every now and again, all the while slowly backing up, inching my way closer to the door of my office and increasing the distance between us. He doesn’t even notice, just starts talking louder to compensate. And just when I think I’m going to have to call the office and tell them to notify everyone that I won’t be available for the rest of the day because of some stupid China-Syndrome record conversation he lays a doozy on me. Having found his way back to step 7 he compares a record to a camera in the sense that certain cultures believed the camera was capable of stealing souls, and that the audio quality and physical nature of vinyl was similar. That all the noise and all the pops and scratches and shit are an essential part of the ‘soul’ captured and imprisoned in the vinyl. And I thought, “That is really fucking interesting.” The comparison to photography alone was great. The idea that the physical inscription of the vinyl captures a representation of a time, a place, and an occurrence is very similar to that of film based photography. And when he dropped the soul stealing aspect on me, he really blew my mind. In a way, DJing and sampling, are ways of manipulating those trapped souls. A way to make them say something other than the original message. Anyone who disagrees can look to the controversy regarding sampling and usage rights. On some level I’m sure it’s about money but it’s also about letting the soul speak for itself rather than having a new message attached to it after the fact. But on the other hand using that music again gives it a new life, (I promise I won’t get too biblical).

Back in the early-mid nineties I thought music piracy and file sharing were, in a way, beneficial to the idea of music. It freed music from the confines of a physical medium, making it more ‘musical’ somehow. After all, the origin of music, literally and historically, is live performance, not a cassette tape or a CD. So why should it matter where or how you got that music? I felt that when I did buy a CD that my money was paying for the encasement of the music, and not the music itself. The music existed beyond the CD, it floated in the ether of the universe. Unlike books where the words are clearly visible in black and white, and you can see that they exist, music offers no such proof of existence. The fact that music is audible and not visual helped with this notion of ethereal existence.

So to bring it all back to the uncomfortable conversation I had in the men’s room, I am now thinking that the encasement of music is just as important as the music itself. The medium is as important as the message. The music may exist in some ethereal alternate music universe, but it’s the medium that allows it to live in ours. It’s the medium that lets us interact and manipulate that message (for better or for worse). It’s the medium that these 40 year-olds are nostalgic for. They still enjoy the message of the music in CD or mp3 format, but the fact remains it’s just not the same. I just wish they would quit talking to me about it.

Note: No 40 year-olds were harmed in the writing of this document.

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I was at Cheapo Records the other day and noticed something interesting. A lot of newly released vinyl albums are also including access codes for a one-time download of the same album, for free! What a great idea. There are a lot of albums that I download that I’m not willing to purchase on vinyl because of the added cost, and the fact that I could only listen to them at home. But, if I can get both by buying the vinyl first I’ll gladly do that.

Apparently adding a digital feature to vinyl record isn’t new. I found this link today (via Coudal) that tells all about albums from the 80s that contained analog sound data that would be recorded on to a cassette and then loaded on to a computer. The computer would read the analog sound data and convert it into pictures and games! This is something that really needs to revisited. I can see a band like !!! or AIR pulling it off really well. Aphex Twin did something similar in 2001 by “hiding”imagery in the sound spectrum of specific songs (you can watch the video here, skip to 5:27). These images utilize more sophisticated technology than is probably storable on a vinyl record, but with the technological advancements in the last 20 years, and the resurgent popularity of vinyl, something comparable has to be possible with records.