Music and listening




I’ve noticed that my preferences for listening have evolved with the advent of playlist enabled equipment. I don’t think this is a bad thing, it’s just a thing.

I’m no vinyl snob. I don’t advocate that one sound is any better than another, and I’ve listened to all of it. I’ve listened to digital in its best audiophile presentation, most iterations (local files, streamed, compressed, lossless, run through DAC into headphones, and audiophile room-filling power juggernauts), and I’ve listened to Vinyl in the same light. There are great presentations from both camps, and there are many examples of crap recording and worse delivery.

But the difference that means the most to me isn’t some warm-sound phenomenon, or any claim to superior auditory senses. In fact I know my high end to be a little the other side of 14khz (I have tested this recently with a frequency generator and a very reliable set of headphones at reasonably ridiculous volume).

The difference to me is in how the songs are presented. The order of presentation. Vinyl has only one setting, play. I can’t remember if there was much bother way back when if a shitty song came up on the album (I can’t think of one record that didn’t have one, no question), you’d let it play through unless you were right there at the turntable, and even then to lift the needle could be a risky thing in company. It all depended on the people, the song, the level of intoxicants in the bloodstream, etc. Usually it would go by, a maximum 6 minute commitment. There are exceptions of course, but if you’re listening to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, presumably you’re doing it on purpose; you can see the investment before you drop the needle.

Now, I have been trained by my digital devices to listen to only the cream. The songs that come up on the playlist have all been put there for one reason or another, and regardless of the amount time passed since the construction of that playlist, the reasons still stand. I can hear Lightfoot sing Steel Rail Blues and be happy with a segue into Feist, Zero 7, Winehouse or even Coltrane.

Whereas now, when I start an LP, I have trouble letting it play through. I’m impatient for a perfect song; for a well-crafted song, one that meets my standards. Anything even slightly less has me impatient for a greater level of quality.

All the tunes in rotation on my playlists meet those standards, few on vinyl do. This is a K-Tel moment. They used to do this for pop music and make millions. AM radio played the hits; FM went deep into album cuts.

The last vestige of this was a game I used to play late night after the bars with people who were musically motivated. It happened naturally. You select a cut to demonstrate some impression, feeling or make a point from earlier in the evening. The selection suggests the next selection in some concocted demonstration of synchronicity generated by the mind of the participants. Two, three or four people sharing a train of thought that diverges instantly with thought or suggestion into something different, yet something meeting the aficionado’s definition of quality.

“Great sound! Who does that with a Guitar? How can he do that? Here’s where that melody came from. Remember this?” The possibilities were endless and mostly educational. Those evenings could go on for a long time. Collective playlists – they can’t happen with pockets full of iPod.

So, something has disappeared, but I think potential is still there. In my home, I’m alone at the turntable. There is no one else who is even comfortable using the equipment.

So I have decided to find a couple of cheap turntables, a couple of cheap needle/cartridge combos and a couple of cheap amplifiers. I already have enough speakers to fill the house. I’m going to setup a listening station in each of my daughters bedrooms. Victoria is 15 and Tess is 12. I’m going to let them have access to my Vinyl collection and I’m going to hope that something happens.

That’s all I’ve got.