I am back to vinyl — what that means to me

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Photo by Luana De Marco on Unsplash

Born in the eighties, even in the cultural — among other things — restricted former Eastern Germany, the vinyl disk on a turntable does bare fond memories of my childhood. There are some clear pictures in my mind — and I admit that there a not a lot of them — of my early years, that show me sitting in front of a turntable. I still have some distant tunes of the Mamas and the Papas’ „Dream a little Dream of me“ in my head, as well as Shirley Bassey’s „History is Repeating“ — maybe a musical foreshadowing.

Neither do I know where these LPs came from and where they vanished along with its playing device, but my musical genesis went on with cassette players and a walkman that literally played only one album — the Grammy-nominated „Automatic for the People“ by REM — and demised amidst the rise of the Compact Disc. My very first CD back then, and I won’t apologies for a horrible taste as it was a gift, was THE „Batman Exclusivities Soundtrack Album“ by Nelson Riddle.

For those old enough to remember that that Franchise did not start with Bale and Nolan nor Keaton and Burton but 1960s Adam West’s iconic depiction of a rather not so dark knight. I do remember playing Nelson’s Big Band tunes voraciously and who can forget the elevator music medley „Holy-hole-in-the-Doughnut“ — probably no one of that age although some might desperately try.

I skipped the Mini-Disc completely and find myself today in an age of streaming, rediscovering the music of the past and being put in a golden age of musical super-exposition. I most certainly haven’t listened to more and new music than now. But for the past year, I have found myself in the possession of two turntables and a growing vinyl collection. The content of that shelf next to my comfy reading chair is ranging from a bluesy classic of a Blind Willy Johnson to newly pressed soundtracks and „reinvented“ Led Zeppelins.

So, what has changed? What dragged me into the Vinyl Revival? And there is such a revival, cultural as well as economical. Global venial sales increased over four-hundred percent over the past ten years. The Amazon Bestsellers for vinyl recently mirror the top albums for streaming. More turntables are bought today than CD-Players. So my quest for the Why is rather personal and may translate to broader reasoning. For me as someone who likes a well-cooked dinner, either preparing it or consuming it, this gives a good analogy to the vinyl revival. Streaming — at least to me — has become the fast-food side of audio-entertainment. Open up a playlist that fits the current mood or generates a suitable background noise for the task at hand. Hit play and leave it be. This comes in handy for writing or doing chores or setting the mood for the dinner with friends. But is that really listening to music?

For me, it boils down to the word „background noise“. It might be useful to get an expecting silence out of the room when the cursor is blinking on a blank page waiting to race away and leaving meaningful words behind it. Music filling the emptiness of a room. But is that really listening to music? Back to fast-food, this is nothing you really enjoy but rather it is a necessity to fill your stomach. Probably doing a ton of other stuff while mindlessly eating away. A record player does not impose this convenient mindlessness. Depending on the size of the record, at some point, you have to turn the record and play the other side and further down the road there is just the clicking in the silence signaling the end. No looping back to the beginning or having a 17 hours playlist, I actually do have those, that by any meaning can’t be a collection of the favorites. So that leaves you sitting in a comfy chair, preferably directly next to the record player, waiting to turn the record or put a new one on. And while doing this, actually listening to the music. And that’s it.

Listing to vinyl is actually waiting for a manual intermission while enjoying tunes. But still, it does more. You gain an appreciation of music which background noise isn’t able to deliver. It inherits a purposeful and mindful act. And in times of ours, where mindlessness is a way of living, often necessary enough or almost violently imposed, is that a more secluded time we should allow us to give. Focussing on absolutely one thing, a meditative act. A well-prepared meal to taste and feel, appreciating an art form done by someone, hopefully, or you just listening to shitty music (although I would argue that there is no such thing), who put effort, time and valuable hours and days of a lifetime in it. Thus deserving a mindful listener.

Like a hermit purposely deprives himself of the buzzing background noise of society, the vinyl revival does that with music. So from time to time I sit down in that comfy chair and become a vinyl hermit getting a necessary rest for brain and soul.

Analogue-guy being digitally overwhelmed…oh, and of course a writer. And I don’t write infomercials and don’t write for a niche, but what comes to my mind.

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