On a recent rainy day, I was doing some maintenance on my vinyl library–Whoever shelved this stuff didn’t always follow the alphabet. Oh, wait. That was me.–when I become reacquainted with some of the weirder pieces in the collection. Ten-inch albums. Double-groove records. Edison discs (Where did those come from? I don’t even remember.) And plenty vinyl in all the colours of the rainbow.
Red, yellow, green, blue, purple, strangle spackled records and even a few that try to pass to clear or transparent.
That’s one aspect of vinyl collecting that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. A record can be made out of a variety of materials so long as it’s based on polyvinyl chloride. (Well, not always. The band Slightly Stoopid tried to make an album out of hash resin. Experiments didn’t work that well so they just smoke the result. We could also talk about albums made out of wood or ice. But I digress.)
Vinyl allows for a unique physical relationship with music, transcending every other format, including CDs and tapes. Magenta takes a look at this particular aspect of our renewed interest in vinyl.
Patton Oswalt once did a bit about how much we take for granted the fact that we all live in the future. We walk around obliviously with devices in our pockets—smartphones about the size of an ’80s mixtape—that contain every song we’ve ever heard, or will ever hear. Which makes, to a certain sort of person, the renaissance of vinyl so inexplicable. When you can already stream all the music ever for the cost of a $9.99 Spotify subscription, why would anyone spend $30 on a single record impressed in wax?
Of course, the fact that most of us have such ephemeral relationships with music these days is why vinyl has come back. Embracing vinyl in the 21st century isn’t just about being hip; it’s about reclaiming a physical relationship with our music, one that has largely been lost in today’s streaming age. For vinyl collectors, buying an album elevates it, marks its importance. Moreover, vinyl’s physicality invites us to have a more active relationship with our music. It’s not something that can be engaged with passively: You can’t listen to it while you jog, or ride the subway. To play a record, you must set out to listen to it, not just hear it—take it out of its sleeve, drop the needle, sit down in front of your stereo, and flip it halfway through.
Which makes vinyl more important than just an obsolete medium.