Stephen Baker

The Boost
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Advantages of vinyl, part two

December 21, 2012General

Record players make you pay attention to music in much the way that cooking tunes you in to what you eat. That's my conclusion after six weeks with a new turntable. I find myself focusing much more on the music than I do in my MP3 wanderings. The reason, I think, is that record players demand work. You have to get up every 20 minutes or so, clean the record with the cloth, and lay down the needle. The biggest part of the job, though, is picking the record. . Unlike with the ipod, you're picking a long record for the entire house. (In this small house, music at the volume I like to play it is heard everywhere.) So you have to think about other people, what they might want or hate. That takes work. And when you put it on, you're looking around at them, to see how it's faring. Does that little tuneless riff bother them? Is it too loud? Did anyone notice that little skip in the record, or the scratch that at first sounds like a drum, but then not so much?

I try to bring my 20-year-old into the music, now Miles Davis' tribute to Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the composer of Bubble Toes.) I ask him if anyone has ever sampled the little guitar and drum riff we're hearing. He listens for a moment and says, "Probably."

With vinyl, you're listening to music. That's the activity, or at least a big part of it. (Now, as you may have noticed, I'm also blogging.) CDs also demand attention, I guess. But they take half as much getting up off the couch, and for some reason I tend to play them softer than vinyl, probably because I'm planning on doing something else.) With portable music, I'm almost always doing something else, and the music is experienced as a soundtrack. Sometimes it devolves into white noise.

In the future, as I write about it in my novel, The Boost (to be published late next year), we'll have vast archives of all kinds of information, including music, on tiny chips, as small as a bumblebee's wing, implanted in our heads. We'll also have streaming right into our head. In the end, I suppose, it won't feel all that different from today's earbuds, unless we can mix the music with memories or fantasies or perhaps sounds picked up from our own bodies.

By that point, the only people sitting down to listen to vinyl will be hobbyists or antiquarians, or perhaps the select few still lacking the cognitive boosts, one ones known as the "wild."

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