Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Records are better (?)

Filed under: Music,Uncategorized — Michael @ 0:38

I recently purchased a vinyl record. In order to hear it, I had to purchase a record player. And a phono preamp to correctly apply the necessary emphasis/de-emphasis curve and boost the signal enough for my computer to capture. For the record (pun intended), the player is a Pro-Ject Debut III with an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge and the preamp is the NAD model PP 2. Basic, entry-level audiophile stuff.
I’ve listened to the album a number of times now on my iPod. In fact, I have not even heard the album via an analog signal path. I listened while digitizing but of course that was via the digital signal path in the Mac. Maybe I will plug my headphone amp directly into the phono preamp and see how that sounds. Or not…
I think I already know what the analog junkies are on about. Even on the ‘Pod the sound is indeed “warmer” than from a digital recording, i.e., CD. (Note that I didn’t say “better”. Read on.) So, apparently the medium itself (undulating grooves), the cartridge and the preamp are determining the “record” sound. So, what is the difference? I think that it actually has something to do with a slight lack of clarity and definition. There are probably a few more harmonics coming into play as well. That would explain the “roundness” that I see mentioned when people schwärm von (rave about) records.
But I don’t think that sound is what it really is all about. Playing a record is much different from a CD. It’s hands-on. Arguing that a record sounds better and all that is just an excuse. I think it is the physical act of preparing and playing a record that people don’t want to give up.
a) pop open a plastic container
b) take out CD
c) insert in player (CD disappears)
d) press button
e) hear music
a) take up record jacket in left(right) hand
b) lightly press jacket against your bosom causing it to yield and open slightly
c) carefully insert right(left) hand and gently extract record in sleeve
d) set down jacket and transfer record in sleeve to left(right) hand
e) repeat forgoing procedure (more-or-less) to extract record from sleeve
f) gently cradling the record at center and edge, set down sleeve
g) now using both hands, touching the record only on the edge, center record over spindle and lower onto turntable (record remains visible)
h) press button (casual relationship), toggle a precious metal lever (relationship on firm ground) or rotate a hand-turned, oiled, rare-wood knob (mistress) to begin turntable rotation
i) clean record using a tactile and very personal technique based on your relationship and the needs of your partner, er, record (may involve fluids)
j) position the tonearm over the desired position on your record and gently lower the needle into place
k) revel in the THUMP delivered to your senses as your record receives the needle
l) swoon to the anticipatory hiss as the needle is guided to the beginning of your selection
m) hear music
Optional: Entertain yourself while listening by watching 1. cold blue digits incrementing or 2. the spectral play of light and the tone arm making subtle yet sensual undulations as your record spins.

Happy listening
— Michael

Disney Girls

Filed under: Music — Michael @ 0:02

On a recent getaway to Copenhagen, blackcat and I were out strolling, taking in the city (looking for a restaurant we’d eaten at before and enjoyed, actually), and passed by a used record shop. We were a few steps past it when something I had seen in the shop window registered. “Was that what I think it was?”, I said out load and turned back. Sure enough, it was a copy of “Surf’s Up” from the Beach Boys. That was once a favorite record of mine and I hadn’t heard it in years. Since at least as far back as Oct. 17, 1989 at 5:04pm. That was when my HiFi system was trashed by an earthquake. (We used to live in California, you see.) I didn’t replace the turntable and sold all my records.
Anyway, after blackcat listened to me going on for a couple of minutes about how great “Surf’s Up” is she said “just buy it” and so I did. I recorded it to CD (how is covered in another post) and have listened to it at least a half a dozen times in the last week.
So, after all those years, is it still as good as I remember. In a word, yes.
The track “Disney Girls (1957)” is brilliant. It was and still is my favorite track on the album. This is a very dark song, almost creepy. “For reality is not for me and it makes me laugh”. This is a ballad about image versus reality which itself has a real split-personality. Beautiful, almost sugary melody with those creepy lyrics. This song captures the culture so well. It plays with disheartening relevance today. These guys are (were) just a few years older than I and grew up in more-or-less the same generation as I did. The Hollywood movies of the ’50s and ’60s fed us their Technicolor vision of a life that we were led to yearn for but simply wasn’t true. “Patti Page and summer days on old Cape Cod…Fantasy world and Disney girls I’m coming back.”
A much different mood in “Take a Load off Your Feet”. This is a fun song. If there is a deep meaning, I’ve missed it. But then again that line “Take good care of yourself ’cause nobody else will” is a bit odd.
To the tune of “Riot in Cell Block No. 9” there’s “It’s Student Demonstration Time”. Listen to the lyrics. They really are pretty powerful. “The pen is mightier than the sword but it’s no match for a gun.”
And the Beach Boys also get in a couple of environmental messages with “Don’t Go Near the Water” and “Life of a Tree”. The former is pretty good. The latter is, well, kinda silly.
The title song and the one just before, “‘Til I Die” are both very sophisticated and very beautiful ballads. “Surf’s Up” is musically the better of the two, “‘Til I Die” lyrically.
One track, “Feel Flows”, sounds good but never really moved me. Ho hum.
It was great hearing this album again. If you only know the Beach Boys from their surfin’ music, this will surprise you. Good stuff even if a bit uneven.
— Michael