Words: Mike Norris aka Fort Romeau
In a digital age, buying and listening to vinyl records may appear antiquated, and to some even a little pretentious, but i’d like to offer my thoughts on why I think, it is both a hugely enjoyable, and highly rewarding experience.
Firstly let me explain that I don’t wish to frame this issue within the traditional vinyl vs digital narrative. Digital formats now provide wider access to a wider range of music than at any point in the history of recorded sound. To me, any technological development that allows more people great access to quality information is always positive.
There are however drawbacks to having such unprecedented access. In contemporary life, our attention is more fractured and intermittent than at any point in human history. If you by any chance you are reading this, it’s probable you have at least 4 other browser windows open, perhaps a beeping Twitter application, two conversations on Facebook, a YouTube video paused and a song playing on Spotify all whilst checking your emails for the second time in as many minutes, to try and avoid whatever it is you are supposed to be doing on Excel/Word/Illustrator, etc.
We simply do not pay enough attention.
We simply do not pay enough attention. The activities which require most mental energy are often rushed or avoided, and our enjoyment and fulfillment consequently suffer. So I propose vinyl listening, not as a replacement, but as a vital supplement to the digital, instant, virtual world. It provides us with a connection to the physical and tangible world that we are rapidly leaving behind.
Listening to vinyl records on a turntable gives you a fuller, richer and more enjoyable relationship with Music. Just as Facebook has made it easier to catch up with people anywhere, anytime, few of us want to forego physical interaction completely, just for the sake of convenience. It may require more effort, but it is more rewarding by virtue of requiring more from us as people.
Many have extolled the various technical reasons why analogue sounds better than digital, and to be honest, I don’t really care if it is technically better or not. The fact is, that vinyl records have character; flaws and attributes that simply make them more charming and interesting to listen to. Once you get into the esoteric world of vinyl you’ll find that the cartridges, tonearms and even slipmats all have a character and personality of their own.
With vinyl we listen more carefully, we pick up nuances we hadn’t previously noticed, and our greater attention yields greater reward.
Superior sound quality is often touted as the reason for going analogue, and much drivel has been written on the subject. I actually think that sound quality is secondary to a point which I alluded to earlier; vinyl forces you to concentrate your attention. You have to get up intermittently to turn the record over, you have to listen to each record all the way through (unless you want to get up even more frequently) and as such, we are forced to focus our cognitive resources on what we are doing. We listen more carefully, we pick up nuances we hadn’t previously noticed, and our greater attention yields greater reward.
The last point I want to make here is about value. It follows, that in the internet age we have come to place little value on digital music formats and in a sense, rightly so. There are lower costs involved in manufacture, distribution and almost no cost in reproduction, and much music is available for free. But we have confused an expectation about the value of the medium, with the value of the content. There seems to be a growing attitude now, that Music itself has little value, and this diminishes our enjoyment and understanding of it to a superficial level.
“Slow Listening” allows us the space to renegotiate the relationship between our physical and digital selves.
How often have you scrubbed through an album on a digital store or YouTube, becoming impatient after two seconds and jumping to the middle? How can we possibly extract anything of worth from that kind of engagement? I don’t mean to sound preachy, it’s an understandable side effect of having such overwhelming access. There is so much music readily available, and it takes so long to sift through it, but this mode of listening does a disservice both to music and ourselves.
Vinyl provides us with a solution, and it’s “Slow Listening”, offering a counterpoint to the information dense, yet confused and fragmented digital existence most of us lead. Ultimately it allows us the space we require to objectively reframe our relationship with music, and perhaps in the process renegotiate the relationship between our physical and digital selves.
Fort Romeau’s Kingdoms was released on 100% Silk earlier this year.