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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Vinyl Record - The Ideal Artistic Form

I am one of those who think that an "LP," a long-playing vinyl record, represents the ideal form for a collection of songs, an "album," - "one or more recordings produced as a single unit."

Vinyl records are making a little bit of a comeback - up 260% since 2009. They are a tiny part of the market, but vinyl sales are a thriving sub-market. And that's not counting all the used vinyl stores and collectors.

What's cool about vinyl and so "defining" for the art form is that you could only get about 22 mins. of music per side.  All those records that made their mark in our consciousness had to conform to a pretty strict limit of music. The strict limit actually helped define the perfect, idealized form - a quirk of the limits of technology.

And since vinyl ruled for such a long time, when the CD was introduced, all those early CD's reflected those limits too.  I think of the "greatest" albums and I think of Sgt. Peppers, Highway 61, Revolver, Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Astral Weeks, Patti Smith's Horses. They were cohesive collections that did not overstay their welcome.

Of course, there were exceptions, double albums that totally captivated, these especially come to mind: Exile on Main Street, Electric Lady Land, The Beatles White Album, The Who's Tommy, the sprawling, three platter All Things Must Pass.

Today, there are albums being released that adhere to the "less is more" approach, probably with an eye to the upswing in the market for vinyl releases, and they tend to be my favorite records - Low's "Invisible Way," Luluc's "Passerby"  Sturgill Simpson's "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music." 

CD's allowed artists to put more music on a platter, but it didn't make the form richer or better. I own quite a few records made in the "more is more" era and they can be tiring and boring, and I don't play them often. There are some collections, that when I get finished listening to them, make me cry "Uncle!"

Now people are back to downloading individual songs, listening only to "singles," taking the music "out of context." I think this a way of dissipating the power of music. I want to hear an album, an LP of music. That is the art form, the cultural artifact, that I love. 

So the new interest in vinyl has imposed a new discipline, which I think is great for the form. An artist today, thinking of releasing new music, will take into account how many songs will fit on a vinyl LP, which dictates the length of the CD, and the digital downloadable "album."

Vinyl, CD, or digital download - I want to hear the collection of songs in context, one song flowing to another as the artist intended. One cohesive statement. To me that is the art form, the ideal way to experience music.

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