Digital Vinyl

Kellen Evan


My ears can hear whatever they want. There is a magical program within my computer and when I explore it every composition becomes mine. It makes lists for me, using heuristics to determine to what I like to listen. It is often right. Music is beautiful. But music is now rails.

Every song is sucked into an algorithm. It is spliced into a thousand pieces, its beating heart counted to assess time signature. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Noise level, beats per minute, bass content, meta-data; lyrical content – the program is always paying attention, stripping the 1s and 0s right down to the soul. Ah, you like that one, did you? Well, this one is just like it. Here, we have everything that you already like.

When my passion for music began to form to the psychedelic legends of the 60s and 70s - Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin - I purchased CDs. After CDs, came CDs – different ones. Not ones from the store, ones I would use a lazer-writer to craft myself. The contents of these disks stolen from the high-seas of the wild web.

My father would speak of his youth and about how music no longer meant anything to kids anymore. With glasses of rose, he would explain the feeling of walking into a store filled with vinyl records. Imagine waking up Sunday morning with the sun hitting your eyes. You have no phone to answer to, no paper to read. No one is around. You put on your shoes and shuffle off to the local music shop. You barely have enough for one new record.

You walk in the door and there is a record spinning; it eclectic, you have never heard it before. You own about 45 records and you love each and every one of them. After today, you will have 46. The bearded man at the counter gives you a nod and returns to organizing records into one of many boxes. Peering deeper into the shop, you see thousands of records, arranged loosely by genre. Turn-tables and speakers line each row; you can’t afford any of them. You would not get one if you could because grandmother warned you about that.

You start thumbing through records. Each one is a sheet of mystery. You have nothing but a cover image and the opinion of the grizzled store clerk to inform your decision. No meta-aggregation to quantify the most statistically likely object to please you. The record looks interesting; I mean, it has a fresh name and the tracks sound radical. You get lost in sea of cardboard covers, picking them up one by one. You have got it narrowed down to a pair; you ask the fellow at the counter: “they’re all good, man” - he does not seem to want to talk to you. You decide on the first one you grabbed. You pay the man and head back home.

You pop it in your record player, put your headphones on, and lay on your couch. The record skips and your ears come alive with the crackle of the needle dancing through the grooves. The first half plays… And!… It does little for you. The lyrics were interesting, you suppose, but the melodies were all off - it sounded foreign, there were sounds you had never heard; the singer, an odd… tenor? You flip it over and try the other side.

Same story. You are disappointed. You look wistfully over at your collection of records, alphabetized and pristine. Each one tells a story. Each one an epic ballad, scooping some of your most delightful memories out of your brain bucket; remember when we all sat here, listening to The Beatles? Bella kissed you for the first time that night; Bill got so twisted he fell down the stairs. That was a good time. That was a good album. You go back to your Sunday.

Later that week, you find out some excellent news; you have got the weekend off work. You are elated! Return home, activate record, flop on couch, engage listening apparatus; blast off! Auuugh… You forgot to put in a new record. The strange choruses from the weekend fill your ears, you prepare to feel let down but… Something is different. The drums snap your attention back to the rhythm; the tastiest guitar-borne licks flare into your ear-holes. The lyrics move you; you proceed to be blown into the cosmos of musical bliss. Each song flowing into the next with masterful intention. An invisible hand of glory has touched this record; a conduit for alien wails of another dimension.

You keep that record with you your entire life. You grow older and have children. One day, you give them a crate filled with records. You have not heard them in a while, but each one speaks to your heart. Each one says something about you. Each one a material embodiment of a more magical time in your life. You can not listen to them now. It is just not the same. But you love to know they are still present. You long for your children to see them the way you do.

The records sat under my table; I stared at the computer. My dad did not see it, but I was on the hunt for good music. There was a commercial on the television yesterday and there was 10 seconds of the most delightful noises; the love-child of an old Gameboy and an instrument from the orient. I… must have it. It is the missing piece; the cherry on top of what will be the most bizarrely mystical CD anyone has ever constructed. Google is a shadow of itself; its help less of a firehose and more of a trickle. There are ways to find things, but first you need to know what you are looking for. All you have are 10 sweet seconds of memory-tape and your creative descriptors. Hours pass. You retreat for the night; battle lost, war not over.

A week goes by with no luck. The CD cannot yet be completed. You have almost forgotten the melody, the polyphonic groove slowly becoming a ghostly vapour in your minds-ear. You obsess about it. You are in the car when suddenly a familiar cadence slithers through the stereo. The beat builds, the crescendo mounts… This is it! The song! I have heard it now! I can remember the lyrics, I can use them to find it!

Arriving home, I race down to the machine. I have gotten several new permutations to try; is this it? Hmm, nothing. Web pages jitter in, line-by-line, through your 56 kbits/s internet connection. Nothing, nothing, still nothing… Ah - the lyrics match! Yes, this is it! I have found it. The song downloads CD burns and days later, it is ready. I can take it into my bedroom where my speakers live. It is a moment I have craved for months, here at last. I am serenaded to sleep, each track weaving together better than I could have ever dreamt. The thrill and patience of musical discovery now a part who who I am. This CD, this collection, will be with me forever.

Today I go to work. I click a button next to a list.. It plays all day and I love every sound it makes. There is another list, just below it. I click it sometimes, to change the pace. It plays all day and I love every sound it makes. Sometimes I put new sounds in and take old sounds out, a gifted curator. Sometimes I listen to the lists the program makes for me. They play all day and I love every sound they make. My old CD has been cut up and lined into my lists. It plays all day and I love every sound it makes.

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