Digital Vinyl

Kellen Evan Person


Categories: Culture

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

Every song is sucked into an algorithm. It’s 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, it was 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, wild web. My father spoke of his youth and about how music didn’t mean anything to kids my age anymore.

With glasses of rose, he’d explain the feeling of walking into a store filled with vinyl records. Imagine waking up on a Sunday; you had a great time with your friends on Saturday night; you all met at your house at 8. You wake up on Sunday with the sun hitting your eyes. You have no phone to answer to, no paper to read. No one’s 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’s a record spinning; it’s eclectic, you’ve never heard it before. You own about 45 records and you love each and every one of them. After today, you’ll 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 wouldn’t get one if you could because mother warned you about that.

You start thumbing through records. Each one is a sheet of mystery. You have nothing but a cover image to go by. No meta-aggregation to quantify the most statistically likely object to please you. Didn’t someone tell you about this record? It looks interesting; I mean, it’s got a fresh name and the tracks sound radical. You get lost in sea of cardboard covers, picking them up one by one. You’ve got it narrowed down to a pair; you ask the counter: “they’re all good, man” - he doesn’t seem to want to talk to you. You decide on the first one you grabbed; you pay the man; you 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. It doesn’t do much for you; the lyrics were interesting, you suppose, but the melodies were all off - it sounded foreign, there were sounds you’d never heard; the singer, an odd… tenor? You flip it over and try the other side.

Same story. You’re 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; your trip is coming to fruition and you’ve got the weekend off work. You’re 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 know, this might be fit for your ‘Top 10’.

You keep that record with you your entire life. You grow older, have children. One day, you give them a crate filled with records. You haven’t 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’t listen to them now. It’s not the same. You just love to know they’re there. You long for your children to see them the way you do. Great story, Pops.

The records sat under my table; I stared at the computer. Pops didn’t see it, but I was on the hunt. I was hunting 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’s 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’re 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 passes, no luck. The CD cannot yet be completed. You’ve almost forgotten about it, the polyphonic groove slowly becoming a ghostly vapour in your minds-ear. You obsess about it. You’re in the car; off to hockey practice. Suddenly, a familiar cadence slithers through the stereo. The beat builds, the crescendo mounts… This is it! It’s the song! It’s the track! I’ve heard it now! A hook, yes, mm-hmm, okay – Mom, I’m not going into the arena until they say what song this is!… But they never do. The music keeps playing. I resign myself to practice. My focus is not present.

Arriving home, I race down to the machine. I’ve gotten several new permutations to try; is this it? Hmm, nothing. Web pages jitter in, line-by-line, through your 14kbits/s internet connection. Nothing, nothing, still nothing… Ah - the lyrics match! Yes, this is it! I’ve found it. The CD burns and an hour later I return, it’s ready. I can take it into my bedroom where my speakers live. It’s a moment I’ve craved for months, here at last. I’m 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.

I go to work. I click a button next to a list.. It plays all day and I love every sound it makes. There’s 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. It plays all day and I love every sound it makes. My old CD has been cut up and lined into my lists. It plays all day and I love every sound it makes.