Vinyl, Paper, Megabytes

Today I am listening to records as I continue the lengthy and pleasurable process of, finally, converting the remains of my record collection to MP3. I like that I can’t just “program” the machine to do it all automatically — I have to sit here and listen to the whole record. I have to listen for the songs to end and push a button to split the tracks. (I’m sure there are fancier programs that will do this bit for me. I am not interested.) I have to turn the record over. I am listening to sets of songs arranged as musicians & producers intended; I am thinking about the “side” as a sub-genre or artistic movement or measurement. In other words, I’m listening to records pretty much the way I used to, you know, hang out and “listen to my records.” As an activity. Not the music as playlist background to driving or doing laundry or sweating it out on the treadmill. Listening to music — to record albums, one at a time — as the Thing I Was Doing. I am enjoying revisiting that. (I will admit to cramming in some Facebooking and blog drafting, but at present, the brevity of the typical Ramones song doesn’t permit much other activity…)

So I’m thinking about time: how long I’ve had these records. How long it’s been since I’ve listened to most of them. The length of a song, a side. Thinking about all this time I spend right here, doing mostly just this one thing. And I’m thinking about the concreteness of it all — the records themselves, the spinning vinyl, the record company logos, the cardboard record sleeves and the art emblazoned there, and the inner sleeves — sometimes paper, sometimes plastic, sometimes printed with lyrics, sometimes printed with advertisements for other records. I’m thinking about how much bigger this record collection used to be; thinking of what I’ll do with the records once they’re ripped. Them and the trunk full of CDs I ripped when I finally ditched the component stereo system and got my iPod a few years ago. (Yes, I am a Late Adopter.) I’m not overly sad about getting rid of the record albums — I love the space-saving of the iPod. I’ve held on to these records — and all manner of stuff — for so long. I’m thinking more of how the activity of purchasing and collecting and listening to music has evolved. Does getting rid of the records mean I’ll rarely (never?) devote a few hours to listening to collections of songs by a single artist/band? And if this is so, I am curious to know how the genre of the “album” (do we say that anymore?) has evolved or is evolving. Interesting questions and ideas there about how art and technology (culture and technology) are intertwined. How the recording/listening technology might impact the authoring/composition of songs.

Of course, some folks are thinking (and writing about) similar thoughts about the literary arts and technologies like paper and magazines and books. How are evolving means of distribution & new technologies for authoring and reading impacting not only how we get our literature, but also what we might call “genre?” Is “blog” a genre, or is it merely a package for prose, the “new paper?” Are small screen sizes privileging certain genres to a degree that might impact not only market, but aesthetics? Are small screen sizes or other elements of reader “interface” inventing new e-genres? Will e-books ever figure out, across the board, how to preserve, inviolate, the poetic line, or will the re-sizing/re-shaping/re-fonting functions of e-readers chip away at the very notion of the poetic line as a significant/fixed element?

School starts this week. I will be using my iPad (with an app called iAnnotate and a stylus) to attempt to go mostly paperless in my creative writing classes. The stylus and this program make it possible for me to “write on” student drafts pretty much the way I’d write on paper versions. I’m still getting used to the size and handling the stylus interface, but I’m giving it a go. I wonder how this one shift in practice will influence other teaching practices and ideas/theories I have about teaching. I guess we’ll see!

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One thought on “Vinyl, Paper, Megabytes

  1. I love your quote about how listening to music used to just be The Thing I Was Doing. So true. This is a wonderful piece–delve deeper and go all Walter Benjamin on this idea! And by the way, if you know Kirsti Sandy–an English prof at Keene–her husband buys and sells records. He might be able to help!

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