Old, black gold

Some­times, the vin­tage stuff just re­fuses to be put out to pas­ture.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - THOUGHTS - SUJESH PAVITHRAN

TRIED and tested technology can be hard to kill off, even if made re­dun­dant by some­thing “bet­ter”. Il­lus­trat­ing this is the re­silience of the phono­graph record – that large black, grooved disc made of vinyl.

The re­turn of vinyl has been with a vengeance, af­ter be­ing con­signed to the bar­gain bin two decades ago. They said then that its day was done. Over. CD was the new king. Sil­ver was the new black.

Most of us em­braced the smooth and shiny disc for its con­ve­nience and hype of per­fect sound for­ever.

How­ever, 20 years down the road, and things are not look­ing rosy for the CD. Global sales are slid­ing as newer gen­er­a­tions of mu­sic-lovers turn in­creas­ingly to In­ter­net down­loads, di­rectly into their ubiq­ui­tous iPods. CD, to them, is ar­chaic technology.

Now, here’s the funny thing – vinyl sales are on the rise!

You see, records never re­ally went away. They were just lurk­ing in the fringes, get­ting their sec­ond wind.

Sure, many more CDs are still sold than records but the re­ver­sal of trends, com­pared with, say, 1990, is telling. Per­haps John Lith­gow’s alien char­ac­ter in the sit­com Third Rock From The Sun said it all, as he dis­dain­fully ex­am­ined a CD: “Such prim­i­tive technology! I won­der if the peo­ple on this planet will ever dis­cover the su­pe­rior sound of vinyl?”

Okay, the CD (dig­i­tal) ver­sus record (ana­logue) de­bate has been rag­ing for 25 years, so let’s not take that de­tour. Me, I’ve been a vinyl fan for the past four decades. My first en­counter was in a class­mate’s house. He showed me what looked like a small brief­case, split it open and loaded up a black disc. Glo­ri­ous mu­sic – Jim Reeves sing­ing Part­ners, I re­call – emerged, to my de­light. I bought my first record­player when I started work­ing in the mid-1980s and, ex­cept for a brief pause some years ago, have never been with­out one since then.

Just the other day, my mum was rem­i­nisc­ing about the times when she would place a stack of records on a ra­dio­gram (re­mem­ber those?) that played one disc af­ter an­other, for a few hours of un­in­ter­rupted mu­sic. Those old, hefty ra­dio­grams were as much fur­ni­ture as they were mu­sic­play­back sys­tems; they were the home en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre in the decades fol­low­ing World War II.

I re­mem­ber them well into the 1970s and used to won­der if I could de­sign a way to make each record flip over au­to­mat­i­cally. Never hap­pened!

In fact, my mum even re­calls lis­ten­ing to mu­sic on those clas­sic wind-up gramo­phones – who needed elec­tric­ity then? She was sur­prised when in­formed that the vinyl busi­ness has sur­vived into the 21st cen­tury!

Just walk through Am­corp Mall in Petaling Jaya, Se­lan­gor, on a Sun­day morn­ing, when the flea mar­ket op­er­ates, and you will be sur­prised to see the num­ber of used records and old turnta­bles for sale – as far as the Malaysian an­gle on vinyl res­ur­rec­tion is concerned, I sus­pect this is where it may have started some years ago.

I get calls from friends oc­ca­sion­ally, telling me about stacks of records they in­her­ited from a par­ent or rel­a­tive. A decade ago, it was about find­ing those records a new home; nowa­days, it’s for ad­vice on buy­ing an af­ford­able record-player!

So if you’re a mu­sic lover with a wide va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal tastes, per­haps you owe it to your­self to ex­plore this “new” phe­nom­e­non, this un­likely resur­gence of a for­mat whose obituary was writ­ten in the early 1990s. There must be some­thing so right about it, if it has re­fused to go away de­spite all the has­sles in­volved in play­ing a record!

What next? Maybe I should put my money on LaserDiscs – hey, re­mem­ber those?

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