City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

The Proustian power of black vinyl

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What took me ten thousand words and countless images to say, Sean O’Hagan manages to say in a few good paragraphs:

“The Proustian power of a piece of black vinyl, a beautiful sleeve, even a label name – Studio 1, Verve, Transatlantic, Imperial, Regal Zonophone, Postcard (‘the sound of young Scotland’) – can be intense and, at times, almost overwhelming. … Can a downloaded album, floating free of its artwork, its context, its paraphernalia, ever contain that sort of mystery? Can a song bought from iTunes, and nestling somehow intangibly on your iPod, condemned by a whim to the cosmic meaninglessness of the ‘Shuffle’, ever carry the full weight of its own history? I think not. People need things.”

The Observer: Wear your heart on your sleeves


7 responses to “The Proustian power of black vinyl”

  1. jesús gollonet Avatar

    That’s a great piece of writing I’d love to read, but I can’t:
    The Observer link points to your new musical experiences (which I don’t mind reading again) 🙂
    and then the link on their site doesn’t work,,2000186,00.html
    Itunes powered conspiration?


  2. Dan Avatar

    Oops, my mistake. Corrected, thanks.


  3. Jay Fienberg Avatar

    Listening to music has always been associated with physical rituals and physical symbols. Before the era of recordings, for example, listening to music generally involved the ritual of going to some place, and interacting with the symbols of that place, e.g., a stage in a theatre.
    More recently, we’ve had the ritual and symbols of spinning shiny discs. For a short time, we’ll have the iPod and other devices.
    In terms of our own experience of music, I don’t think we can separate it from the physical touch-points through which we individually / collectively interact with it and experience it.
    So, what happens in a few years when there are no contraints on the physical shape of a device that plays music, and only negligible costs in producing music playing devices in new shapes?
    I think our music listening experience specifically will involve creating our own new shapes for music playback. We’ll create personal / collective rituals around these shapes, and use them as our individual / collective symbols for particular songs, artists, genres, mixtapes, groups of friends, eras of time, etc.
    (Also, I wrote more about this in a series of posts. See: The future of music playback.)


  4. Oz Avatar

    The Guardian/Observer really does have the best music columns.
    Just in general the art of making a great compilation is a skill. So often people just cram any songs which are good as individuals on instead of making sure that they all work together and link in with one another.


  5. beyondthewalls Avatar

    I completely buy into the Proustian idea of positive association with something physical. However, approximately 99% of all CDs and their cases are appalingly designed, let’s not mourn their rapid decline. Vinyl was superceded as a technology eons ago, and yet survives because of beauty and the deep satisfaction of sight and touch – assuming that human desires have not super-evolved in the past 5 years, will the collectibe psyche not demand something physical to replace the doomed CD? I suggest that a product of printed words and images will evolve as an added extra onto digital music. Not a book, per se, but something like a portfolio for every album. Surely, this is what fans most appreciate about vinyl – to have something to look at when listening and to have something real and of worth to act as a visual representation of great music.


  6. Graham Jeffery Avatar

    Well, Evan Eisenberg’s excellent yet under-rated and under-referenced book, The Recording Angel,, makes this argument very clearly. I’m not aware of anyone currently doing similar work on the implications for listenership and collecting cultures of music distribution in the digital age, although it occurs to be that blogs which collecte together and gather up somewhat esoteric cultural reference points (such as yours) and social bookmarking offer some of the same characteristics of conneurseurship that older cultures concerned with collecting ‘objects’ did.


  7. Matt Harvey Avatar
    Matt Harvey

    That’s very nicely put. As someone who hasn’t collected vinyl for years I can still remember the ‘intense and, at times, almost overwhelming’…infact I think one of the reasons I stopped buying vinylwas because it was too beautiful. Too meaningful, powerful – almost exhaustingly so. It comes as something of a relief that I can now look at a pile of shellac and think ‘that takes up a lot of space’.


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