Friday, April 3, 2009

Aaron Carl, Vinyl, & Bileebob

I was called a purist by Aaron Carl last Thursday! Meaning, a vinyl purist, someone who prefers vinyl records over any kind of digital format, like CDs or mp3s. And not only prefers, but actually fancies vinyl vehemently over the other options for playback and DJ performance. We were doing an interview at a nearby friendly pancake house and Aaron was telling me about his music, about his history as a producer, DJ, and vocalist, and about Detroit. Then he turned it on me and started asking me questions…wait a minute, this interview is not about me, now you want to hear what I think!?...oh no, what should I say!!?? He asked me what I think about analog and digital music and the debate over the two. Unfortunately, the first part of my answer caused him to put his head in his hands and said, “Oh no, you’re a purist!” I quickly explained that I also embrace digital forms of musical production and listening, and I’m really not vehemently one or the other. I really have no set in stone, crotchety difficulties with CDs or mp3s, nor do I adhere stridently to “black gold.” Just thought it would be humorous to insert that little phrase! What I did say about vinyl was something like this: I enjoy records. I enjoy listening to music on vinyl. I like the way musicians and others communicate using vinyl through etchings in the vinyl around the label, and various other ways people use vinyl creatively. What I should have included but didn’t think to in the moment is that I just started buying vinyl and actively listening to records this winter. I got my first set of well used turntables in December for Christmas. So my shelf of records holds about a foot and a half of black discs, some of them generously donated by Anthony Shake Shakir, Theo Parrish, and Traci from Mahogani Records, some of them purchased at local record stores like the now closed Record Time in Ferndale, Record Time in Roseville, and Melodies & Memories. Hardly the collection of a purist! I don’t even come close to the ranks of enthusiast, and certainly not audiophile! I’m more like a vinyl liker; I’m happy to listen to good music in all the formats that exist, and vinyl is one of them. Here are some other more specific reasons why I enjoy vinyl records that I have started to discover over the past year:

NSC etchings in vinyl pressed by Ron Murphy at National Sound Corporation:

Keepin' Vinyl Alive article in the Metro Times
Infinite State Machine post about Ron Murphy's passing

Various other types of messages that producers etch into the vinyl, like "Respect the B-52s" and "I Love Techno." Photos to come, I just have to figure out with my photographer husband, James, how to get a clear image of the etching without a flare. DIY labels on the vinyl like the spray painted stencils on Theo Parrish’s Ugly Edits and the markers that Omar S uses on his labels. Starting a record from the inner most groove so that it plays “backwards” from the inside out. Lock grooves in which at the end of a section of regularly spiraling grooves, sound is recorded into a groove which circles around right back into itself. These are certainly not limited to techno and house records, but are just things that I enjoy learning about, seeing on my records, and listening to. Not only do electronic musicians in Detroit communicate aurally and sonically, they communicate visually using textual messages contextualized in the vinyl. Here’s where I fight the urge to insert a smiley face.

Here are some interesting wikipedia entries:
Analog Recording vs. Digital Recording
Gramaphone Record

There are loads of debates online about the values of vinyl vs. digital, and proponents of both sides aggressively challenging the others perspectives, and you can imagine how many times during interviews I have heard about this debate. Nearly everyone I speak with feels strongly about the recording and playback format they choose to use and have myriad reasons why. And of course they do, it’s part of their instrument they use in performance and the way they release their music to be consumed by fans and listeners. Vinyl and/or digital productions are essential materials in the production and circulation of electronic music. What I would love to see and hear, however, is greater acceptance of differing viewpoints. No matter how much arguing goes on, Kenny Dixon, Jr. is going to continue to press vinyl and not release mp3s, so is Theo Parrish, and Kelli Hand and Punisher are going to continue to promote their successes with digitally released tracks on Beatport. Aaron Carl is going to keep loving his CDs, Minx is going to keep using vinyl and CDs interchangeably, Felton Howard will continue on with Serato, and WhoDat will not stop spinning those black discs on her rotating platters!

Staying relevant and successful is key for most of these artists, so if you can support your family on releasing your music on vinyl and CD only, then KEEP DOING IT! If you find more success with digital downloads, then DO IT! I understand all the complexities of this debate. Some fear vinyl is dying and if they don’t press it, who will? But what about the fact that vinyl sales rose 80% in 2008?

Wired story about vinyl sales
Computer World article about vinyl sales

Some of the arguments in support of vinyl are based on sound quality. I have experienced this many times, listening to vinyl sounds so damn good sometimes. I wrote about one of these experiences here. And I know this is completely subjective, unscientific reasoning, and that’s totally fine. Because no matter how deep these scientific explorations go about the actual sound quality of analog and digital formats, there are always going to be a multitude of factors that impact the sound quality that go beyond simply the musical format; and more importantly, producers, DJs, and fans are going to continue to like what they like, and hear things how they hear things. So maybe we can all just chill a bit, embrace the complexity that is performance and production, and keep digging good music!

Now for a change in topic: I just had a wonderful interview with John Bileebob Williams (ha, my spell check just suggested Beelzebub) the other night at Luna CafĂ© in St. Claire Shores. He brought a big box full of flyers, CDs, stickers, a photo album, one of his own publications about Detroit music with interviews, poetry, and photographs which has now morphed into his blog Famzine, loose photos, a wonderful book of portraits of DJs, and a few CDs and stickers for me to take. Now that was pretty awesome of him to bring all those materials documenting his history as a musician in Detroit, but also the history of techno and house music in this city, and the Midwest party circuit – that’s my new word for ‘rave scene.’ Don’t you just love my ingenuity!? Here’s a post I wrote last May about his performance with Milton Baldwin as the Aquanauts at Alvins. So anyway, we found ourselves on merging, sometimes parallel missions of documenting what’s great about Detroit and the electronic music here. Should you expect some collaboration? I think yes…


Aaron-Carl said...

First, let me take the opportunity to thank you again for the interview. Reading this article reminded me of all the reasons why I LOVE vinyl -- although I'm far from what I'd like to call a "purist." But the etchings at NSC? PRICELESS!!! The little vinyl tricks, like the inside-out grooves or UR's "Rings of Saturn," PRICELESS!

For transporting purposes, I still love to DJ with CDs -- but that's not to say I won't throw down a 12-inch or two, just because...

All in all, I'm glad we had a chance to discuss this subject in depth. I have a newfound attraction for my vinyl records as a reslt. Limitations, etc... I don't care. I play CDs, and DJ with CDs, and I embrace the MP3 -- but I'll NEVER EVER abandon vinyl...

Much respect,

Andrew said...

Nice information...

Thank you very much...

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