The State of Sound


Analog Fidelity

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The trend is confirmed: vinyl is making its comeback. Sales of vinyl records are believed to have gone up by almost 25% in 2012, but what could this trend hide? A vintage craze? No doubt that the trend appeals to both the nostalgic crowd as well as the population of young, urban hipsters, a fact to which the Vintage Expo, which took place in Paris this weekend (June 14th to 16th), testifies. Numerous artists are once again pressing vinyl versions of their albums. Furthermore, the vinyl comeback has been skillfully orchestrated by the record industry. In 2011, the Association of Independent French Labels For Action established the Day of the Record Store (April 20th). The idea was to bring together the record industry’s major players: artists, labels, and distributors. This effort is reminiscent of the one that took place in the book industry and aimed to promote independent bookstores. Neighborhood record stores are reappearing one by one, but the phenomenon remains rather Parisian for the moment. Télérama recently published a list of the record stores in Paris that are not to be missed.

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Could it be that younger consumers are getting bored with mp3s? Let’s not get carried away just yet. Vinyl will never regain the recognition it had in its heyday, but it offers a potentially complementary alternative to dematerialized music and underscores the presence of another trend, that of sedentary listening. The market for “classical” high fidelity systems and floorstanding speakers has weathered the anticipated exodus towards all things mobile rather well. As a result, turntables, which became a product for the elite following the arrival of the CD in the 1980’s, are once more available to the masses, whose budgets are more modest. However, to find your heart’s desire, it may be advisable to cross the Channel and try out the Rega brand (whose excellent RP collection contains a starter model for 250 €) or cross the Alps to try out the Pro-Ject series (the Austrian brand offers a starter model in the same price range). French manufacturers are simply absent from this market segment, although we must remember that French companies excel in this domain, with Verdier’s renowned turntables (or, more recently, those made by Jadis) but whose price of admission comes at a cost of several thousands of euros (please also see my post on Verdier’s Magnum).

IMG-20130509-00414 (2) (1)Pro-Ject’s Turntable Stand at the Last Munich Expo

I have personally tried out the vinyl experience again. Newly equipped with a Rega turntable, I brought back a big box of vinyl records from my familial homestead in Burgundy. I probably had not laid a sapphire needle on an album in about twenty years. My first time listening to a vinyl record again was a rather disconcerting. It took me several hours to re-adapt myself to this type of sound playback. I had the sensation of being distanced from the music, which engendered the occasional necessity of “looking” for it, and thus I had the feeling of getting a little closer to the essential: the music’s soul.

 A vinyl record is an object that tells a story. To re-open it, to touch it, is also to create a little moment of nostalgia. I was really able to reconnect with Archie Shepp’s saxophone, with whom I spent so many evenings in my university dorm room in Nanterre. I also remembered the long hours spent with my eyes riveted on the head of the tone arm lost in the midst of the black ocean of grooves, which was a bit like seeing music being made before my very eyes. But I do not regret the CD revolution either, being able to recall that dazzling event. The auditory image suddenly became perfectly clear, like the view from a high-altitude glacier. I did not know at that time that, one day, it would feel so nice to abandon the heights to rediscover the fragile light of a summer day at its end.

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The team in charge of Radio France’s album collection is raising public awareness of this delicate relationship through a great initiative: Radio Vinyle. Do not look for Radio Vinyle on the FM dial. It is in fact a blog compiling short video vignettes of artists who stroll about and dive into Radio France’s immense collection of vinyl records (a treasure trove of 450,000 albums). Then, unstaged, they recall certain memories associated with the music they discover; these emotional moments are particularly well filmed. Please do not miss this delicious clip showing the bubbly Camille which is ten minutes of happiness. Or you can let yourself be overwhelmed by Archie Shepp’s tears as he listens anew to the blues – his roots and his life.

You become almost impatient for the arrival of a very cold winter in order to stay warm inside, to fill up big wine glasses and invite a few good friends to partake of a vinyl evening and recall Camille’s words as she listens to a Julie London record: “I think that it warms up the space”.     

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