Over the past few weeks, I have been working on a documentary for Phoenix Underground about record stores in Downtown Phoenix. Phoenix Underground interviewed with owners and employees of wonderful local shops that sell vinyl and sound systems. I also interviewed a local DJ named Alex Votichenko who performs with vinyl under the moniker-Djentrification. PHX Underground visited Revolver Records, Tracks in Wax, and Stinkweeds, which is owned by Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona. Normally when I venture into these projects, I only expect to collect a few passing thoughts by the business owners and their patrons. However, this time I was drawn into some very stark realities about our social and cultural behavior. As I was working on Vinyl, I found myself frustrated by how easily the consumer is drawn into poor buying decisions and how music companies try to enforce the buying public into those decisions. As I was working on the documentary, I was interested in exploring the resurgence of vinyl records over the last couple years. I wanted to find out if it was just something fashionable, if not a reaction to the “curse of the white cord” that slithers from the ears of most pedestrians and public transit commuters. I considered my auditory intelligence score higher than average. However, I found that I was as much of a “Manchurian Candidate” that was victim to the re-education campaign that music companies’ and digital distributors’ pogroms subjected us to buy into MP3s and MPEG-4s as any other consumer of music.
It is a fact: Vinyl records are superior to any recorded medium out there. As, TJ Jordan, the owner of Revolver Records, said in his interview, “It is over a 100 years old and no other medium has stood that test of time.” Sales of vinyl have reflected this reality. According to the Nielsen Company that measures audiences and sales of media, vinyl sales have been going up since 2006. More vinyl has been sold than any other year since before 1993. There are many reason for that, but the primary rationale is that Vinyl is a superior product. In the interview with Dan Mazza who owns Arizona Hi-Fi, “There is no question that records sound better than CD because vinyl records sound waves that go beyond our hearing up to 40,000 Hz, whereas CDs cut off at 20,000.” Although, our ears may not be capable of hearing that high, our bodies still experience it. Mazza further emphasized that MP3s are even worse.
“If you look at a digital file, its pattern is jagged, whereas a record moves in smooth curve, which is where the warmth comes from,” said T.J. Jordan, “A CD is a compressed version of a record and an MP3 is a compressed version of a CD.” Imagine all of the sounds of a forest with the layers of wind rustling through the pine trees, the scurrying of animals, and the whistling of birds…THIS is the vinyl experience. It’s as close to the original recording of the reel to reel recording that you will experience. The distances between the sounds and the layers that provides a more three-dimensional auditory experience of standing in a forest is squashed into a plastic bubble with digital downloads. Compact Discs remove the rustling of the wind and MP3s remove the needles and the pine cones, while leaving only the trunk and a branch with two birds whistling.
It raises the question as a listener of music: Why do we listen to music? Do we listen to it as background noise, as stimulation when we go for a walk, or are we trying to experience the music exactly as the artist intended for it to be experienced. All of the mixing and engineering that went into Dark Side of the Moon is lost on an MP3. It’s like looking at desaturated version of the Sistine Chapel that’s been pixellated to boot. Furthermore a sense of community is lost with MP3s and I-Pods. Dan Mazza notes that, “When I was in high school and college, we would pull out ten albums and listen to them all night with a group of people, while you’re drinking beer.” What is wonderful about the album is that it can be a collective experience, unfortunately it’s beauty and depth has been traded for portability and simplicity that extends to more than just music. In the interview with Dario Miranda who manages Stinkweeds, he put it succinctly, “The things you love should not be convenient.” It is a frustrating reality to those of us who threw out our albums or gave our parent’s collections away. Then, we went out and spent untold dollars to replace them with inferior products. How can anyone be shocked by anyone downloading music illegally, when downloads have absolutely no residual value? On the other hand, you can sell a record. Fortunately, as Tim Stamper of Tracks in Wax said, “It’s been indy bands that have been pushing fresh presses of new albums. Records are now coming with CDs and downloads.” This has allowed music lovers to have the best of all worlds. They can listen to their music on a run. Listen to their CDs in their car. Then, pull out their vinyl at home and listen to it with friends.
Stay tuned for Vinyl that will be published soon here on Phoenix Underground. In the meantime, be sure to visit Revolver, Stinkweeds, Tracks in Wax, and Arizona Hi-Fi. Arizona Hi-Fi will disabuse you of everything you believed about sound. Go into Arizona Hi-FI and ask Dan to sit you on the couch and you will get some audio psycho-therapy. Check out Djentrification who performs regularly at Film Bar and The Crescent Ballroom.