Monday, December 18, 2006
78 Revolutions Per Minute
What I'm liking about the "older" DJs is that they spin vinyl. And I like that for a variety of reasons. One, because there's a lot of great music out there that for whatever reason, hasn't been commercially made available in a digital format. (ie, iTunes or Rhino hasn't managed to sign a contract with whoever owns the mechanical rights). Two, I kind of like the recycling nature of people who can't bear to buy another copy of a song they love, simply because they already have it on vinyl. But third, as Steve Albini and company will continue to argue, there's still something wonderfully warm about the sound of analog vinyl hitting a diamond stylus, even if it means we have to put up with the occassional scratch or pop or whatever. Supposedly, the difference in fidelity between analog and digital is beyond human perception, but then how come I can tell if something's vinyl or MP3? Its not just because the digital version is clean and skip-free. In fact, I never want to hear "In A Gadda-Da-Vida" clean. That song is meant to be heard with pops and cracks, subtly telling the story of the countless parties it had been played at, with nobody noticing that the drum solo that goes on forever was really going on forever because the needle was stuck in a neverending skip loop. No, for a reason computer nerds can't explain in biomedical terms, I can just tell.
Andy Pagel takes that sound one step further during his wonderful Lo-Fi DJ spin Sunday nights at Frank's Power Plant in Bay View. (full disclosure: friend of the family, drummer in my band, and in my totally unbiased opinion, one of the most versitale --read: best-- drummers in SE WI) He only plays 45s and 78s and this means he needs to get record players that play 78s, and where did he get them? At school rummage sales. That's right, he's playing these things on those all-in-one school record players made by Newcomb. "They smell like nerds," he grins, and instantly I flashed back to the AV kids who trucked them from classroom to classroom on those wheely-carts during Study Hour in fifth grade. Man, I remember wintery days in fifth grade where they'd let us loose during the lunch hour to play our 45s on them: besides WLS, this was to be the only time in my life I could hear Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" smack next to the Osmonds' "Yo-Yo", both played through that mono speaker, which was only slightly higher fidelity than the AC/Delco AM car radio.
And as Pagel is quick to point out, the sound quality on those 78s is amazing. You get a level of detail with that speed that naturally comes with the high sampling rate of a rapidly spinning plate of vinyl. So what if it's not stereo? Its still all there, from the rumble of the bass violas in the orchestra, to the squeal of the muted trumpets, from the rich voice in the front to the mellow marimbas in the background.
And the 45s pick up from there: from do-wop to 60s soul, from pre-Elvis to psychedelic garage, its all there, in cracklin' warm analog mono. All from a time when the single was important, when one song made or broke you, one performance to convince people to keep listening, and perhaps show up when they caravaned through town. The production is indeed amazing: you can hear everything important, including the lyrics (which in some cases are worth actively listening to). It wouldn't sound right digitized, and it would be altogether wrong in stereo.
Yes, I own hundreds of CDs. Yes, I've got some 15 gig of music loaded on my Ipod. (Yes, I own an Ipod). But I'm glad guys like Andy Pagel are still spinning the vinyl, and are keeping the turntables (oops, that's record players) that can spin it at 78 revolutions per minute going.
Andy Pagel does his low-fi record spin every Sunday night from 9-midnight at Frank's Power Plant on S. Kinnickinnic in Bay View.