Vinyl and the lost art of music listening


Music has always been a part of my life.  I spent the odd weekend with my grandparents when I was about 3 or 4 years old.  It all started out as fun and games but eventually the toddler starts to work on nerves.  They discovered that the easiest way to get me out of their hair was by putting on the soundtrack to Disney’s “Jungle Book”.  My gran loved regaling me with the story of how she had put the record on before going to make a cup of tea, returning to see me stripped down to nothing but my underwear, marching on all fours around the coffee table ala Mowgli-and-the-elephants style.

That particularly random story aside, however, if the music went on I knew I had to sit quietly and listen.  Thirty years later I still believe that this is how music should be heard – you sit quietly and simply just listen.  These days it seems as though music listening is a dying art.  You cannot hear the intricacies of the melody or really let the lyrics of a song get under your skin if you are distracted by something else at the same time.  You can’t focus on isolating the various beats or individual instruments to appreciate how the musicians have built and layered a piece together if you’re not listening mindfully.

There is something inherently fulfilling about playing music on vinyl.  Pulling the disc out of its cover and setting it up on the player.  Running the brush along the surface to remove any dust.  That satisfying crackle that brings the speakers to life when the needle is gently lowered.  Knowing that the sequence will be repeated in a few songs time when the record needs to be flipped over.  Vinyl is an “event” and it makes me feel like I’m a part of creating the music.   Whether I’m enjoying it with a glass of wine (or three), reading along to the lyrics or simply just listening, time seems to stand still for the duration of the record.

Experts would argue that the format provides better sound quality and if you have all the right equipment they’re most likely right.  My “budget-buy” record player coupled to the same tiny “waitress-money” Hi-Fi I’ve had since 1998 probably doesn’t do the format much justice.  When it comes to the act of mindful listening though, it is definitely the way to go.

The true beauty of the vinyl appears when you actually sit down to listen.  Regardless of the genre, each album tells a story which is only revealed if played it in its entirety.  Fast forwarding is more difficult on a record so there is no unnecessary skipping ahead.  It’s often the anticipation of a favourite track which you know is waiting for you half way through side two which makes listening to music this way so special – when that song finally arrives it somehow sounds better than it did when you heard it on the radio because you’re hearing it in context – one small part of the whole.  Essentially it mirrors life itself.  In order to appreciate the good bits you have to endure the “meh” bits in between.  You sometimes have to push through something truly bloody horrible to get to the part that makes it all worthwhile.

In the words of Baloo from The Jungle Book, I believe that vinyl is one of those “bare necessities” to help you “forget about you worries and your strife”.  It is truly just magical.

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