Monday, 26 December 2011

His Master's Voice

I've been bloody ill all over Christmas - I still am. I must be run down or something. I've got an awful cold which is severe enough to fall into the 'man-flu' category and I am beginning to think that it might be the real thing. I ache all over. I have an extremely painful tongue-ulcer which makes eating an experience to be feared - not best this time of year. I am developing a sty on one eye, my neck aches and I am deaf in one ear. I wasn't going to mention any of this, but I relented and thought I would share it with you.

Luckily, all my nearest and dearest have not been dragged down by my heroic attempts at disguising my misery, and have all had a jolly good time, eating, drinking and generally being merry, and that, believe it or not - far from making me jealous - has lifted my spirits. Now it's all over, I can settle down to hiding away and watching the latest and last Harry Potter DVD which they bought for me. Somehow it managed to creep onto the market without all the usual marketing razmataz - maybe they've made enough money from it already?

The new Bose speakers that I bought for the iMac will come into their own for the soundtrack, somehow magically producing a fairly rich bass from speakers the size of tweeters. I have a friend who is obsessed with playing vinyl records, insisting that digital music is thin and weedy by comparison. If he had his way, all digital music would be banned from pubs etc. He is disturbingly evangelistic about it to the point of turning into a fully-fledged pain in the arse.

Then yesterday, I heard someone on the radio say that the MP3 format was never intended for music, but rather was developed for film sound tracks. The digital format compresses the frequencies into a very small space apparently, and fools the ear into thinking that it heard things which didn't exist - like the bass on my speakers, for instance. This I believe - how else could you get 35,000 tunes into a bit of plastic the size of a postage stamp?

Whenever I try to compare vinyl with MP3, all I hear is the crackling and hissing of the needle as it grinds it's way over the scratched surface of a vintage disc, and as I point this out to my friend, he becomes extremely angry, saying that I have no ears. This - in turn - angers me, and I insist that at least when I whistle, it is in tune, unlike his discordant warblings.

I make a big point of saying "Oh yes - MUCH better!" in a loud voice when he gets up to dislodge the stuck needle as Ella Fitzgerald repeats the same line over and over again at 33 and a third RPM, and this makes him really angry.

At least when a digital soundtrack gets stuck, it gets stuck at about 4000 RPM, which is in itself a type of music that - if you have ears to hear - transcends the original recording and can be quite melodic if you have taken the right drugs.

I am - in truth - in two minds about this digi versus vinyl debate. All I know is that I cannot be bothered to take all those scratched records out of their sleeves and place them on a delicate mechanism to get even more scratched as a bus goes past, shaking the foundations of our compact but adorable city apartment. C.D.s work upside down, you know.


  1. ah bless!!!!!!!!
    if you were one of my hens I would have given you the chop my now.....................................................
    look after yourself thomas......
    happy boxing day x

  2. Rather surprised that HI hasn't taken you off to the vet's to have you put down.

    Hope your Boxing Day has been as enjoyable as illness allows. Cro xx

  3. It's double price at the vets over Christmas, so she's waiting until the January sale. She should have done it before, then they could have eaten me for lunch. Happy Boxing day to you two too.

  4. Could you please tell your friend that I have a basement full of olf vinyl records for sale (as well as a piece of swampland)?

  5. Sorry to hear that your cold turned into the dreaded 'man flu' Tom. Did you still do the cooking or did some kind soul take over ?
    Our son is a producer at BBC Radio 1 ( listen to the music acompaniment for the London fireworks on New Year's Eve....he mixed it all ....a bit of mummy boasting there !) and he buys so much vinyl. Most of his Christmas presents were vinyl records.I guess that the purests think it gives a better sound.
    Enjoy the rest of Boxing Day and get well soon. X

  6. Sending healing vibes from darkest Wales. Hope you're better soon Tom x

  7. Funny, like Jacqueline, my daughter and significant other bought each other a record player for Christmas and are collecting record which they are thrilled about. I too, mentioned having the scratches etc. and they totally dissed me. Ah, how things "come around" again!
    We have the "man-flu" in our house this weekend too and ended up in the ER in the middle of the night for a breathing treatment, codiene cough med and antibiotic. If you can't hear, take a decongestant and as for the sty, use warm wet compresses. That should help. Good luck and feel better Tom.

  8. Okay, here's my take: digital recordings are great at isolating certain parts of a recording. For instance, when artists started utilizing the power of separate tracks and stereo, they did fun little things like whispering a naughty phrase on the left, and on the right they're screaming. That's great to discover, and it's much clearer with digital technology. But the overall sound is compressed. In modern recordings there are so many electronic unnatural (un-manmade) sounds and less dynamics, and the compressing helps to smooth things out.

    In the old days it was about dynamics. Go listen to a record and you'll notice how much fuller the overall sound is. There's more emotion, hence nostalgic feeling, in a a vinyl format. Style of the era/capabilities. But little things get lost because we didn't have the digital capabilities to isolate sounds perfectly today, so there's a lot of muddiness. BUT . . . it's still pretty darn clear. I would take a record for older music, because the sound isn't as compressed and vinyl adds that nice, full listening experience. I wouldn't listen to newer music on vinyl, unless the piece itself was tailored for that fuller, organic sound. Too much technology has made it tinnish. It wouldn't sound right.

    So it's more of a taste in music, really. If you like new, use new technology to listen because that's what it was tailored for. If you like old, the older technology still manages to enhance the music correctly, IMO.

  9. Sorry it's so long, and for all my typos.

  10. Thanks for the get well messages - I did the cooking one day, kid the next.

    The other thing is that in the old days, records were all about performance. Now they are all about production - big difference.

  11. Well, if you want the best of both worlds you do what I have done and buy an 'EZ Vinyl/Tape converter'.
    It's a gradual exercise, but I am slowly building up a collection of music on CDs. The digi converter puts them on your PC, and then you can burn CDs for use in the car. Even better is the fact that you can compile your own favourite tracks from different discs and leave off any tracks you don't like.
    Some Vinyl I keep, but others have gone to the Charity shop now after photographing the back of the sleve. (hence more space).
    Hope you soon recover.

  12. Sorry you have been ill Tom - our colds seem to have almost gone but interestingly (well boringly really)they included tongue ulcers too.
    As for the debate - being deaf all this stuff passes me by.

  13. Thanks Bernard and Weaver - interesting (and reassuring) about the tongue ulcers with your colds. You get to a point when every symptom can be interpreted as some unspeakable form of cancer after a while, don't you? I find myself planning the best way of suicide before I lose the bottom half of my face, so to hear that others have had a cold with a tongue ulcer is not boring at all!

    Correct me if I am wrong, Bernard, but doesn't the transposition of vinyl and tape from analogue to digital involve the same compression? Maybe that wasn't your point anyway. I hear that CDs are less compressed than MP3, and that doesn't surprise me for the reasons given above.

  14. I don't know about compression Tom. The reasons for doing it was that I had a couple of hundred LP's collected over 40 odd years and they took up a lot of space and some only had a couple of good tracks that I wanted to keep.
    I was able to reduce the storage space and still be able to listen to them from my hard drive. At my age, hearing isn't what it should be so I notice no difference. There is also software with the machine that will alter characteristics and remove hiss & clicks, but it's all a bit too complicated for me.