My turntable has returned from the dead. For too long it lay on a shelf, unconnected, unplayed. My album collection suffocated in its solid coffin cabinet, untouched for years. Then, a few days ago, I decided to return it to its position of glory in the living room, and wired it up again.
My 14 year old son was fascinated. After exploring my iTunes library He now enjoys a fair number of the same bands that I do, so I gave him the choice to pick the first one to play. He’s of the iPod generation, almost beyond CDs; CDs are purely a food source for the iTunes monster. After carefully looking through a selection of Yes, Tangerine Dream, Led Zeppelin, Hawkwind, Renaissance, Steve Hillage, Genesis, Mike Oldfield, he pulled out Pink Floyd’s Meddle: a fine choice.
I showed my son how to remove the inner sleeve from the cardboard sleeve, how to gently insert his hand inside the paper to touch only the label with his finger tips, and rest the edge on his thumb. Don’t touch the grooves. Then to place the album on the turntable. Which side to listen too? Side One. Then there was a period of uncertainty: which way up? At first, my son wanted to place the lp with side one facing down.
I restrained my smile: after all, don’t you place CDs in face down? DVDs too? They all go in face down. The moment of contact: gently lowering the stylus down to the outer edge, the click as the needle dropped into the groove. We settled down to listen.
My copy of Meddle is over 35 years old, and the quiet crackle and the clicks and pops are there for all to hear, and are one of the reasons why I was happy to switch to CD. To my son, they were part of the glamour. How did it sound? I was taken back to my teenage days, laying back on my bed listening to Roger Waters’ grumbling bass, and David Gilmour’s light touch acoustic guitar. Warm, rich and delicious. My son said it did sound different. We played a digital version of Meddle, and switched back and forth. Yup, different.
But this is not the time for a ‘vinyl sounds better than digits’ debate. It was watching my son, so slick with ipod and iTunes, learning a whole new set of skills handling an LP, that reminded me how times change. When we visited the People’s Museum in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago, there was a blackened cooking range on display – it was the same as the one my Granny used. In my dotage, will I be sitting in a ‘living museum’ showing the youngsters how to place a record on a turntable?
Lastly, my son was puzzled when we put another LP on the turntable, but we hadn’t turned up the volume. Suddenly, this tiny noise appeared, music direct from the stylus. My son was enthralled when I explained that all this electronics was here to amplify that tinny little sound, the needle vibrating in the groove.