Monday, December 16, 2013


It is a simple machine. There is a platter that spins at a predestinated speed when turned on. The pizza size platter usually has some soft gripping surface on it. A vinyl recording is placed on the platter centered through a spindle. A mechanical arm swings out over the vinyl. At the end of the arm is a needle that rest on the vinyl as it spins.
There is a bunch of other stuff like wiring and connections to a noise amplifier box with an array of knobs that can change tone and volume then leads to some speakers that makes the sound.
I could get into all the technical stuff, but that is how records are played. Made popular in the 50’s and expanded in the 60’s, the vinyl record was massed produced and allowed anyone the opportunity to listen to their favorite song over and over again. Unlike radio that may play a song every now and then at request; a turntable allowed a listen to play their favorite music anytime they chose.
Like all technology, the 8-track and then the cassette tape machines replace the turntable. The digital revolution hit and smaller players provided a huge amount of songs at a push of a button. Now music was portable with easy access. The quality may not have been as good, but it was easy access to a library of music.
Yet still a few holdouts of the vinyl era stand true to the turntable. Even after the backward and perhaps harmful sounds from hip-hop, the little machine that spins at a certain speed to present a deep fat sound of scratches and pops brings warmth to the heart.
When my father was recording there was one room and a turntable in the middle of it. A big horn stuck out from the box, like a giant hearing aid. The musicians stood around the turntable and took their turns. The vinyl was blank and was cut as they recorded. There were no second takes or overdubs. We had some in our house when I was growing up but they looked like the examples of ‘what not to do with a record’ we used in the libraries’ art and music department.
With mass production of pressing vinyl for public consumption everyone could buy the affordable cardboard sleeves of our favorite music. After we put on the platter, we could enjoy reading the liner notes that was in type big enough to read. There were also pictures and bios of our favorite musicians. We listened to the British Invasion through vinyl.
The turntable is still manufactured and works the same. For the hoarders who have hung onto old favorites, there is a method to return to the past. There is a massive array of tunes available in all sorts of formats, but there is something comforting about placing a vinyl disk on a turntable and giving it a spin. Then just as you relax into the tunes, it is time to get up and flip to the other side. It is a ritual.

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