I’ve been considering getting a record player and joining the vinyl resurgence. Objectively I don’t need one, all my music is ripped to a NAS drive and I listen through out the house on a Sonos. I still buy CDs but usually the only time they end up in a player is to rip them. And although the loudness wars have taken their toll, digital music is more robust and more pristine.
So what is it about a turntable that I want? I’ve thought about this and I believe that what I’m wanting is the ritual of listening to music.
The digital and streaming revolution has made music so ubiquitous that it has become almost meaningless. I “hear” most of my music as background noise almost. I have it on while I’m working or pottering round the house or driving. Music is not the focus of what I’m doing so I’m not concentrating on it that much. Even now, as I write this in a Starbucks, there is music on but it is in the background.
I feel this is a disservice to the music and something that I have lost. Without concentration there is no connection to the music and it loses its power. When younger I remember listening to albums, entranced by them, straining to hear every note and every subtle texture. Taking great joy in little, almost inaudible phrases. Now a track comes on and I hardly hear it at all.
So the turntable comes in here. Selecting a record to play by flipping through a physical collection, removing it from its sleeve and placing it on the player is a statement of intent. It is a ritual to put one in the mindset of wanting to listen to and concentrate on a piece of music. The ritual is a transition from whatever I was doing to being fully present for what art is to come.
This led on to some wider thinking about the importance of ritual in life. It seems to serve two purposes. As mentioned above it is about transitioning to doing some activity that requires focus. Like going to the gym where the warm up serves to becoming ready for work ahead and the cool down is a full stop on the exercise and time to reflect on what has been achieved.
The other use is to remind ourselves of something, to seek transcendence. Meditation is like this as are most religious ceremonies. An act is performed in a mindful way and through this the underlying meaning of the act is revealed. Great insight can be achieved this way.
Of course there is danger in ritual too. It can ossify in to mindless going-through-the-motions. It is like the finger pointing at the moon. We should follow the direction of the finger to see the moon but instead we focus on the finger and it somehow gains meaning on its own. Soon out back is turned on the very reason for the ritual.
So, ritual has its place and an important one at that. But it is important to focus on the deeper meaning and not the superficial act. The rituals we perform throughout the day, whether formalized or not serve to give the day a rhythm and provide places to stop and reflect.
As for the turntable, I’m still considering it but thinking about this has given me an insight in to how better to listen to the music I love.