Fascinating piece in The New Yorker by the super Alex Ross about the processes of digitally restoring old recordings, and the sheer mindboggling availability of different formats in the marketplace today, thanks to the good old Internet.
He says: “These meandering journeys across the Internet soundscape can be taxing. The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes. Putting on an old-fashioned disk and letting it play to the end restores a measure of sanity. This may explain why the archaic LP is enjoying an odd surge of popularity among younger listeners: it’s a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access.”
The other day we visited a neighbour in whose front room pride of place is occupied by a real, His Master’s Voice-style, horn-loudspeakered, 78-playing gramophone. She has a stack of 78s to play on it, too – big bands, Glenn Miller, the Warsaw Concerto…all of it, she says, snaffled for a pittance on EBay.
We popped on the Warsaw Concerto. There is something about the sound, crackles and all, that makes you feel as if that band is there, right now, playing to you, with all their warmth. Lovely, though it does require frequent rewinding… Most people, she told us, have the same reaction to this odd object when it plays: they walk up to it and peer into the horn, as if to see who’s really in there. Just like the HMV dog.
Then our pal had an idea: why not take the gramophone up to the park on Saturday and see how people react to the thing in an unexpected setting? She decided to take a camera with a video setting to capture the results…
Perhaps it’s something about Richmond Park, or British people’s reluctance to talk to strangers, or a general suspicion re the eccentricity of anybody who would actually start playing a 78 of the Warsaw Concerto on a wind-up gramophone outdoors rather than mucking about with tinny pop music on a mobile phone – but apparently nobody took much notice at all. Pity. Or perhaps it’s just that today anything goes and nothing is a surprise. Which is even more a pity, in its own way.