Nightmares on wax: the environmental impact of the vinyl revival

Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

From toxic wastewater to greenhouse gas emissions, the boom in vinyl has dangerous effects – but streaming isn’t as clean an alternative as it looks

(via The Guardian) by Kyle Devine

Inside a US vinyl pressing plant – its owners have asked that I do not give its location – dozens of hydraulic machines run all day and night. These contraptions fill the building, as long as a city block, with hissing and clanking as well as the sweet-and-sour notes of warm grease and melted plastic. They look like relics, because they are. The basic technological principles of record pressing have not changed for a century, and the machines themselves are decades old.

While it is far exceeded by revenues from streaming, the vinyl market keeps growing – Americans now spend as much on vinyl as they do on CDs, while there were 4.3m vinyl sales in the UK last year, the 12th consecutive year of growth. So, if you’re one of the millions of people to re-embrace vinyl records, it’s worth knowing where they come from and how they’re made. There are containers called hoppers at each pressing station, brimming with the lentil-like polymer pellets that get funnelled down into the machinery, heated and fused to form larger biscuits that resemble hockey pucks, and squashed to make records…

Read more:

New study finds link between collecting vinyl and being a middle-aged loner


(via consequence of sound) by Collin Brennan

Vinyl is back, baby. Take a look around at all the Record Store Days and limited LP releases that have popped up in recent years, and you’ll see the evidence everywhere. But hold up — are hipsters and nostalgists really powering vinyl’s unlikely resurgence? Not according to a new study by market research company YouGov, who analyzed data on 2016 vinyl sales in the UK and arrived at a much different conclusion: Vinyl collecting is mostly the province of middle-aged loners…

Read more:

The Vinyl Record Factory That Makes Your Niche Music Dreams Come True


Eight-tracks gave way to cassettes, which gave way to compact discs, which gave way to streaming audio and hi-res files. If there’s one constant in the music biz, it is that every format eventually yields to newer, better technology. All but vinyl, that is. Somehow, records have not only endured, but lately they’ve enjoyed a renaissance.

It’s odd when you think about it. Records are archaic technology, a format that is not at all portable and subject to all manner of degradation, from scratches and skips to pops and clicks, if it isn’t properly and lovingly cared for. But audiophiles insist vinyl offers superior sound. We’ll stay out of that debate, but you have to admit it is pretty cool how vinyl works.

“Sound is converted into microscopic ridges and valleys, stamped onto vinyl, played back through an extremely sensitive needle and amplified thousands of times in your living room,” says photographer Alastair Philip Wiper. “It’s almost unbelievable.”

That’s a bit of a simplification, but you get the point. There’s a process to it that borders on artistry, something Wiper—who loves records—discovered during a visit to Record Industry, a pressing plant in the in the Dutch city of Haarlem. The British photographer followed every step in the process, from making the master to pressing the wax to shrink-wrapping the finished product. “Seeing how it’s done really makes you realize how amazingly clever this old-fashioned technology is,” he says…

Read more:

Norman C. Pickering, Who Refined the Record Player, Dies at 99


(via the New York Times)

by Bruce Weber

…In 1945, Mr. Pickering, who enjoyed listening to records and was frustrated by the sound quality of recordings, developed an improved pickup — that is, the mechanism that includes the phonograph needle, or stylus, and translates the information in the groove of a record into an electrical signal that can be reproduced as sound.

Previous pickups were heavier and more unwieldy; styluses were made of steel, they needed to be replaced frequently, and the weight of the mechanism wore out records after a limited number of plays.

The so-called Pickering pickup (and later, its even more compact iteration, the Pickering cartridge) was introduced just as the favored material for records was shifting from shellac to vinyl, which had a lower playback noise level.

Originally designed for use in broadcast and recording studios, it was a fraction of the size of earlier models, and it replaced the steel of the stylus with a significantly lighter and harder material — sapphire or diamond — which lasted much longer and traced a more feathery path along the record. Because of it, records lasted longer and original sounds were reproduced with less distortion…

Read more:

A Celebration of Retro Media

What is the appeal or value of vinyl in the digital age? In part, its “object-ness” in contrast to the non-thing that a digital music file is.

Think about it: your dad’s record collection most likely still exists. It’s either upstairs on shelves or in boxes, or has been traded in at some record store. Perhaps pieces have found their way by now into various collections of young hipster fans of old vinyl and have changed hands several times. But the objects that were your dad’s record collection are probably still around because they were objects. And because music in old formats is harder to delete than an mp3, which is always about 2 mouse clicks (or one fried hard drive) from non-existence.

The music playing on a vinyl record required your attention; you had to flip it or change it every 20 minutes or so. And that, combined with album art, lyric sheets, etc. made the listening experience a more engaging one generally, and may have led to a more intimate connection to the music than the iPod generation commonly makes. The digital music file can accompany you everywhere you go and be background to everything you do. But when was the last time you set aside time to just listen to your iPod? To oversimplify: vinyl listening was a more active experience, digital listening is more passive.

This short film is a little reminder of how art can lose a degree or aspect of its power to connect with us each time we find a seemingly more “perfect” format for its conveyance. Sometimes, as with 8mm film and even Polaroid photos, imperfection is an inseparable part of the art itself.

And if art is a reflection of life (which is imperfect) doesn’t art with imperfection make a more perfect reflection?

%d bloggers like this: