Vinyl, or something like it, is making a rebound. Audiophiles and hardcore musicians have for years continued to make small, limited edition pressings of their music. Much in the same way traditional film captures a particular grain and depth of field in the moving image, the sound of vinyl (or more specifically, the sound of analog tape recording transferred to vinyl), is a peculiar and special melding of low and high tech. There’s nothing quite like listening to a pristine vinyl pressing between your favorite speakers; no digital download or player can match it.
Something special happens to music when it’s captured this way, and producers and recording artists have jumped on the pendulum that is swinging back away from fully digital music. Many thought that analog recording was going very much the way of Kodak; until a few months ago, 1” analog tape was no longer even available to sound engineers. Then something changed.
Whether he’s the savior of vinyl or just the latest high-profile artist to take advantage of the medium, Jack White has used his celebrity to bring popular culture’s focus back to the vinyl disc. White, previously of the White Stripes and founder of Third Man Records, has brought vinyl back into vogue with a series interesting tricks, both in recording and PR.
His new opus, Lazaretto, takes vinyl to a wholly new place, embedding tracks into the label, and cutting double grooves into the record’s body, so that depending on where you drop your needle you can get either the acoustic or electric version of any song. He also changes up the speeds depending on which groove you choose to listen to. Is this a series of fancy parlor tricks to drive hipsters and music aficionados to collect music in a medium that should be dead?
Not according to long-time purist and new digital technology guru, Neil Young. As part of his Lazaretto build-up, White recorded Young in a booth on the Tonight Show, and had a newly pressed vinyl record to share with the studio audience in seven minutes. One might thing that Young, touting his new Pono music player, would be on the opposite end of the spectrum from White, but not so. What both Young and White have in common is a sensibility about music—they like the best stuff they can get or make—and it’s lucky for all of us that they do.