Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Music Formats

As a teenager I was obsessed with records. I am sure most of my pocket money went on buying albums, usually at the local Our Price store.

Once I was old enough to be allowed to go to London on my own I discovered a fantastic little store inside Kensington Market where I would spend hours just flicking through their vinyl trying to pick a couple of LPs to take home. I would wander round the whole market looking at shoes and coats, candles, scarves, models of dragons and wigs in neon colours, and I would often grab a jacket potato as well. But the majority of the time I was in that record shop.

I would also spend a couple of hours a week putting collections of songs on to cassette tapes.

Record sleeves even got books dedicated to them
Then at the end of my teens the Compact Disc began its rise to ubiquity. In a record shop rack they just don't flip in the same satisfying way, a rack would only stack them two or three deep because of that. The case art work was tiny compared to the twelve inch square glorious design you got with an LP. Album art designers (Storm Thorgerson, Roger Dean, Derek Riggs to name just three) would never have achieved such fame as CD artists.  The disc claimed to be unbreakable so there was never the same sense of care of and reverence as there was with a vinyl disc which could be ruined with a single scratch. As long as I still had a working turntable I was reluctant to replace my vinyl albums with CD versions.

CDs were easier to tape from though and I still have boxes of my compilations, and copies on tape for playing in the car.

At University I wrote a dissertation on competing music formats, describing the rise of CDs and going on to debate the relative merits of DAT (digital audio tape) and DCC (digital compact cassette)  - a debate similar to the VHS and Beta wars of a few years earlier, based as much on the access the patent owners had to recordings they could sell their formats with as the technical benefits of either.

At the end of the 90s I bought a MiniDisc machine and spent many a happy hour recording digital compilations from my CDs.

Unfortunately it was not a format that lasted and before long the MP3 took over. A music format with no physical substance at all. Artwork has to be viewed on a computer, there can be no reverence or fear of damage to something that has no form. Consequently record stores are fast disappearing or becoming game stores. My small collection of LPs, though, has become more valuable to me and I am increasingly reluctant to risk damaging them.

The march of progress moves steadily onward but those little  moments of pleasure that are gone forever are memories I cherish.

How is progress changing your world? Are you at the forefront of technological advances or do you cling to the old ways?

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