John Harris on the comeback of vinyl records

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John Harris has a piece in The Guardian on the apparent comeback of vinyl records. He links this into the sales of iPads, downloads etc. the underlying story is one of materiality in culture. There seem to be questions posed about the need for material objects in cultural consumption. Maybe though its nostalgia. Or perhaps these records now seem strange or exciting. Whatever the reason for the increase in vinyl sales – which could well be an act of resistance against cultural speed-up and the disconcerting blur of digital culture, as Harris suggests – there seem to be different types of material engagements with culture mixing in the practices of everyday life. I’m not sure that we know very much about how this works. But the move to digital culture is definitely not as simple as it might seem. I tried to write about this before using Walter Benjamin’s work, and i’ve been returning to this a bit in the book I’ve been working on. There are definitely some material formats that still seem to matter. Off the back of the Harris piece, I was left to reflect on my own music. My biography has led to me having hundreds of CDs (quite a few of these have been imported onto iTunes) with some vinyl and tape. But I’ve been gravitating towards vinyl over the last couple of years. I’m not really sure why. It’s strange that I’ve ended up getting albums that I already had on CD, but the linearity of the groove on the record, the ‘scriptal spiral’ as Adorno called it, seems to produce a different listening experience. Then of course you have the size of the vinyl and its cover, which are really visual in their presence. I’m not sure where this is going, but the contrast between vinyl and downloading, as Harris’ piece intimates, is stark. Reflecting on my own practices it might be that we are seeing imbrications of different formats in cultural consumption. But understanding why this is the case seems difficult in its likely complexity and in its familiarity. It is also likely to vary a lot. These material questions about culture seem important though.

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