When I’m not roaming the world giving talks, attending endless meetings, taking photos and getting assaulted by Turkish masseurs, I stay closer to home and buy records. Stacks and stacks of old vinyl records.
I’m aided in this pursuit by the fact that I live a dozen miles from Toonerville Trolley Records, one of New England’s great independent record stores. The proprietor, Hal March, is enormously knowledgeable about a wide variety of musical styles. He collects several genres of jazz and has a fondness for dense, noisy experimental music. But he’ll guide you through the waters of collecting genres he’s less interested in, helping me develop collections of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound recordings and Bill Laswell‘s “global funk” records made with world music luminaries like Foday Musa Suso and Aiyb Dieng.
In a very real sense, digging in the crates in the back of Toonerville turned me into a computer programmer. Not in any sort of deep “finding gems in a sea of junk is like debugging” way, but in a very practical “if I’m going to afford that rare Japanese import, I’d better make some money” sort of way. A few years later, Tripod’s office was a block away, and I tried to turn bad days into good ones by leaving the office for an hour or two and emerging with a stack of discs. (I realise this is a clear sign of addictive behavior. There’s also the fact that Hal’s number is on speed dial on my phone, and that Rachel refers to him as “my dealer”…)
Like my other two hobbies – carpentry and cooking – crate-digging is not a sport that travels well. I’ll occasionally buy records when I travel overseas… but without the instant gratification of bringing them home, cleaning them and spinning them, it’s not the same. And it’s become increasingly frustrating not to listen to my favorites when I’m away from my turntable.
So I put in an order for the Ion iTTUSB Turntable on Amazon about six months before it was released. And when I got home from Turkey, I was able to wait about four hours before trying it for a quick spin. It’s far from perfect – the software that comes with the machine is an evil joke (a tarfile of Audacity source code does not qualify as an installer, guys), and the ‘table lacks some of the basic features you’d expect, like pitch control. But it works – after some software problems, I was ripping some of the discs I fell in love with in college into mp3s and am spending some quality headphone time today.
All of which makes me think it might be time to start yet another blog – an mp3 blog. Vinyl only, limited to music that’s out of print, so I don’t feel ethical qualms about taking possible revenues from musicians. World music, early hip hop, electro… I’ll let you know, shortly after I find a suitably pretentious name (“stroboscope” was taken…) and rip a few dozen more records. In the meantime, feel free to share a little of my joy:
“Object-Subject (Breakdown’s Not Enough)“, Keith LeBlanc, from “Major Malfuction”, 1986. LeBlanc was the drummer for the house band for Sugar Hill records, the guys who backed tracks like “Rapper’s Delight” (the 10-minute version of which is one of the discs I’ll be ripping tonight…) and “The Message”. Hooking up with producer Adrian Sherwood, he started recording tracks that were dark, noisy and evil – the samples for “Major Malfunction” come from news reports of the Challenger shuttle disaster. I spent most of my senior year remixing this record… which made me decide to pursue a career as a musician… which took me to Ghana for the first time… which got me going down an entirely different path. Thanks, Keith…