Culture

Collecting vinyl is cowards


El dibujante Robert Crumb, en una exposición en Nueva York en 2011.
The cartoonist Robert Crumb, in an exhibition in New York in 2011. Richard Drew / ASSOCIATED PRESS

It is urgent to congratulate the apostles of the LP. Congratulate and then curse. Oh yes, of course they have succeeded. The vinyl craze is unstoppable: with its outrageous prices, it is beneficial to record companies, stores and, I suppose, musicians. After years of jokes and slander, they have managed to sink the reputation of the CD, a sonically superior, more manageable medium, with less ecological impact. Great move, hey.

A suggestion: if you really want to discover artists and music, you should not stay in LPs (and his younger siblings, the singles). The universe of microgrooves is quite explored, canonized and mapped into genres and movements through books, catalogs, documentaries. On the contrary, there is a terra incognita in the immense production of so-called slates, a format that dominated the first half of the 20th century (in some countries, they continued to be manufactured well into the 1960s). Internationally, they are called shellac (shellac) discs.

'Chimpin The Blues', dibujo de Robert Crumb sobre pizarras.
‘Chimpin The Blues’ , drawing by Robert Crumb on blackboards.

Investigating in the world of blackboards affects the way we perceive the evolution of music. So far we can go back to understand the current romanticization of the Delta blues , with the mythification of figures like Robert Johnson . At its base, the obsession of a handful of white collectors who raked the black neighborhoods of the United States acquiring those old plates for pennies; soon, they also located mythical bluesmen who were still alive and, as they demonstrated, willing to act again .

In general, disk trackers of pasta are generous: reserved during their shakes, once captured the piece they tend to share their findings. Many start reissue companies, which invoice reasoned collections of antiques on LP and CD. In Spain we have the precedents of Sonifolk, who rescued Lorca’s session with La Argentinita, or El Delirio. Right now, to understand the extraordinary diffusion of Cuban music before Fidel Castro, one must turn to the references of the Barcelona label Tumbao. From Madrid, Carlos Martín Ballester publishes comprehensive scholars by cantaores such as Manuel Torres or Don Antonio Chacón. Not only is it culturally plausible: it is a legal practice as those recordings are in the public domain, not to mention that many times the record companies have misplaced (or destroyed!) The original material, from the metal matrices. to the copies for the archive.

Warning for naive souls: this is not a hobby simple. Apart from requiring a player to turn to 78 rpm, you have to accumulate needles, capsules … and patience. It is difficult to locate the sources of supply: there are no stores exclusively dedicated to these discs, although the cartoonist Robert Crumb, patron saint of the guild, says that he found a warehouse in New Delhi that even serves by mail. That is another: apart from frequenting antique dealers and El Rastro or equivalent, it is essential to buy online. Of course, there are pieces that reach five-digit ratings but you can find very cheap discs; the disadvantage is in the shipment, since, due to its fragility, careful packaging is required. Those responsible for know well slate melodies , an exuberant space that is broadcast on Radio 3 from 1925 (there is a more moderate version on Classic Radio).

More information

    • Journey to the Planet of Robert Crumb
    • The vinyl milonga

One of the program’s founders insists that there was never a pose hipster in his devotion to those records of 25 centimeters in diameter. And he gets vehement: “Slates offer music in its purest form. There is no subsequent manipulation, no recordings: some musicians playing before a microphone, three-minute songs that they did not know that they would remain for posterity. They did not necessarily use studios: they also worked in hotel rooms or, if it was a band, in warehouses. Yes, there was the presence of a talent scout, a representative of the record company, but he did not work as a producer in the modern sense of the term. ”

For neophyte adventurers, surprises abound. In the interwar period, popular music experienced a greater globalization than we imagine: when the Hawaiian guitar was in vogue, more recordings were made abroad than within the archipelago. The record industry went hand in hand with the British Empire: companies like EMI or Decca established outposts in all latitudes. In the United States, the presence of immigrants led to the emergence of the ethnic series , launches aimed at specific communities .

And we enter the intangible: the experience of listening to a blackboard. It can be overwhelming if it is a relatively pristine copy, dated later than 1925, when implanted the so-called “electrical recording” (the previous slates and the so-called “Edison cylinders” require adjusting the ears). Although there were complicated instruments, such as drums, good sound engineers could achieve wonderful masters . There is a magical presence in those discs that have survived a thousand shipwrecks and, oblivious to the ravages of time, still preserve distant human pursuits.

Back to top button