Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Waves Are Sometimes Better Than Lines

I've talked before about the palpable experience of listening to vinyl records, but I have to bring it up again.

I was recently gifted One Small Step, a narrative of Apollo 11 featuring rocketry pioneer Dr. Wernher von Braun and renowned newscaster Chet Huntley.  I just listened to the engines roaring during takeoff and the radio communication during landing and feel distinctly more connected to these moments than I ever have before...because I listened to it on vinyl.

I grew up with ones and zeros.  It doesn't take much to copy them — ctrl+c, ctrl+v is almost metaphorical (sometimes it fully is).  While listening to Apollo 11 take off, I glanced at my turntable and saw the playhead bobbing up and down.  The needle twitched imperceptibly in response to bumps in a spiral.  These bumps were pressed into vinyl by a stamper, created from a master, which was directly dubbed from tape.  The tape, while likely a copy, collected a representation of sound by responding to electrical current supplied by a microphone, in which a tiny structure responded to changes in air pressure caused by the very engines of Apollo 11.  Again converted to electrical current, this information caused the diaphragm of my speakers to pulse in a remarkably similar fashion to the molecules of air surrounding that rocket.

Digital sampling breaks apart the waves of auditory information into a series of lines, and it is my awareness of that detail that so affects my experience.  Over 50 years later, I am witness to a purely material propagation of waves that initiated at Kennedy Space Center, and I feel connected.

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