Dominik Bartmanski and Ian Woodward.

Rebirth of an old artefact. Vinyl in the digital age

In an era dominated by digitalization, where traditional practices have been rapidly replaced, vinyl records have defied the odds and experienced a remarkable resurgence. The power of this analog format lies in its ability to offer a unique and meaningful experience that digital music often fails to replicate. The book “Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age” by Dominik Bartmanski and Ian Woodward explores the cultural significance of vinyl and the unexpected consequences of its revival.

The Unintended Consequences of Digitalization

The digital revolution, with its virtual mobilities and convenience, has paradoxically led to increased isolation and a sense of being “alone together.” The overwhelming accessibility to cultural data has resulted in an information overload or “data smog,” leaving us desensitized rather than inspired. The constant stream of files, updates, and fleeting images on our omnipresent screens can be overwhelming. However, amidst this digital onslaught, vinyl records have emerged as a resilient symbol of resistance and a source of newfound pleasure.

Auditory warmth, richness and the muchvaunted high fidelity of the musical message account for vinyl’s lasting and its air of ‘holy script’ for serious music aficionados. (Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, p. 166).

Vinyl’s Resurgence: A New Spin on the Old

Vinyl’s resurgence is not merely a passing trend or a nostalgic yearning for the past. It has found a permanent place in music consumption, coexisting with digital formats. Vinyl’s enduring appeal is not solely attributed to its auditory warmth, richness, and high fidelity but rather its ability to offer a holistic and tangible experience. It represents a departure from the screen-based digital culture, emphasizing the importance of communal experiences, personal rituals, and the physicality of music.

“…vinyl saw a socially broader renaissance exactly at the time when the digital revolution seemed complete. This is certainly about reappreciation of certain sounds, and asserting the depth and timelessness of the ‘old school’ hearing, listening and playing.” (Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, p. 166).

Vinyl vs. Digital: A Creative Symbiosis

During the first phase of digitalization, when CDs dominated the music market, vinyl records were saved from extinction by independent electronic dance music DJs. These DJs, despite embracing digital production techniques, recognized the unique qualities of vinyl as a medium for artistic expression. Vinyl’s revival continued into the second phase of digitalization, coinciding with the widespread dominance of electronic files and virtual streams. This resurgence is not merely about nostalgia but rather a reappreciation of the tangible, the concrete, and the enduring.

“…there is yet a series of other unanticipated cultural consequences in the form of persistence and resurgence of the old stuff that somehow withstood the pressure of the new….” (Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, p. 165).

Vinyl’s Curiously Timed Resurgence

Vinyl’s appeal goes beyond the meditative experience of sound; it encompasses the ecstasy of dance, the beauty of expression, and the collective effervescence that music brings. Vinyl’s resurgence reflects a collective desire to slow down, pay attention, and escape the fast-paced digital world. Collecting and listening to music on vinyl allows for a restructuring of our digitally regimented lives, introducing sacred moments and objects into our mundane routines. In the face of digital acceleration, vinyl offers a more focused and culturally sustainable engagement with music.

“Sociologists researching the icons of the new digital age observe that ‘we are increasingly alone together’.” (Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, p. 165).

Vinyl’s Appeal: Meditative Experience and Ritualized Contemplation

Vinyl’s significance extends beyond its role as a medium for music. It represents a powerful signifier that engages not only our minds but also our bodies, transforming our engagement with space. It epitomizes a distinct lifeworld and a tradition that cannot be replicated. Just as “iPod culture” has shaped contemporary society, “vinyl culture” carries its own unique and irreplaceable heritage.

“By all accounts, ostensibly ‘replaced’ by the industry with a ‘better’ product, vinyl should have been dead by now, or at best confined to museums and antique stores as quaint incunabulum. But something else has happened instead.” (Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, p. 165).

A Multidimensional Perspective: Vinyl’s Enduring Power

The authors draw upon the concepts of media and icons proposed by Hans Belting, an art historian, to shed light on vinyl’s enduring power. Belting argues for a more inclusive and aesthetically variegated approach to understanding cultural phenomena, emphasizing the intertwining of sound, space, and body. By considering vinyl from this multidimensional perspective, its ability to survive and shine becomes evident.

„If vinyl is a medium that is at once a message, then one of the key things it conveys today is: ‘slow down and pay attention’.” (Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, p. 165).

In conclusion, vinyl’s resurgence in the digital age signifies a reevaluation of our relationship with music and culture. It represents a rebellion against the fast-paced digital world and a desire for more meaningful and tangible experiences. Vinyl’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to engage our senses, transcend time, and foster a sense of community. As we navigate an increasingly digitalized world, vinyl records serve as a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and appreciate the power of the analog in a digital age.