I am lucky to say my family has a record collection of 78s. I wanted to share some of my favorite songs from my record collection, as well as my thoughts on analog sound.
Listening to analog versus digital music has its definite differences. These records were recorded using different technologies: the music often was recorded using one take, recorded directly onto a master recording, and oftentimes was recorded using one 'mono' microphone. 78s also have one song per side, and each side is about 3 to 5 minutes due to recording technology.
'Mixing' was normally done by physically moving musicians to different parts of the room, and mistakes couldn't be edited out. In fact, that sort of audio editing couldn't occur until the invention of 'tape', where the studio monitors had to actually slice and piece the tape together. Now everything is done digitally where musicians can make very nuanced changes to the music without destroying the original recording.
Listen to Charlie Parker playing, "Thriving From a Riff":
Last semester at college I took an acoustics class. The teacher of the class encouraged us more than anything to seek out our own acoustical experiences such as observing the sound in halls and churches, mixing and panning music to hear space, and hearing digital versus analog recordings. At school I listened to different bit levels to discern which recording was of the best quality. As a result, listening to these records has made me really reflect on audio quality.
Listen to Louis Armstrong playing, "Maybe It's Because":
Many people believe that analog sound is better than digital. I am still unsure whether or not this is true. I think the sound of these records is 'better' in many ways: the sound is warm, full, rich, exciting. I can hear a lot of depth in the recording. However, some of my old records have a 'hiss' in the sound from being played too many times. Digital audio is definitely 'cleaner' in many senses, since it cannot be worn down or broken. Digital audio can be easily stored, shared, produced, mixed, etc. Yet, there is a charm of analog music being raw and historic.
Listen to Art Tatum playing, "I Got A Right To Sing The Blues":
I think the main difference between the listening experience of analog versus digital music is that I pay much more attention to the sound of my records. You are almost forced to really focus due to the fact that you have to physically change sides of the record when the song is done. I also find myself more interested in the dates, history, and sidemen on each record since it is physically displayed on the record. '1938' becomes much more than a year - it becomes a setting for the music as I start to think about the technologies, politics, and social norms of the time.
Listen to Benny Goodman playing, "I Got Rhythm":
My records were mostly obtained on eBay. People sell huge boxes of records for basically a quarter each. My dad would order these giant boxes, oftentimes not even knowing which jazz artists we would be getting. It was a huge surprise to find a Norman Granz, "Jazz at the Philharmonic" record with Lester Young, Hank Jones, and Charlie Parker among others!
It's an indescribable feeling to be able to spend time looking through 'history' and listening to songs with a sort of relaxed focus. I feel that spending time with my family's record collection has given me a greater appreciation of not only my favorite jazz musicians, but also recording technology. It is amazing how far music has come!
With the summer here make sure you take advantage of great jazz festivals including the Newport Jazz Festival with $20 student tickets and the Detroit Jazz Festival! Also, if you are in Massachusetts, take advantage of the local jazz festivals.
Do you have a favorite record?