art observations process thought fodder

Spinning a Record

Lining a needle up with a song in the middle of a record. Photo by Mary Warner, March 2016.
Lining a needle up with a song in the middle of a record. Photo by Mary Warner, March 2016.

I’m having a day off from the world, doing whatever strikes my fancy without working through a To Do list. While the freedom of this is heavenly, it’s not always easy to decide how to spend my time without a list. (Ah, the life of an adult!) First I wrote a list of all the things that I find relaxing, mostly as a reminder to myself when I get stressed out, not as things I must do. And then I loitered around a bit and settled on listening to music, which is on the Relaxing List.

My hubby has built a wonderful sound system, complete with a Solid State Sansui silver-faced receiver that weighs about 375 pounds (not really, but it IS extraordinarily heavy), 4 large, old-skool speakers, a record player, and a couple of other components. There is nothing like listening to a vinyl record on such a system. The speakers allow for a depth of listening that is delightful for the sounds that are revealed.

I spun several records, including Arcadia’s “The Flame” (extended version) and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” (song, not whole album), but I concentrated a lot of time on Ultravox’s “Lament.” I listened to the first and last songs several times after going through the entire album once. The first song is “White China;” the last is “A Friend I Call Desire.”

Record player with Ultravox's album "Lament." Photo by Mary Warner, March 2016.
Record player with Ultravox’s album “Lament.” Photo by Mary Warner, March 2016.

Having grown up with vinyl records, there is a beauty to returning to them as an adult. Like the Slow Food movement that brings mindfulness to eating, spinning a record is a Slow Listening movement. It takes time and care to remove an album from its cover and put it on the turntable without scratching it. We have a tool that cleans the dust off records, but you can’t use a heavy hand on this either. And when you want to play a song in the middle of the album, you need a steady hand and keen eye to line the stylus up with the groove signifying the beginning of the song. After about 20 minutes of play (the length of a side on “Lament”), it’s time to flip the record over. You can’t put it on shuffle and expect it to run forever. You have to pay attention if you want to keep listening.

Discwasher brand vinyl album cleaner. Photo by Mary Warner, March 2016.
Discwasher brand vinyl album cleaner. Photo by Mary Warner, March 2016.

I have always been a big fan of album art, sadness descending on me when the music industry moved almost exclusively to CDs with their small art and even smaller print. Standard 33 1/3 rpm albums have substantial jacket art, with more creative opportunity to design the dust sleeve inside. As a teenager, I spent considerable time scrying album covers because this was the primary way to get inside the minds of my favorite bands. (Why’d they put the songs in this particular order? Why’d they choose this art? What are the names of the band members? Who is singing backup vocals? Is there a deeper message in this album?) We couldn’t turn to a band’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed for this info because the internet wasn’t around when I was a teenager. (Scary, eh?)


For as convenient as digital music is, the experience of listening to vinyl albums, with all the fussiness that comes with it, is truly a meditative act.