Sunday, May 6, 2018

Now Reading: Why Vinyl Matters by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

Why Vinyl MattersI've been reading yet another coffee table book as a follow-up to my previous blog post (Dust & Grooves by Eilon Paz). This current book is entitled Why Vinyl Matters: A Manifesto from Musicians and Fans, published in 2017 by ACC Art Books. And though not as large as that previous book on vinyl, this one is still fairly hefty at 10.75-inches tall, 9.5-inches wide, and about an inch thick, with 222 art-quality pages.

Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, the author, completed a PhD in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, and is currently the course leader and coordinator for Music Journalism at British and Irish Modern Music Institute in London. She's taken her love for music and vinyl and compiled this book of interviews, in which she typically poses the same questions to each of the interviewees. This allows the reader to be able to compare relative answers to each of the questions.

Here are some excerpts from a few interviewees on why vinyl matters:
"Punk and digital, to me at least, are antithetical. I can only project my own perception – but for me, punk is vinyl and cassette. It is the picture sleeves, the noise on the vinyl, the way you know the next song on the cassette because you have carried it with you and played it so many times. Punk is analogue. It is real. Would you rather hear the first album by The Clash on LP or CD? One is real, the other is, at best, somewhat trite. On the other hand, do you really want a Beyoncé LP? Why? What do you hope to get when you pull the album out from its sleeve, a coupon for a free Pepsi? Some music is merely an advertisement for what music can be. It never escapes the enclosure of its commercial goals, nor does it seek to. The people who appreciate this music are happy with their streaming or other wretched sound-delivery systems. Punk, like rock, is an analogue, real-life experience, so you want analogue playback."
—Henry Rollins,
Musician; Writer; Radio and Television Presenter; Spoken Word Artist; Actor
"Five or six years ago, I was shopping for some old jazz. I got this Louis Armstrong box set. You can't get that shit anywhere else but on vinyl. The only place it exists is at the used record store. They don't make those albums anymore; they're not online. So as a result, I have all these songs that I've never heard before! Not only does the music sound cooler, but some artists only live on vinyl."
—Mike Burkett (aka Fat Mike),
Vocalist; Bassist; Label Owner and Founder: Fat Wreck Chords
"I've always had a very diverse taste. I've always been able to listen to reggae one moment, classical the next, country and western, hip­ hop, grime. I think that all started because of that very diverse but small collection of albums that my mum and dad had back in the 1960s. Now I actually own those 25-or-so albums, because my mum gave them to me a few years ago. I own the first record I ever heard in my life. I own the albums that inspired me as a toddler, because there were only two TV channels back in those days, so the radio and the record player were the world. The fascination, even back then, of putting a record on and putting the needle in, was a big thing for the family. It meant that you listened to the same album two or three times in a day sometimes. It's just nice to own those actual albums that formed my taste as a toddler."
—Clint Boon,
Keyboardist; Vocalist; Songwriter; Presenter; DJ
"I felt that music had become a free or cheap commodity. People are not paying for music. Instead of people recognising how powerful and important it is, it has become the backdrop – it's the backdrop to my night out, it's the aural accompaniment while I work. There is no real focus on it.
With Classic Album Sundays, I wanted to make music the focus. I wanted to provide a space where people would not do anything else – working on their computer or their phone. They would just be listening. Just like books and films, albums have influenced culture, politics and societies in other ways. Speech patterns. Humour. It goes beyond influencing other bands. Fashion, film, art, comedy. Music can influence all of these disciplines, just like great books can. We could argue that The Beatles have been as influential as Shakespeare. I felt that the album needed to be treated like the great novels: you can't just pick and choose chapters – you have to study the whole thing as an entire piece of work.
You can really hear the difference if you train your ear. That is not to say that every piece of vinyl sounds amazing, since so much of it is made poorly. But when you get a great record that is recorded properly, mastered properly and pressed properly – and then you play it on a proper system – it's like nothing else."
—Colleen Murphy,
DJ, Event Founder: Classic Album Sundays
"I also feel that about the Nick Drake album Pink Moon. In the '90s when I was touring with the Cocteau Twins, I used to have that on my iPod and on CD. I knew that record back to front. I listened to it on my headphones when I was travelling all around the US and around the world. I had only had the CD, but then they reissued the vinyl. I got a really nice system at home for the first time in a long while: lovely Hi-Fi, old Swans turntable, lovely old amplifier, and these KEF wooden speakers I bought off eBay. I got the whole thing for like £300. I set this beautiful system up, put this Nick Drake record on, and I was looking at the sleeve thinking, 'What have they done? This is a different record. I have never heard those instruments before.' I was literally blown away. I stood in the living room without any words, thinking, 'What is this?' It was exactly the same record, it was not remastered. It was the original, just a reissue of the original pressing. I think with vinyl, the stereo picture is just clearer, so you just hear things in a different place."
—Simon Raymonde,
Musician; Producer; Label Founder: Bella Union
"Vinyl has emerged as one of the first consumer products to prove its post-digital worth in a digitally distracted world. Digital natives are no longer satisfied with music access alone. Having a curated collection of music you own to cherish is now an aspiration for many young music lovers. A rich, eclectic, specialist collection of vinyl is emblematic of the owner's personal identity, ideals, and experiences. The disposable ubiquity of digital products teaches the value of scarcity, and of knowledge as a means to navigate endless choice. Suffice to say, vinyl rewards, educates, and conveys you better than most things acquired in life. This will secure its validity for decades to come."
—Stephen Godfroy,
Co-Owner, Director: Rough Trade Independent Record Retailer (originally opened in 1976)
"Vinyl is a sort of meditation. When you put a record on, it means that you have to be there to experience it because 20 minutes later, you are going to need to flip it over; it is not an ongoing soundtrack to your life, like when you are jogging, and you have music in your headphones. You are taking the time to actually experience the record in a way that the artist would hope and intend. That is the difference – a huge difference!
My daughter is 18; she loves a lot of great music. But she will never know what it is like to sit with five of her best friends and listen to Pink Floyd. Not that everyone needs that experience – but to me, that was like church. I was never a religious person, but I think a lot of people go to church so they can be with a crowd of people and do something spiritual together – and feel it – together. In the '60s and '70s, all of a sudden there was this experience of being able to go out and appreciate another person's music in a way collectively that I think was elevated. It spoke to human potential. It was not about some theoretical god, or some hierarchical, dogmatic programme. It was ultimately inspiring in a way that I do not think too much is anymore. It was such a unique club that we all belonged to when we understood the power of that stuff. Now it's ubiquitous. Everyone has their own little soundtrack to their lives going on through their headphones and their little Pandora."
—Marc Weinstein,
Co-Founder, Co-Owner: Amoeba Music; Drummer in many bands including MX-80, 10th Planet, Pluto, Savage Pelicans, The Mutants, and others

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files Volume 9)

The Labyrinth IndexIndeed, much time has passed since I last posted about an editing project. Not because I haven't wanted to, but because the majority of the work I've been doing these past few months has been with individual authors. And since these authors' manuscripts have not been accepted for publication as yet, I feel it's not my place to comment publicly on said work.

Which brings me to my most recent project, which I can, in fact, write about: Just this past Friday I turned in the edited manuscript for Charles Stross's latest Laundry Files novel -- The Labyrinth Index -- to Tor Books/St. Martin's Press. The book will be published in October.

Book number 9... I have been working on the Laundry Files series since 2003, when I first acquired The Atrocity Archives -- which contained the 2005 Hugo Award-winning novella "The Concrete Jungle" -- for Golden Gryphon Press. A span of fifteen years, nine volumes, and four different publishers: as acquiring editor with Golden Gryphon Press (books 1 and 2), and then as a freelancer for the next seven volumes: Ace Books (books 3 through 7), Oribt UK (book 8), and this latest volume with Tor Books. Whew....
Orbit UK Edition

I'll share some of The Labyrinth Index story line with you, but not too much as I don't want to give away too many spoilers. I will say, however, that the blurb provided to Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and undoubtedly other booksellers as well) was based on an early draft of the novel, and a number of points within those blurbs are no longer correct or accurate. So I'm going to post the book blurb here, with the appropriate corrections/'changes:
The Lovecraftian Singularity has descended on the world, beginning an exciting new story arc in the Laundry Files series!

The arrival of vast, alien, inhuman intelligences reshaped the landscape for human affairs across the world, and the United Kingdom is no exception. Things have changed in Britain since the dread elder god N'yar Lat-Hotep [aka Fabian Everyman, aka the Mandate, ref: The Delirium Brief, book 8] ascended to the rank of Prime Minister. Mhari Murphy, recently elevated to the House of Lords and head of the Lords Select Committee on Sanguinary Affairs (think vampires), finds herself in direct consultation with the Creeping Chaos, who directs her to lead a team of unknown [at least to the Black Chamber] Laundry personnel into the dark heart of America to search for the President of the United States, and kidnap him if necessary for his own protection.

A thousand-mile-wild storm system has blanketed the Midwest, [there is no storm!] and the President is nowhere to be found. In fact, for reasons unknown [as yet], the people of America are forgetting that the Executive Branch ever existed. The government has been infiltrated by the shadowy Black Chamber [aka the Nazgûl, aka the Operational Phenomenology Agency, or OPA], and the Pentagon and NASA have been refocused on the problem of summoning Cthulhu.

Somewhere [in hiding], the Secret Service Presidential Protection Detail battle to stay awake in order to remember who the President is, and to stay one step ahead of the vampiric OPA dragnet that's searching for him.
So there you have it. The boldface (and the one strike-through) are my corrections to the original publisher's blurb, while the bracketed text provide a bit more detail than what was given. Any questions?

If you've been keeping up on the series, then you know that supersecret agent extraordinaire Bob Howard (the new Eater of Souls) has made few appearances in the past few volumes. And The Labyrinth Index is no exception. The primary narrator is Mhari Murphy, or should I now say Baroness Karnstein! And Mhari's main partner-in-crime, so to speak, on this mission into the dark heart of America is Detective Chief Superintendent James Grey (aka Officer Friendly), whom we last saw in The Annihilation Score.

Recall that the Prime Minister wanted a team of "blank-face" operatives.... Brains (of Pinky and Brains) joins the mission this time around, as does Reverend Pete Russell. And if you are a hardcore fan of the Laundry Files series, you may even remember sysadmin Janice Hill, one of the Scrum from The Rhesus Chart; well, she's part of the team, too, as is Derek the DM from The Nightmare Stacks. Last, but certainly not least, an alfär mage, one of the Host of Air and Darkness, plays a major role as well.

That's probably more detail than I should be providing at this point, but I couldn't help myself. This story is a real page-turner: it moves faster than RAF Concorde 302 Heavy with the President onboard! (Shush...don't tell anyone I said that!)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Now Reading: Dust & Grooves by Eilon Paz

Dust & GroovesI've been reading this coffee table book entitled Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, which was published by Ten Speed Press in 2015.

The author, Eilon Paz, is a photographer with a penchant for music. He put the two of these passions together and came up with D&G, a successful Kickstarter project, for which he traveled around the globe interviewing hardcore vinyl collectors—and photographing their massive vinyl collections. And the book is huge: 12 inches tall, 9.75 inches wide, and about 1.5 inches thick, with 440 pages of some of the most mouth-gaping photos of vinyl collections you will ever see!

Sheila Burgel
"[Record collecting] is a boys club, and if a woman can't play like the men, she's rarely encouraged to join in. Because in the record-collecting world, you have to meet certain'd hardly be taken seriously as a collector with a small collection. Quantity matters. So does rarity. And your knowledge about what you collect. What girl wants to bother being held to such silly standards when we're already judged on just about everything else in our lives."
–Sheila Burgel, Brooklyn, NY

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, bandleader for
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

"Records are time capsules. They're emotional, spiritual, energetically bound pieces of vinyl. They were cut with force and energy, not by a programmer."
–William Bensussen, The Gaslamp Killer, Los Angeles
"Questions like favorite album/artist/genre/label/cover are utter bullshit. People less consumed with music can easily give you those answers, but I (and those of my tribe) simply cannot, and that's just the way it is."
–Greg Casseus, Queens, NY
"Collecting records is like voluntarily becoming a historian or a chapter in a long book of musical histories."
–Rich Medina, Philadelphia
"Convenience and shortcuts [the quick click of an mp3] do not enhance pleasure. But take the time to dig out a record, put it on the turntable, sit back and listen...that's where the pleasure is. That's where the relationship with music grows strong; that's where the richness and depth are felt."
–Sheila Burgel once again:
with one of the largest collections of girl groups vinyl in the world

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942 – March 14, 2018)

"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die."

"It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love."
—Stephen Hawking