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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Neil Young Wants Perfect Sound. Here's Why I Don't.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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On a recording made and first distributed in 1967, it's important I hear the crackle and the hiss that may rise to the surface, like a wave, the way the surface noise does briefly on my vinyl copy of "Respect," during the song's famous "r-e-s-p-e-c-t" breakdown. For me, that date stamp is as much a part of the pleasure the record affords as Redding's words or the musicians' performances. These marks of time are what I don't hear in my real life, which passes me by, moment-into-moment, sonically lossless but experientially without a handle for me to grip. On a record, surface noise soothes the existential beast in me. And the notion of hearing the "quality" of reality without actually entering into that reality seems, at best, pointless, and at worst, a feat of engineering rooted in aesthetic hokum.

So if returning to that session from 1967 is the thing I want to do, I'd rather do it through another wonderfully restricted medium: words. I'd like these words to act as little signposts directing my imagination around the room, to the smoke rings swirling above the mixing console and the look of concentration that settles within Aretha's eyes between takes. The words might even take me for a walk outside, into the snow or sunshine or whatever else the weather in New York was doing on February 14, 1967.

The record? Let that remain an artifact of this moment that happened almost 50 years ago, a recording in the most literal sense: beautiful evidence that something happened once -- not a stand-in for the moment itself. Because when it comes to inscribing a moment in sound, I've learned to abide by a simple law: the higher the fidelity, the less evocative its playback, the less true and unique my listening experience.

-- @AnStou


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Andrew Stout

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