Take an average record. A piece of vinyl 12 inches in diameter, a groove cut into the surface contains music. For a standard LP, the groove is 1,500 feet long.
The groove is the physical embodiment of music. And one type of music history would emphasize how the manufacturing of these discs — and their interplay with the technologies of radio — shaped what people listen to, what people consider “normal” in music. The short length of playable music that could be encoded on a 45 (or the older 78 technology) influenced what was played on the radio, which helped determine the standard length of a song.
But pop musicians playing with the limits of 45s began to longer art during the 1960s, exploiting the 50 minutes or so of music that the 1,500 feet of groove allowed. This, in turn, precipitated change in music discovery medium of the day — radio — and on it went.
I can remember the first album I had on vinyl. I was maybe five years old, and my sister gave me the Top Gun soundtrack. Dancing on the carpet of the living room in Sylmar, California. I can’t even remember how I must have moved. How do you dance to “Highway to the Danger Zone”? I did, though. I did.
Read more. [Image: Alexis Madrigal]
Photographer Eilon Paz, whose Dust & Grooves project documents all things vinyl, explains that records shape not just how music sounds but how you experience it: “You have to take it out, you have to put it on the turntable, you have to put the needle on — these are all actions that demand attention from you.” He theorizes that while CDs threatened to make records obsolete, the shift to MP3s has spawned nostalgia for physical objects. This short documentary, produced by Kornhaber Brown for PBS, includes interviews with film professor Al Nigrin, Ryan Martin of Dias Records, Rebecca Cleman of Electronic Arts Intermix, and David Bias of the Impossible Project, which rescued the last Polaroid production facility in order to keep producing instant film.