Thursday, 1 June 2017

Vinyl Experience: Opening My Ears With Sun Ra and Piero Umiliani

Bought any vinyl lately? I hadn't, but with a gift token in my pocket I entered Sister Ray in Soho with the intention of doing so, knowing that I wouldn't get much for my money (£39.99) but what the hell, this was about indulgence. 

Unfortunately (for my pocket) the only albums that really interest me in the shop's basement are the soundtracks (and separate Italian composer sections) along with what Sun Ra they have, which is largely limited edition imports. I told you it would be pricey. I told myself that too in preparation. I told myself "It's OK, you have a token!" 

I flicked through the Piero Umiliani albums a couple of times before choosing Suspense, unsure of whether or not I had it on MP3. Then to Sun Ra, settling for Blue York but, again, not knowing if I actually had it in file form. Ultimately, I didn't care, the point being my commitment to vinyl this morning.

Here's the thing, the thing you may be aware of yourself; vinyl concentrates the ears. A lot has been written about the glories of vinyl, from it's physical nature to sleeve art and sound, along with it's nostalgic value for those of us old enough to remember when it was the main medium for music. What I noticed when playing Blue York, though, was how much attention I paid. This was before I found it on my hard drive as part two of the double CD release from 2013. So did I care about that? No! I was high from hearing Side One coming though my Wharfedale speakers. Yes, I could have transferred the file to a blank disc and possibly got the same sound but there was the album, a thing in itself, if not an original 'original', an actual album.

Forgive me for sounding like one of those vinyl junkies; not that I object to them, but as I joked with a friend on FB this morning as she mourned the passing of the original vinyl era, in its place we now have file sharing and my musical world expanded considerably since it's advent. As did yours, I bet.

There's the problem, though, the surfeit of sound today. I couldn't even remember having the Sun Ra recordings. I don't think I'm alone in not knowing what the hell I have on the hard drive, not totally. How can we focus properly when confronted with so many sounds? I'm sure some of you do, but I find it hard, using shuffle mode more often than not. Given the opportunity, as with surfing the Net, we find it hard to stay still, to resist clicking onward, ever onward until mentally exhausted. So too with music; I'm always cutting tracks short, let alone listening to whole albums. Perhaps it's more about me than a general trend?

I am not restless by nature. The internet makes me so. Yes, the old attention span disorder syndrome. Vinyl focuses the ears, makes me pay more attention and have greater regard for both the object and the sounds it transmits. So it was today with Sun Ra's Blue York, to the point where it was like hearing it for the first time. Perhaps I was hearing things for the first time. That echoing percussion certainly stood out. It's a fantastic session, recorded at the Choreographer's Workshop, NYC, 1963 and I highly recommend it.

Suspense is a 1972 Umiliani album recorded under the pseudonym of Zalla. I happened to include more photos of it just because...well, for no special reason. The fact that I did may suggest that I'm going to talk about it, but I'm not. I can't, not having played it yet. This album includes a bonus in CD form and I don't have a file of it so I'm maintaining the suspense I feel in delaying the experience. Don't you love library record track descriptions? Especially in Italian...

If you search, you'll probably find someone sharing it online but today, for me, it's all about the record(s) and how both of them open my ears.

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