Vol. 3, Issue #5 March 7th - March 20th, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

We Have a Loser! (But No Clear Winner)

Last month Wal-Mart - the largest music and video seller in the world - announced they would no longer carry the HD DVD format, which caused Toshiba to cry uncle and stop manufacturing the format. But we really don’t have a winner yet, just a loser. The Blu-Ray format has a long way to go, especially during this carnival we’ve had for the last few years of dividing the booty of the major labels via P2P pirate programs like Limewire and Bit Torrent. This is the first generation that hasn’t had to rebuy their entire library with a change in technology - and I’m sure the concept is so foreign to them that there’s no way it’s ever going to happen. Everyone will simply start illegally downloading Blu-Ray programs.

At the same time, there’s a new commercial for either Wendy’s or McDonald’s (which shows you how good the commercial it is as I’m writing about it and I can’t even remember what it was promoting) that starts off with a collage age woman dancing in front of her pristine, polybagged record collection. The idea is that if you eat off the dollar menu at this restaurant you’ll have money left over for the things you really enjoy, such as records. In this haze of digital downloading, it’s interesting that Madison Avenue would show a young person into vinyl - not that it’s anything new, I would say 40% of the vinyl collectors out there are in their twenties. Even the powers that be are starting to notice this strange, cultist activity.

Ironically, albums that have been out of print are getting a new life as downloads. Classics like Alice Cooper’s “Pretties For You” and “Easy Action,” the 101 Strings Orchestra’s “Astro Sounds Beyond The Year 2000” and Chris and Cosey’s “Core,” are all available on iTunes and Amazon’s download service. AnthologyRecordings.com has made a name for themselves by selling mp3 downloads of only out of print obscure progressive, psychedelic, punk, post-punk, and dub albums.

While all of this is a boom to those of us who own turntables and know how to download, it seems to be creating chaos in the market. How much is a $50 record worth if you can download it for $9? Or find it on eBay for $10? As DVDs that originally sold for $30 seven years ago - like “Natural Born Killer” or “Once Upon a Time in The West” - are now available at Wal-Mart for $5 in a pile, how much are movies really worth? My dealer gets huffy every time he has what he considers an obscure title on CD and I show him there are 100 sellers on Amazon trying to sell the same title for less than $5.

Classical music and pornography used to be the canaries in the coalmine; if classical music people embraced an audio format it was a pretty safe bet that everyone else would like it. Classical listeners tended to be very discerning and listened to music that went from the softest passages to the most roaring explosions, which the CD delivered like no other format before it. Porn fans were the visual equivalent. Whatever delivered the money shot best was always going to win; the versatility of VHS over Betamax was round one, followed by having a whole “movie” on one side of a disc in the DVD wars as oppose to the more bulky laserdiscs, which only held 30 minutes to an hour of information per side.

The problem was that once you had a copy of Erick Satie’s piano music on CD, there was no reason to replace it; the soft passages were no longer susceptible to pops and surface noise. So while classical music was highly popular in the early days of CDs, it has virtually disappeared as a force in the market. Likewise, it’s strange bedfellows, pornography lovers, have so many options on the web for free pornography that DVD sales have (finally) fallen in the industry. The golden age of pornography of the late 1970s, back when smut had plots, scripts, musical scores, and wardrobes, all but vanished for cheap, and quickly made gonzo porn. Now, with reasonably priced HD cameras on the market, anyone can make a gonzo porn movie, and they are kicking the steam out of the Southern California porn click. Porn is still holding it together by going back to it’s glamorous age, like the multi-million dollar production of the triple-X “Pirates,” but the days seem to be numbered.

Meanwhile, defying all logic, we go back to the lowly vinyl record. I bought a turntable last September and have been in the market for five months now. My local used record store is actually selling more vinyl than they are CDs at this point, regardless of the absurd prices. When I moved To Tulsa I found a good mini system and keep myself entertained with CDs, but there was so much that still hadn’t made it to CD. I finally broke down and bought a vintage Technics Quarts direct drive turntable with a Harman/Kardon amp and hooked it up to my surround sound system. Since then my record collection has climbed from 20 collectors items to about 125 - a mixture of things I found absurdly cheap, out of print favorites and true rarities. I had missed the sensual side of records; the cleaning of the stylus and the record, and the stocking up on geek supplies of polybags, inner sleeves. Records will never make a full comeback, it’s nice to have them around while they are still physically flexible enough to enjoy. And I’m not going to lose them if my computer blows up tonight.

Of course all of this is leading to a bottleneck glut in the market. While there are many fine bands and musicians out there promoting themselves on MySpace and other sites, no one has the time to check them all out. We’re too busy checking out all the titles of old stuff that’s available on all these formats. The promise of a new promised land is just around the corner.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of walking.

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