ENG 705 Studies in Visual Cultures
Professor M. Tschofen
How to Look at a Record Player
When looking at this record player I think about music, and how it has evolved over time. Today, in the digital age, it is not uncommon to store music on iTunes or in mp3 files. When it comes to listening to music it is also much different, now there is Bluetooth speakers, tiny portable devices– and we mustn’t forget– our smartphones. When I was a kid it was CDs, stacks and stacks of CDS arranged on a stand, similar to a bookshelf. In the 90s we listened to CDs with our Boom Boxes, or we carried it around with our Walkman’s. Record players represent a time in history when the only way to really own music was by collecting vinyl records and listening to the sound through a record player (Mayhew).
The times are certainly different but record players are still an important piece of technology. The most important component of a record player, aside from its ability to project audio, is the turntable. Today a turntables are associated with disk jockeys, musical performer that mix songs with turntable decks, who often use that infamous turntable scratch during parts of their sets. However, the turntable dates back to a much earlier date. In late 1800s the first commercial used musical device to administer sound and use a turntable was the gramophone (Mayhew). Although it was not around as long as the record player it was one of the primitive audiovisual technologies. The gramophone, which evolved from the phonograph, the first audio device ever, had a place in people’s homes and social settings up until the takeover of record players (Mayhew).
The record player and vinyl’s flourished in the music industry during the 1930s and 1940s. After the great depression music was an escape, and a way that people came together during times of struggle. Although mass music corporations of the times produced records, there was no limits to genres. Vinyl’s not only appealed to the popular cultures but also to underground sounds, which were mostly favoured by minorities and individuals who lived in more rural settings (Starr and Waterman, 89). Whether it was jazz, blues, polka or country, all known genres of music could be found in vinyl and listened to with record players.
While the world became a more commercialized place further technological advances became prominent as a way to conveniently and more effectively generate money. After the invention of CDs, in the 1980s vinyl’s lost their dominance in the music industry (Mayhew). However, they were still considered the authentic and more traditional way of listening to music. Record players still existed in people’s homes but with the invention of loud speakers’ and comact disks music was listened to with greater amounts of depth, volume and bass.
Today record players are considered aesthetically vintage. You can purchase them for a reasonable price online or some specialty stores. They produce a very distinctive sound; monotone, clean and crisp, which almost gives the audio a calmer and relaxing disposition. The sound is classic. Though record players along with vinyl exist for a much different purpose, as opposed to the 1900s, they can be seen as a mark within history and way in preserving a great period of time.
Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. New York, Routledge, 2000.
Mayhew, Jess. “History of the Record Player Part I: The Early Years.” Reverb.com, Reverb, 21 Sept. 2015, reverb.com/ca/news/history-of-the-record-player-part-i-the-early-years.
Starr, Larry, and Christopher Alan Waterman. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to mp3. 3rd , New York, Oxford University Press, 2010.