The past co-exists with the present

Our new home is a kind of retro chic. Or possibly, rather more ‘retro’ than ‘chic.’ We are finding, however, that we can accommodate the technology of fifty years past while also revelling in the convenience of the present. It feels like the best of both worlds.

When we unpacked the big box of vinyl albums, and arranged them on the new-to-us shelves, we discovered that many of the ones we’d remembered from the ’70s had disappeared. Blame the vagaries of past relationships. The albums we do have are mostly those acquired during our own time together. It took half a day of organising, which included sawing out an opening in the back of the bookshelf to hold the beast of a receiver, but in the end everything has worked out.

I was particularly interested in seeing how well the linear drive turntable might work. In our previous life, just months ago now, the turntable had languished behind a cupboard door, unseen and unused. In this incarnation, because the presence of an album collection, however small, these days seems to signify some sort of audio sophistication, it sits ready to play. The whole bookshelf encapsulates the sense both of the past and of the present way of listening to recorded music.

The turntable delivers great sound through the pre-amplifier; the albums twirl around very well under the needle. The cassette deck is not quite hooked up yet, as I’m waiting for another pair of phono-to-phono leads, but in a big storage box upstairs there are numerous examples of artistes to listen to on tape. The DVD player is slim and sleek, doubling up as our CD player. Sharing the top counter with the turntable is the BT TV Pro box, which streams content from the digital terrestrial antenna as well as from online networks out through the receiver to speakers and projector. Finally, the photograph of our audiovisual setup was taken on my iPhone which can transmit ApplePlay music through the receiver, as downloaded either through the 4G network or the telephone line broadband when it finally gets installed. The players get smaller and smaller, as we move from the past to the present!

We listened to the Tubular Bells album, in fact, through ApplePlay the other day, after discovering that the one or two copies we knew we had were missing from our collection. No doubt most, if not all, of the albums we do have are similarly available that way. So the bottom shelf, and the turntable itself, are items more of nostalgia than utility. As I suggested at the top of this piece: the past co-exists with the present. It would take a lot of persuading, now, to get us to part with these bulky packages of vinyl. We almost, however, delivered the box of cassettes to the dump, but I rescued them before their demise. Too many memories to lose! And as Nile Rodgers reminisced on the BBC’s History of the Album feature, there’s that anticipation as you set the old technology away, the drop of the arm onto the edge of the record, or the hiss of the tape, before the music envelopes the acoustic space. Streaming doesn’t quite match that moment.

So we live with those memories, while also laying down new experiences to enjoy. Some day, not too far ahead in the as yet unseen future, we shall find that we no longer can keep up with the new technology. Until then, we seem to be a bridge between the past and the present, at least. A bridge that our grandchildren cannot quite grasp.

The joy, for me today, is realising that things still work. The past is still with us, not yet faded into only a distant memory.

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