Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Vinyl Records

By Damian Ghigliotty

We used to call the best places and things gems because they were hard to find. Places and things you had to dig for.

Back in high school, my friends and I would spend a lot of our time (and lunch money) at the record store Fat Beats in the West Village. The biggest craze among us, as 16-year-old Brooklyn kids, was original, unfiltered underground hip-hop. It was the same music anyone can find on iTunes today, but back then — ’95-’99 for my graduating class — it was usually local, almost always on vinyl, and extremely sacred compared to what everyone else was listening to on the radio at that time. The only exceptions to that were Stretch & Bobbito, two well known voices on 89.9 FM (WKCR.) From 1 am to 5 am on Thursdays, they spun nothing but good hip-hop. And a lot of us stayed up to record it.

The albums and 12-inches that generated the biggest buzz across the five boroughs were quickest to disappear off the walls of Fat Beats, and one day my friend Frank and I became the envy of 20 other Brooklyn teenagers for having found two of the last original pressings of the debut Juggaknots LP (later re-released on CD as “Re:Release.”) I soon came to learn with a tinge of jealousy that Frank also owned an original pressing of the Company Flow “Funcrusher” EP, a fresh clear-green vinyl, and Frank later became a little jealous as well when he found out my sister’s friend had given me a copy of the original Slim Shady EP (though he won’t admit it now that Eminem’s beyond famous.) Funny enough, all three of those records had plain white sleeves, meaning no cover art and no pictures of what the artists looked like.

When the internet started to become a recognized place to find and buy independent music — I would argue around the beginning of 1997 — my friends and I discovered a website called Sandbox Automatic that gave us instant access to even harder to find records. It was a sudden maturity in our exposure to the whole subculture of hip-hop and we went to the site as much as we could to buy albums, EPs and singles that record shops like Fat Beats and Beat Street in Brooklyn didn’t carry. Less local, but just as precious and just as tangible when the packages finally came in the mail. Then suddenly, the next few years shot ahead something like this:

I quickly jumped into the first wave of the Napster phenomena in my first semester of college, went back to buying records when I came back to the city feeling guilty, had trouble getting those records onto my computer, awkwardly began buying CDs (blasphemy though it was), got tired of spending money on full-length CDs, quickly moved onto LimeWire, then SoulSeek, and occasionally iTunes, where my access to music — hip-hop, rock, soul and otherwise — thrives today.

Needless to say, most of the value we placed on underground hip-hop throughout high school has dissipated with the past. The physical records will always look and feel like gems in a way, especially caked in dust these days, but in 2008 that same music is ubiquitous and no longer hard to find. And that’s a disappointment at times. Not just due to personal nostalgia, but also due to a fear that when I have kids one day they won’t be able to cherish something the rest of the world hasn’t already seen or heard.

And here’s the much needed caveat I can’t seem to find a proper place for: I hold no resentment against the growth of the Internet and digital music (only a minor grudge), nor am I adverse to other forms of digital media, or digital networking sites like facebook, or blogging (though I hate the word.) But I do believe the ultimate downside to the digital era hasn’t been fully realized yet. Or I’m too reluctant to join an online chat group about it.

Since last year I’ve been a regular contributor to one of the world’s oldest hip-hop magazines, HHC, based out of London. As a personal formality of sorts, whenever I interview artists I ask them what they think of the Internet as a promotional tool. And almost every time I get the same response albeit in different form: “It’s great.”

“But don’t you feel like hip-hop is becoming oversaturated?” I ask.

“Nope, I stand out,” is the usual reply.

It’s arguable that iTunes and LimeWire have been good for most independent artists — since so few choose to stay underground. But something was lost in the transition to ubiquity and it wasn’t just the physical embodiment of music.

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Photograph by Michael Hicks © 2007.
 

I’m suddenly reminded of Robert Oppenheimer and the movie Blade Runner when I think of all the ambitious scientists and researchers working on the next generation of advanced prosthesis. I can’t help wondering if they’re as detached from the purposes of their research as Oppenheimer was. Or as keenly in touch with the idea of a Cyborg culture as Philip K. Dick was. Or maybe both.

With the discovery of myoelectricity, which allows artificial limbs to be powered by the remaining nerves of muscles that once existed (a phantom limb put to practical use), bionic prosthesis has developed to the point where dismembered soldiers are now being urged to jump back into action after losing a leg or two—or an arm or two. And while it all might seem too science-fictionally implausible to picture on a grand scale, let’s say to tally benchmarks against casualties for once, so was the Atom Bomb before the world saw its effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s where the often forgotten past of World War II and the bleak fantasy of Philip K. Dick suddenly seem all too prevalent and real.

Thirty-one amputees, including Capt. David Rozelle, who lost his right leg above the knee, and Marine Sgt. Sean Wright, who lost both of his hands, have already returned to active duty. Rozelle is one of ten amputee soldiers to return to the battle field after surgery, and now helps architect the amputee program at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. Wright currently teaches martial arts to fellow Marines heading over to Iraq. Other amputees, including Army Specialist Max Ramsey, who lost his left leg above the knee; Army Sgt. Neil Duncan, who lost both of his legs entirely; and Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, who lost parts of both legs in different places, have appeared in the media alongside President Bush.

MSNBC reported on their website on June 28, 2006 that, “Despite a slight drizzle, Bush and Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge took a slow jog around a spongy track that circles the White House’s South Lawn. About halfway through their approximately half-mile run, Bush and Bagge paused briefly for reporters. ‘He ran the president into the ground, I might add,’ Bush said, as the two gripped hands in an emotional, lengthy shake. ‘But I’m proud of you. I’m proud of your strength, proud of your character.’”

The psychology behind the push for bionic prosthesis can be a bit deceiving at first glance; just like with Robert Oppenheimer and Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard. While amputee soldiers deserve unconditional praise for their bravery, regardless of whether or not they choose to return to active duty, the attention they are given is somewhat askew. Military doctors like Mark Heniser have come to find that amputees who suffer the loss of a limb later in their military careers are more likely to return to service. Amputees who suffer earlier are likely to take an honorable discharge and whatever benefits they can receive. While the Bush administration has celebrated both groups equally in the public eye, treating all amputees duly as heroes, if it weren’t for those who were willing to keep up the fight, the funding wouldn’t be there for the latter. Military prospect precludes scientific advancement.

And as long as the guilt of feeling obsolete exists within human nature, giving those in power the opportunity to exploit it, I won’t be surprised to see a unit of well-seasoned soldiers with one or more of their limbs replaced standing on the front lines. Right now is the first testing phases. The driving thought behind the Pentagon’s funding for advanced prosthesis is that if you can make a wounded solider feel whole again by throwing him or her back into action once, morale can never die — as long as body parts can be replaced. Now that’s scary. And the eight-year-old nerd inside of me is slumped over, depressed as hell, because the things we thought we’d never see always get exploited as soon as we get to see them.

 
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President Bush jogging with Walter Reed amputees Max Ramsey and Neil Duncan. Photograph taken from ‘The White House News & Policies Page.’