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Vinyl Revival: New Wave, Old School

Occupying a special place within the world of Taiwan’s vinyl aficionados, CPS is a center for musical exchange with an emphasis on researching sound and preserving culture.

Occupying a special place within the world of Taiwan’s vinyl aficionados, CPS is a center for musical exchange with an emphasis on researching sound and preserving culture.

 

The Japanese author Haruki Murakami once remarked how awesome it would be if words were whiskey. And in an age full of music, one can’t help but wonder: Why do we still need language?

In this era when digital technology dominates, there is a group of people who insist upon sticking with the traditions of vinyl records, believing that those analog recordings not only bring music to people but also allow them to return to a slower, more peaceful pace of life.

 

As the record revolves under the needle, beautiful music springs forth.As the record revolves under the needle, beautiful music springs forth.

Ever since Thomas Edison invented the first phonograph, the methods that people use to record and store music have constantly moved in step with technological innovation. From phonographs and records, to cassette tapes and CDs, to the various forms of digital music today, the hurdles that keep people from enjoying music are getting lower and lower. Yet oddly, music’s importance in people’s lives seems to be growing smaller and smaller.

Perhaps as a reaction against the digital age, some have begun to look wistfully back to those days when people would devote their full attention to music. Vinyl records, with their strong ritual element, are once again becoming favored on the market, with reviving interest in them seen in many places around the world.

It may be a short-lived fad. Or it might have long-term staying power in the world of music. Maybe we simply cannot define what’s going on. At any rate, a cohort of people was early on attracted to the charms of vinyl, and they have for many years ensconced themselves in its subculture and been happy to sing vinyl’s virtues to others. As far as they are concerned, listening to music should not just be something one does in one’s spare time. Rather, it should be part and parcel of a free life.

Ever since Wang Hsinkai chanced upon vinyl recordings, he has been captivated by their charms.Ever since Wang Hsinkai chanced upon vinyl recordings, he has been captivated by their charms.

Folk singer Chyi Yu’s You Are All My Memories.Folk singer Chyi Yu’s You Are All My Memories.

For The Mistake, Li Tai-hsiang took eight of Zheng Chouyu’s poems and set them to music.For The Mistake, Li Tai-hsiang took eight of Zheng Chouyu’s poems and set them to music.

CPS: Let music be a bridge to cosmopolitanism

“Are you in a hurry? If you’re busy, say so now. Other­wise, it’s easy to lose track of time here.” As you walk into the Classical Palace Society, a bastion of vinyl celebration in Tai­pei’s Bei­tou District, in a house that was originally a private residence, the busy clamor of the outside world quickly fades away. Its comfortable chairs all face the stereo system. This is one of Taiwan’s few classical music teahouses. Customers here can’t loudly chat or take photos. Rather they must give their time and attention to the “palace master” Wang Hsin­kai, and enjoy a rare stretch of time without Facebook. No updates can disturb one’s time with the music.

Occupying a special place within the world of Taiwan’s vinyl aficionados, CPS is a center for musical exchange with an emphasis on researching sound and preserving culture. Wang, who holds a doctorate in history, is a great music lover. For more than 20 years he has immersed himself in the world of classical music. It was his fate to encounter the charms of the unique sounds of vinyl records during his doctoral studies. Once he caught the vinyl bug, he has never lost it. 

As far as Wang is concerned, music is both a source of entertainment and a bridge to different eras. He takes an historian’s approach to vinyl: “The preservation of music is a vital endeavor. The power of the music differs depending on the condition of the turntable and the audio equipment.” Furthermore, there are analogies to the study of history. Wang is always considering how to recreate reality with materials at hand. There is no end to his quest.

Unlike most vinyl album dealers who go abroad to buy in bulk at the lowest price, whenever Wang goes overseas to purchase records, he only buys albums that he truly likes. Because he’s always so anxious to take his haul back to Taiwan to listen to, he won’t ship them back by sea. Instead, he brings them back with his luggage in business class.

This operational MO seems to run counter to conventional business logic, yet Wang proudly says, “I’ve discovered that I’m pretty persuasive. By sharing, I’m able to get more people to like these recordings. It’s a happy cycle.” Just as sounds cut into vinyl can only be played back with the proper equipment, it is only through explanation and sharing that Wang can bring an understanding of the essential value of music to more people.

Although Wang is very familiar with vinyl records, he isn’t a fundamentalist or zealot about them. “They’re just a means of reproducing the music. There are terrible­-sounding vinyl records and good-sounding CDs.” But ultimately, he does prefer the analog sound of vinyl. “The most interesting thing about the analog world is that it is limitless. It’s like ‘aura’ as described by Walter Benjamin. We ought to consider why technology is constantly improving, but aura is becoming weaker and weaker.”

When it comes to the revival of interest in vinyl in recent years, Wang believes that what’s important isn’t the move backwards in terms of the quality of playback equipment. Rather it’s providing a means for people to enter the representational world behind the culture. Before CDs first appeared in 1982, there existed a huge quantity of beautiful music, much of which is not available in a digital format. Via vinyl recordings, the eras of artists or bands such as the Beatles, Li Tai-hsiang, or Johannes Brahms unfold before us, as people listen, gain understanding, and become immersed and captivated, and their lives grow richer and more interesting.

“The East Wind isn’t blowing. March’s catkins aren’t flying away….” Wang plays Li Tai-­hsiang’s song “The Mistake.” Through Li’s graceful tenor voice, listeners seemingly get carried off by a poet to a small city south of the Yang­tze River. It turns out that voices don’t just appeal to our sense of hearing. They seem almost able to conjure the look of another era in three dimensions.

Tucked away in a back alley near National Taiwan Normal University, Vinyl Depot offers a treasure trove of music.Tucked away in a back alley near National Taiwan Normal University, Vinyl Depot offers a treasure trove of music.

Vinyl Depot’s owner Wang Qiguang has collected nearly 10,000 vinyl records.Vinyl Depot’s owner Wang Qiguang has collected nearly 10,000 vinyl records.

In Wang Qiguang’s estimation, the avant-garde Japanese folksinger Kazuki’s music comes in at number one.In Wang Qiguang’s estimation, the avant-garde Japanese folksinger Kazuki’s music comes in at number one.

Vinyl Depot: With music, words are unnecessary

Nestled in an alley near National Taiwan Normal University, in what looks like a residence, the record shop Vinyl Depot lacks any signage or posters announcing its presence. The only clue that what lies within has a musical connection is a single vinyl record hanging from its red door.

The longhaired proprietor Wang Qi­guang is an interesting guy. He attended two universities. Both times he was close to graduation before losing interest and dropping out. He has worked as a concrete pourer on construction sites and as a sales clerk in a record shop. He came and went from school to school and workplace to workplace. From a conventional perspective, he may lack any markers of elite accomplishments, but his philosophy is to do only what interests him.

Wang has broad interests, from music, photography, and electronic synthesizers to collecting all manner of knives. But only music has remained a constant source of passion, and it defines his way of life.

In his record shop, he has more than 10,000 vinyl records and CDs. In the high-rent commercial area around NTNU, Wang relies on online sales and the support of loyal regulars to keep Vinyl Depot in operation, as well as occasional small-scale concerts in the basement. For instance, not long ago the renowned Japanese jazz musician Ka­zu­toki ­Umezu and his band ­Chibi Brass performed there. And on the weekends, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese performers of “noise rock” sometimes play there.

Classical music, free jazz, improvisation of all kinds, noise rock…. These are the forms of music that Wang favors. But when asked what musician he loves the most, he answers, “It’s definitely Ka­zuki! He doesn’t fit into any category.” Ka­zuki is a cutting-edge Japanese folksinger who isn’t even particularly famous in Japan. But after Wang chanced upon his music, he knew: “This is the sound!” The Chinese name of Vinyl Depot is taken from a Ka­zuki lyric.

Wang has ended up becoming a friend of Ka­zuki’s, and whenever he goes to Japan they go out drinking and play pachinko together. In 2015 Wang even invited Ka­zuki to come to Tai­pei for a concert. Interestingly, Wang can’t speak Japanese and Ka­zuki’s English is less than fluent. So how do two men with no language in common communicate? “We drink together. Listen to music together. We don’t need to talk.”

Haruki Mu­ra­kami once remarked how awesome it would be if language were whiskey. And in a world full of music, what need is there for words? Since it opened in 2014, Vinyl Depot has always been more than just a record shop. It is more like a utopia with music at its core. No matter what time one visits, the store is full of regular customers and friends. After saying hello, they look for a seat and flip through some albums that interest them, or otherwise simply drink tea and chat with Wang.

Here neither age, nor profession, nor gender, nor language is particularly important. The truth is people don’t need to talk. So long as there is music, they can communicate.