The Fallacy of Vinyl Fetishization


In the last five to ten years, with the increased omnipresence of digital audio – mp3s, streaming services like SoundCloud and Spotify, and even the extant (but fading) Compact Disc – there has been a counter-movement growing. Music aficionados have increasingly taken to listening to and collecting music on vinyl, for various reasons, all of which seem to be about elevating the experience of listening to music to something extraordinary. Vinyl record culture has existed as long as the format itself, but with the digital atomization of society in general, many new converts are convinced that the physical format of vinyl and the rituals surrounding it are essential to experiencing good music.

This is a misguided premise. People who fetishize vinyl records and the experience of hearing music on vinyl want something more than good music. They want an experience that is romantic, almost sacred. For them, it is not “all about the music.”

There seem to be three main issues vinyl connoisseurs/fetishists care about:

  1. The Aura of the Physical Artifact – The vinyl record itself, as well as its (small-scale) fine art-like packaging, is a physical artifact that possesses a glorified aura, even in spite of the fact that it’s a reproduction. The vinyl record is an artifact that feels like a thing to treasure and keep. It’s a foot tall, and has a heft to it. Its physical presence in your home imposes itself on your existence. Soundwaves themselves suddenly maintain a physical presence on your shelf, even while remaining silent and dormant, encoded on a platter. Imperfections that arise from overplay are not errors, but charming characteristics of a well-worn pal.

  3. Sonic Fidelity/Warmth – Because the reproduction format is analog, regardless of any digital steps in the creation (recording, mixing, or mastering), a feeling of “warmth” is generally perceived when listening to vinyl. There are lots of debates about this, but I would agree that it does sound different – warmer and less crisp (or “brittle”, as vinyl aficionados say; they jump at the chance to add value judgments to descriptors of digital audio). In terms of fidelity, especially for more experimental and ambient music with complex textures, aficionados claim the frequencies and tonal nuances are reproduced much more successfully on vinyl.

  5. The Purity of the Experience – Listening to a record demands your attention/presence, primarily because you need to physically change the record when you want to hear a new one, or need to flip it to the other side. This means you need to be there, listening. Because the record and speakers are separate from your computer, it’s also less likely you’ll have your computer there diverting your attention with almighty Internet. It’s also more likely you’ll be doing something physical, like cooking, or hanging out with friends, playing a game, etc. In short, it not only demands more of your attention, it’s much more likely to be a social experience. It somehow feels like a more pure, human experience than listening to an mp3.

I’m sure there are more things that vinyl aficionados care about that delude them into thinking music should only be heard on vinyl, e.g. generally being Luddites, or holding onto some constructed concept of “respect” for the artist (by the way this is misdirected etiquette: most artists, like most people in general, don’t care about vinyl in that way). That being said, I think the reasons I listed are probably the main three.

Notice that none of these things have anything to do with how good the music on the record is. You could be a vinyl aficionado with a very poor, underdeveloped taste in music. It’s unlikely, because people who are so into music that they have become obsessed with vinyl tend to listen to a lot of music, and therefore acquire a better taste (i.e. a higher standard for what qualifies as good music). However, nowhere in the Church of Vinyl is it actually a requirement to care about how great a song’s melodies, arrangements, chord progressions, lyrics, or vocals are. You know, the things that actually make good music.

That’s my problem with vinyl fetishization: its passion is directed towards the sonic and experiential byproducts of the artifact, not the music itself. It’s no longer just about how great the music is, it’s about loving a format, and how sacred the ceremony surrounding it is. (Where’s the love for MiniDiscs??)

I own a phonograph and a good number of records, so clearly I enjoy listening to music on vinyl. However, for me the quality of the music trumps all. A good song played on a CD is a good song. A good song played on a 128 kbps mp3 is a good song. If it’s a good song, the quality will show through.

Great music doesn’t need a church in your living room devoted to it. Listen on an iPod and if it’s not catching your ear, listening to it on 200g audiophile virgin vinyl through a tube preamp and speakers with a perfect response curve isn’t going to help.

I only buy vinyl copies of albums I have already listened to obsessively on mp3 or CD. The quality of the songs have to prove themselves to me before they’re admitted to vinyl acquisition status. Aside from saving space and being kind to your bank account, this policy also gives you a look into the very enjoyable world of vinyl listening while reminding you to focus on the quality of the music. A good song is a good song, whatever the format.

Thoughts on Thoughts Involuntary


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

The mind works in endlessly fascinating ways. It took a moment of clarity during meditation for me to realize the solution to a problem with this blog that’s been plaguing me for some time.

The problem is this: I have many, many thoughts about many, many topics. I enjoy expounding on my ideas at length, and even attempt to do research to strengthen their validity. As a result, each post I write ends up being fairly long. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it is if I intend for this blog to actually be a regular, functioning space for posting my thoughts, and not some sort of permanent, finalized project.

Thoughts Involuntary is an intermediary project on the road to a book. I shouldn’t expect each post to be fully developed and researched to the point of being an essay. These essay posts I’ve been doing have been taking me hours to put together. That’s not realistically sustainable given my other commitments (music being the primary one).

Thus, from now on I’m going to be doing much smaller posts, with intermittent longer posts on the things I think really deserve it, or to which I’ve had ample time to devote. The benefits are severalfold:

  1. this blog won’t sit idle for weeks or months on end until I have the time and energy to devote to an essay-length post
  2. it will train me to accept incomplete, half-formed thoughts (which in my perfectionist mind, are all too similar to mistakes)
  3. it will get me in the habit of posting regularly, which allows me to master the blog as an instrument, and
  4. it will further enhance my own thinking

Reading one’s own thoughts creates a feedback loop that only strengthens the process of thinking. Talking to yourself helps you think more efficiently and successfully, and writing things down does the same. It allows you to process things in a more lasting way. In elevating my thoughts to the level of a blog post, and not simply the ephemeral multi-tweet rant, then I can easily tag my thoughts, reference them, and return to them when I’m ready to further develop them.

Additionally, if even some of my thoughts (even if only partially formed and clumsily articulated) can influence others in positive ways, then that makes this project all the more worthwhile. Waiting weeks and weeks to post a five-paragraph essay on a single topic only minimizes the opportunities for this kind of effect.

Posting more often can lead to a dangerous habit of quantity over quality. Trust me when I say I’ve lived by that maxim before. But that’s not my goal. I don’t care about the number of times I post – for me, quality will always trump quantity. However it’s been a long, internal struggle for me to understand that a few well-written sentences can do more than an essay or book ever could. This will further reinforce that philosophy. My hope is that Thoughts Involuntary posts will become just a bit more like haiku: nimble and well-crafted.

This post has itself, ironically, become longer than I intended for it to be, but the energy and amount of time has been a fraction of what my past posts have been, and what’s more, it’s been more enjoyable – it feels more spontaneous and effortless, and less like a labored school assignment.

I believe the purpose of this blog is truly a positive one – to help chart, uncover, and demystify the workings of my own mind in hopes of uncovering truths about all of us. It’s a strange situation we find ourselves in: to learn that the mind and body that seem to be so uniquely us, in some lasting way, and under our control, in some volitional way, are neither. It’s profoundly unsettling, and while after some thought and research I was able to accept it as truth, it has been really quite difficult to comprehend the countless moral, social, and existential implications.

So in my effort to think through these things, allow me to start the journey anew.

What’s Really Important


This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

-Dalai Lama

Today is Easter. Easter is “a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament.” He was killed and then brought back to life. Abstracted from its context as the most important holiday for the world’s largest religion, we must see it for what it is. It is quite literally a holiday dedicated to a zombie.

I’m stating this in an irreverent way, but my intention is not to offend, but rather to bypass the contexts people frame Easter in – philosophical, spiritual, cultural, emotional – and focus on what people literally believe to be true. Some very high percentage of the 2.2 billion Christians in the world actually believe that a person was tortured, experienced biological death, then came back to life several days later. There is no scientific evidence to prove that this has ever happened at any time in history, so it can plainly be called a supernatural event.

So this supernatural resurrection event is proof for them (and was, at one point, for me) that this particular person is the descendent of a god – the one and only god – and that there is some existence beyond the physical life and death we are aware of. There are a whole host of other beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals associated with the holiday, but that’s the gist of it. It’s a holiday dedicated to a supernatural event that many people believe in but for which no one has any scientific evidence.

So, on a day when billions of people are looking to a fairy tale for guidance, and thinking a great deal about life and existence, I thought it might be a good time to take stock of what is ultimately really important in our daily lives.

Does any good really come from people believing in a supernatural resurrection event? Does taking part in rituals dedicated to a supernatural resurrection event have any measurably positive effect on the rest of the world? Once you believe in it, do you cure nearby people’s illnesses? Do you brighten the day of strangers and nonbelievers? Do you fight crime?

You may do some or all of those positive things, but I would argue it has nothing to do with whether you were convinced someone you heard about in a book magically returned from the dead.

What is really important on a day like today? Is it not just to be kind to those around you, to be peaceful, and to appreciate your life as it unfolds, moment by moment? As the above quote from the Dalai Lama so succinctly says, there’s no need for fanfare or complexity. In fact, you don’t even need a holiday. All you need to focus on is kindness, a little bit, every day.

When you cut through all the differing myths and doctrines of major world religions and philosophies, the true message, the most important and consistently recurring one, is that of kindness. It’s the Golden Rule: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” The goal is harmony with the world and the other people around you. It’s a simple message that becomes clouded by many different, mutually exclusive clubs each trying to convince you that their history and mythology is more important and correct than the others.

But there’s no need for fairy tales or supernatural events to get to the core of what’s important. And that’s simply this: be kind to others. Everyone has a different path, and everyone has their own struggles. We all interexist and are all irreversibly interwoven into one another’s lives. The ideal world is the one where there is the least amount of suffering for the greatest number of conscious beings. How do we come closer and closer to making this world a reality? Be kind. It’s that simple. Kindness engenders kindness.

I’m not judging the people who believe in the story behind Easter as unintelligent or childish. I would certainly characterize the idea itself as immature, and no more valid than any other supernatural/paranormal myths. But I actually understand just how alluring the emotional security behind it is. A myth like this gives all who believe in it a taste of the sublime, a feeling that there is something more important, more glorious than our corporeal existence. Many smart, capable, and otherwise mature and inquisitive people believe in unverifiable religious things like this. They didn’t from the start, though. Their parents, teachers, and culture convinced them of it, and over time it became a part of their lives, a core belief of their very existence. I used to believe; I was raised Catholic. Over time, though, the myths just didn’t add up. Contradictions and supernatural claims could only go so far in my mind.

I understand that people will believe in supernatural religious doctrine their entire lives with no proof to support it, simply because they were raised in a family who belonged to a tradition that believed those things. That’s ok; it’s unlikely I’ll change many people’s minds. Those beliefs are things that people acquire, change, and renounce over long periods of time, in the privacy of their minds and homes.

My point is that being focused on an arbitrary ancient myth changes your focus from the very real present world, with all its difficulties and wondrous uncertainties, to a convenient, undocumented fantasy world where we can all be assured some form of eternal existence – provided we believe in arbitrary, unverified things.

No matter your religion, the bulk of your mental energy should be focused not on supernatural beliefs, which demonstrate few, if any, benefits, but instead on cultivating kindness. Kind thoughts lead to kind actions, and kind actions, no matter how small, make this world, the real world of today, just a bit better.

On 12/21/12, the World Will Continue to NOT End

A vision of the end of the World?

The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.
– NASA, in an FAQ about 12/21/12

I love apocalyptic scenarios as much as the next person. Actually, probably more so. I’m an ardent fan of disaster-oriented sci-fi, as well as Lovecraftian cosmic horror. In my own conceptual poetry I’ve certainly alluded to versions of the end times before, and even made a video installation that dealt with it.

There must be something alluring to us about the idea of being overpowered by some vast, infinite, unknown natural or supernatural force. I certainly intend to research it more deeply, from the perspective of evolutionary psychology.

But let’s be real. There’s one week left until 12/21/12, and it’s clearer than ever that when it arrives, the world will continue to not come to an end.

Even more or less sensible people (i.e. the majority of the Earth’s human population) not drawn in by the apocalyptic nonsense are still often confused about the facts. I was recently invited to a New Year’s Eve party with the subtitle “Everyone Laugh At the Mayans.” Presumably this comes from the misguided notion that the Mayans actually believed that the world would come to an end on 12/21/12. This is not the case. That’s just the Gregorian date for the end of one cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Their calendar then resets, just as our does every 365 days, and the next Long Count cycle ends in about 400 years on March 26, 2407. Each such cycle, called a baktun, lasts 144,000 days.

So, in other words, not even the Mayans thought the world would end next week. In fact earlier this year, a Boston University professor uncovered the oldest Mayan calendar ever, which further confirms this.

Aside from clearing up some misconceptions about this Mayan myth, I thought it would be a good idea to post a link to a NASA round-up of answers from scientists explaining exactly why the world will NOT end on December 21, 2012. Their answers sum up very clearly and concisely why there’s no reason to be worried about any looming natural or supernatural apocalypse.

As for the unfortunate but inevitable natural disasters that have befallen human civilizations for many thousands of years, completely irrespective of any arbitrary man-made calendars, who knows what city will be next?


Hello, mind

phrenology and thoughts

If you pay strict attention to your mind you may begin to realize that your thoughts are not chosen by you. The thought process is so effortless and seamless that you’re rarely aware of the kind of turbulent ride your mind takes you on, perhaps other than an occasional sense of its unpredictable oscillation between various emotions: for instance, moments, however long or pronounced, of happiness or dissatisfaction with life.

We may feel as we are in control of our life and the life of our minds, but this website is predicated on the notion that you are not. And neither am I. Free will is an illusion. Thoughts are not chosen by us, they arise from physical, chemical processes that occur in the mind, over which we have no control.

My name’s Arturo and I’m a musician and artist based in Chicago. Thoughts Involuntary collects writings I’ve been amassing on art, music, film, writing, creativity, productivity, free will, neuroscience, meditation, technology, artificial intelligence, evolution, psychology, politics, education, atheism, religion, linguistics, astronomy, physics, humor, dreams, and puzzles.

I have no deep authorship of these writings, as they have passed through the powerful processing computer nature has bestowed upon me (my mind) and been connected in ways I’ll likely never understand. The thoughts that comprise these writings have simply arisen, and I’ve allowed them to organize themselves as clearly as possible.

I make no claims to being an expert on any of these topics. All I can say is that I have a curious mind, and as a musician and artist who thought he would end up becoming a physicist, I have a sustained interest in the realms of science and reason.

The end goal of this blog is to develop and collect enough material to publish a book. It’s tentatively titled Threads: Essays on Thoughts That Have Arisen in the Mind of an Artist and Musician, Which He Has No Time to Fully Explore. The book will cover topics as diverse as the blog. In this context the word “threads” has multiple meanings, but the simplest refers to the different threads of thought I’m pursuing. I’ll explain the other meanings in upcoming posts. The subtitle refers to the fact that I’m first and foremost a musician and artist; most of my time is spent producing and performing music, and creating visual art. As such, I don’t have the kind of time to delve so deeply into the topics as to give professional-level research and provide the appropriate extended annotations and footnoting required of scholarly work. This is more a place to assemble my varied and scattered thoughts on subjects I find fascinating.

Some prominent thinkers and creators I’m sure to reference with some frequency are The Buddha, Lao Tzu, Seneca, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Ray Kurzweil, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Hollis Frampton, John Smith, Ken Jacobs, Owen Land, Michael Snow, Peter Greenaway, Ernie Gehr, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, John Allen Paulos, H.P. Lovecraft, J.G. Ballard, M.R. James, Donald Barthelme, and Brian Eno. I’ve recently become interested in Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary, as well as various writers working in the realms of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and behavioral economics and sociology.

The point of the blog is not necessarily meant to persuade anyone to adopt my beliefs, and it’s certainly not meant to offend or irritate. It’s not written with a shred of anger towards anyone who believes different things than me. It’s honestly more of a way to collect thoughts for myself, and to present them to others as food for thought.

This site will give me a place to address my logorrheic tendencies and apply them where they’re most appropriate. Music and art tend to thrive on concision, but writing, provided it is skillfully composed, can really give one the space to develop ideas. Writing allows the mind to construct and navigate its way through vast seas of thought.

With this post, I’ve set sail.