Surreal

In the CD-ROM entitled All This Time, rock icon Sting shares how strange and surreal it was to meet your heroes face to face. This realization dawned on him as he met singer-songwriter legend James Taylor for the first time. This was because Taylor was one pop icon whose albums Sting  used to buy and listen to a lot during  his formative years as  a musician.  Given the preceding, it is not that difficult to imagine how he must have felt when Taylor unexpectedly showed up backstage right after Sting’s concert to engage him in a conversation. They would, of course,  eventually become life-long friends who would sing  in each other’s albums over the years.

Sting’s surreal reflection might as well apply to me when I met not one but two real-life writers who have paid their dues as accomplished craftswomen of the written word. Thanks to their continuing long-running stints with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading broadsheet of the Philippines. I am, of course, referring here to Ma. Ceres Doyo whose column Human Face appears every Thursday in the Inquirer and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz who also regularly writes for the Inquirer on top of her duties as  Chair of the National Book Development Board and her calling as an educator, a book critic, a reading advocate and prime mover of WhereTheWriteThingsAre.  The latter facilitated the afternoon talk which was given by Ms. Doyo on the basics of feature writing.

SURREAL

Since I am a struggling and aspiring writer despite being published 5 times by the Inquirer between 2014 and 2015, it took awhile for me to get my bearings back when I realized I was in the presence of writing greatness.  Awed, blessed and highly favored would not be inaccurate to describe how I felt.  I took in the whole experience like the first time I saw the U2 docu film on IMAX.  Indeed, the experience brought back fond memories of how I felt when I  had the privilege of shaking the hand of Inquirer columnist  Conrad De Quiros during one of the rallies in Makati sparked by the excesses of the  Estrada presidency. The same might as well apply to the first time I got to speak face to face with yet another Inquirer columnist Randy David during the visit of the late philosopher Richard Rorty to U.P. I was instrumental in coordinating Professor Rorty’s visit to the Ateneo by referring Professor David to the Ateneo Philosophy faculty.

 MASTERCLASS

Despite the fact that Ms. Doyo conducted her talk sitting down (as she was not feeling well) and notwithstanding the fact that her Powerpoint deck  could use some millennial aesthetic fine-tuning to keep up with the times, from the moment she opened her mouth and proceeded to walk us through the various stages of feature writing, you knew this was not just a talk on feature writing. It felt more like a master class. I particularly appreciated her many stories and examples from her writing career. She used these to amplify her tips and advice to aspiring feature writers like me.  Among those that seared themselves in my heart and mind were her first-hand experience of being harassed during the Marcos dictatorship, her engaging interview with Chavit Singson, her life-long project of preserving the legacy of Mac-Ling Dulag and her front-seat access to the execution of a serial rapist by lethal injection.

It was also inspiring to realize –  as she was sharing tips on prospective subjects to write about as well as numerous angles and approaches one can explore – that one could never possibly run out of things to write about.  You just need to have the guts to face the typewriter or the keyboard and, to quote her favorite author, “let the drops of blood flow from your head to your keyboard.”  Funny yes  but oh so true.

DOWN TO EARTH

After overcoming the surreal dimension of the entire experience, I  found the voice to engage with Ms. Doyo by way of questions which she encouraged her class to shoot her way.  She answered every single one of them with very incisive insights and in a very inspiring way.  I think it was the poet Maya Angelou who once wrote that after several months, people will forget what it was you said to them but they will not forget how you made them feel.  Thanks to their sincerity and their being grounded in the  reality of their readers and now listeners, both Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz reminded me of my favorite teachers in high school and college. They would not only answer your questions with wit. They would also effortlessly complement their replies to your questions with inspiring remarks. Remarks that inspire you to dream bigger dreams. Remarks that goad you to keep fighting, keep trying, keep writing no matter what.

Maybe it was the reason why I ended up being caught by the camera with my eyes closed when I had my picture taken with them. Maybe it was my self’s physiological way of telling those who cared to observe that clearly my mind and my heart at that time could not snap out of such  a transcendent experience.  “Was this really happening?” would not be a bad way to caption the said picture.   In her book entitled Human Face which I requested Ms. Doyo to sign, she scribbled the message:  “Celebrate the human.”  That was what I felt like doing through writing as I contemplated her message weeks after her talk.  After listening to Ms Doyo’s talk and conversing with Ms Cruz about my travails and worries as an aspiring weekend writer, that was exactly how I felt celebrating by continuing on with my blogging, come rain or come shine.

Maraming salamat po, Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz. Hulog kayo ng langit.

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History Will Teach Us Something

I was one of the  two million Filipinos who trooped to EDSA 30 years ago. This is why I’ve been meaning to look for an incisive yet succinct way of helping my children understand and appreciate it on its 30th anniversary. Without a doubt, the surreal euphoria that followed February 25, 1986 has since worn off. In its place is a mixed feeling of pride, gratitude, and disillusion. Three popular OPM compositions capture these moods without fail. “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo” continues to resonate with me 30 years after. The legacy of non-violent political revolt is incontrovertibly a source of pride and gratitude for many Filipinos. “Tuloy ang Ikot ng Mundo” and “Kumusta Na?” however, temper the latter and cut down EDSA to size. These two songs remind me of Hegel’s thesis and anti-thesis as well as the many opportunities we squandered as a nation after EDSA. Nonetheless, all three fall short in terms of providing a true perspective 30 years after.

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Thankfully, Randy David’s recent column entitled “The Battlefield of Memory” offers a thought-provoking reflection  on EDSA. More to the point, it provides an instructive perspective as it presents no less than 5 competing versions of EDSA. These versions are presented in the context of Milan Kundera’s insight occasioned by the end of World War I. To wit: “hatreds withdraw to the interior of nations…the goal of the fight is no longer the future…but the past, the new war will play out only on the battlefield of memory.”

One version of EDSA that is competing in our battlefield of memory is the reformist military version which regards  EDSA as essentially the culmination of their fraternal struggle to free up the military from being used by a corrupt regime to perpetuate itself in power. Those who subscribe to this version assert that their faled coup d’etat against  Marcos was what gave Cardinal Sin, the church and civil society the opportunity to amass at  EDSA.

There is the version of the church in which Cardinal Sin mobilized the Catholic faithful through priests, nuns and seminarians to come to the defense of Enrile and Ramos who were holed up in Camp Aguinaldo to avert bloodshed. The resulting scenario where rosaries, flowers and statues of the Virgin Mother literally  overpowered the tanks and the choppers sent by Marcos and Ver “was nothing short of a miracle.”

The third version is that of the civil society which made EDSA happen through a combination of the organized groups led by the left and the ordinary middle class Filipinos who were moved to  support both Cardinal Sin and the group of Enrile and Ramos. The former led a protracted campaign that started even before Martial Law was declared. The latter could be said to have awakened as a result of the former’s organized agitation even if  they were strangely absent in EDSA by choice.

And there is the version of the Americans which saw EDSA as a political turning point that might destabilize the Philippines and therefore risk their political interest in the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, their offer first to fly Marcos and his supporters to Clark Air Base and eventually to exile them to Hawaii to avoid violence and political unrest.

It is interesting to note that these 4 competing versions collectively complement each other. Together, they remind me of an insight once offered by the late Dr Ramon Reyes of the Ateneo. In his book entitled The Ground and Norm of Morality, Dr Reyes reflects that as mankind marches though history, the continuing dialogue among individuals and groups allow it to widen and deepen its understanding of what is true and what is good. No one person could possibly monopolize this. The moral standpoint of humanity has evolved and continues to evolve precisely because of this continuing dialogue among individuals and groups. At the heart of this continuing dialogue is our conscience which he asserts is the ground and norm of all morality.

 The fifth version is where Randy David’s reflection becomes a call to action. This is the version of Bongbong Marcos who is currently running for vice president According to David, Marcos is “banking on the power of amnesia not just to redeem his father’s name, but, ultimately, to recover the billions in bank accounts and properties that the Philippine government has seized from his family. He might yet succeed – if we fail to make memory speak”

The battlefield of memory is where Filipinos are challenged to take stock of the 5 competing versions of EDSA and call on their conscience to come to grips with what really happened at the intersection of Ortigas Avenue and EDSA. It is by no means an easy task. David has written separately on this in his past columns over the years. Unlike the Germans  who have gone to great lengths to right the wrongs of the past by prosecuting and punishing those responsible for the genocide that was Auschwitz, we, as a people, have failed to send the Marcoses along with their cronies to jail. Not only have we allowed them to return home, we have allowed them to return to power and reclaim their space in high society pages. Worse, quite a number of the leaders who came after Cory led political lives that seem to suggest that what Marcos and his cronies did could not be helped once you assume power. Consider both the Erap presidency and the Arroyo presidency. For that matter, consider how Binay evolved from a human rights lawyer to a contemporary personification of the very evil he helped overthrow. The prosecution and punishment of the Marcoses and their cronies should have happened right after EDSA. Sadly, as David pointed out to this blogger, “the series of coups that unfolded soon after (Cory) took power made it difficult to pursue such a policy. Political consolidation became Cory’s first priority. Then Ramos and Erap became president and that’s when the Marcoses and their cronies decided it was safe to come home.”

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 In the song “History Will Teach Us Nothing” Sting eloquently sings about the failure of history to teach humanity anything. He writes: “I once asked my history teacher how we were expected to learn anything from his subject when it seemed to be nothing but the monotonous exploits and sordid succession of robber barons devoid of any admirable human qualities. I failed history.” (Lyrics by Sting, p. 124) After reading Randy David’s “Battlefield of Memory” I think I would have to disagree with Sting. History does teach us something. It teaches us that there is such a thing as an obligation and a duty to remember and to never forget. Because George Santayana is correct. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I hope and pray that my fellow Filipinos  remember EDSA when they head for the voting precints this May.

How Fragile We Are

fragile paris attacks

Despite the distance between Manila and Paris, the series of coordinated suicidal terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 130 innocent civilians last November 13, 2015 continues to disturb me to this day. I still cannot understand how one could do such terrible things in the name of God. Based on the reports of CNN, Fox News, and other global media outlets on global reactions from both world leaders and ordinary individuals, it appears I am not alone. Indeed, no less than our shared humanity with the 130 casualties from 21 countries was what was attacked in the concert hall, the coffee shops and the restaurants of Paris that Friday evening. And in the days that followed, I suspect I was not the only one who sought solace in music by way of songs like “Fragile” – the 1987 classic penned by Sting. After all, as  Henry David Thoreau once realized: “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

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 If my suspicion is right, this is definitely not the first time that “Fragile” has done justice to Thoreau’s testament on the power of music to comfort and console. Sting himself observes that “This song seems to have lent itself to many situations thoughout its life. It was originally written in 1987, on the island of Montserrat during a weeklong tropical storm. The rain just kept falling and falling. I had read a newspaper report about a young man called Ben Linder, an American engineer working in Nicaragua, who was murdered by the Contras. Later, the song was informally adopted by the ecology movement as a hymn to the fragility of the planet, and by radio stations across the country as they struggled to find appropriate music to express the tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York. So many innocent lives were lost¸ including a friend of Trudie’s, Herman Sandler.” (Lyrics by Sting, p. 130)

The preceding should come as no surprise as “Fragile” is one song that effortlessly wraps itself around you like a ring to a finger. Its soothing samba-inspired melody line reminds you of how water coming from the falling rain could eventually seep into the pavement given enough time. Repeat plays do not grate on the ear. They draw you in. No wonder then that since 1987, it has been covered both by prominent vocalists and instrumentalists. Among the former are Stevie Wonder, Stacey Kent, Julio Iglesias, Cassandra Wilson and Julia Fordham. Some of the more famous music players who have uncovered its power as instrumental music include the 2Cellos from Europe and LAGQ from the U.S.

fragile sting 1

Perhaps cognizant of its niche as a signature composition, Sting himself has made several variations of its arrangement. There is the original found in “…Nothing like the Sun” (1987) and a 2001 quartet reimagining found in “All This Time.” Fairly recently, he uncovered yet hitherto undiscovered dimensions of the song through the orchestral treatment of “Symphonicities” (2010.) “Nada Como el Sol” (1988) boasts of two versions of the song. To wit: the Portuguese “Fragil” and the Spanish “Fragilidad.”

On a personal note, it was this song that made me want to pick up a guitar again  and study finger style playing.

The lyrics of “Fragile,” however, is a study in contrast to its melody line. It offers neither solace nor comfort. On the contrary, it is almost a compelling diatribe and rebuke to  those who believe that violence is the panacea to the atrocities that happen in the world today. At its core, “Fragile” argues “that nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could.”

To appreciate the preceding, consider what has happened and what will most likely happen, thus far.  The terrorist group responsible for the deaths of the 130 casualties claimed that “it was in retaliation for French airstrikes on ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) targets in Syria and Iraq.” (The Guardian, November 14, 2015) In response, the French government mounted even bigger and more lethal airstrikes against ISIL. Given the ensuing public declarations by other leaders of the most powerful countries around the world to crush ISIL, these retaliatory responses are bound to continue in the months to come. There is now serious talk to complement the drone kills being surgically carried out in the U.S. by putting more “boots on the ground.” Taken to their logical conclusion, these pre-meditated dialogues of violence and counter-violence will eventually take us to what “Fragile” warns us about: nothingness. No less than Mahatma Gandhi has underscored what such nothingness would ultimately mean –   “An eye for an eye will make the world go blind.”

fragile ganhi

Alas, the call to action offered by “Fragile” is not the most popular sentiment today. Volunteers to join the French Army went up in the weeks that followed the attacks. Most people you ask about what we should do to address radical Islamic terrorism want blood. And it is blood that is being shed and will continue to be shed from both sides as I write this.

It is precisely on that note that the first stanza of  “Fragile” opens. After the bullets and the bombs have done their damage, the physical details may eventually be washed away by rain but the insight and the admonition that such violent acts evoke will persist. Like the signs that Martin Buber exhorts us to be sensitive to, they call on us to respond accordingly.

fragile martin buber

“If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the color of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay

That insight and admonition may be expressed by the assertion that violence as response to violence is the road to our ultimate ruin. We are not above the violence. We are not invulnerable. We are not immortal.

Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are”

That its chorus is  comprised by four lines that mimic the falling rain as they repeat themselves could not have been more apt. It is as if the song  is saying – if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, then you cannot afford not to open your hearts and minds to what the violence we do to each other is telling us. If you did not get it the first time, I will repeat it for you again and again. Nay, the rains will repeat it for you again and again.

 “On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star, like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are, how fragile we are”

 

Why We Can’t Let Go of Clair Marlo

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The 2013 mega viral hit was popularized by this film.

More than two decades before “Let It Go” (2013), the lead track of the Frozen OST, became a mega viral hit, there was an equally compelling Let It Go (1989) that captured the imagination of vinyl record collectors in many parts of the globe. Indeed, it was one recording that demonstrated that the warmth, breadth and depth of a sonic experience provided by vinyl records is unrivaled. The latter, of course, referred to the title of the debut studio album as well as one of the album tracks written  by Berklee-trained Clair Marlo, singer-songwriter, composer, producer, arranger and film scorer. Marlo is aptly described by one Amazon customer record reviewer as an earth angel. “Till They Take My Heart Away” which was the carrier single of Let It Go more than reinforced such a glowing accolade. It eventually became Marlo’s signature hit – a staple in the playlists of CityLite 88.3, Joey 92.3 and 105.1 Crossover in the Philippines and in countless FM stations around the globe. Recorded and mixed direct to a 2-track tape by multi-Grammy awardee Bill Schnee, Let It Go was mastered by the legendary Doug Sax who recently passed away. Sax mastered 3 of The Doors albums and 6 of Pink Floyd’s studio albums, among others. A moving tribute to honor his legacy as a master engineer was recently penned by Stereophile editor and recent Manila visitor Michael Fremer.

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The Singer-Songwriter as Earth Angel

One proof of how highly regarded this recording is could be found in a thread entitled Records and Recordings. Moderated by lifelong vinyl collector Philip Chua since 2004, Records and Recordings is quite possibly one of the longest-running and most widely-followed threads in Wired State – the biggest online forum for analog enthusiasts in the Philippines with over 6,000 members to date. In 2006, Chua cited Let It Go as “a favorite of many wives. In fact, most audiophiles in this forum tell me they buy this for their wives. It’s not hard to see why. Excellent music, nice vocals by Clair, with a really great band backing her up. It’s a pity this was done when Sheffield stopped recording direct to disc, I believe due to the attendant high cost. Nevertheless, it’s still a good recording.”

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An Audiophile Must Have

In 2009, even the husbands who comprised a big percentage of the membership at Wired State apparently also got so enamored of the said album that they used Let It Go as a reference recording in a public seminar. More precisely, Marlo’s debut studio album was used to demonstrate the sonic difference between a Rega P1 and a Rega P3 24. Aptly dubbed Analog 101, the said seminar was organized by the leading lights of Wired State led by Philippine Star columnist Val Villanueva, then banker Buboy Sarte and insurance professional Jen Dones, among others. Chua was among the key presenters at Analog 101.

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Master Engineer Doug Sax

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Music Producer Bill Schnee

In 2012, Chua once again cited Let It Go in his long-running thread focusing this time on why the album continues to be a sought-after vinyl record among audiophiles around the globe. HIs answer reminds me of Ockham’s razor. Straightforward and to the point. “To me, the answer is because the album is very enjoyable, no need for thinking caps. Soft/mellow pop/rock, vocal/instrumental, and it even has Sheffield main man Lincoln Mayorga on synthesizer! In addition, he did vocal orchestration on one track. The music in the album was mostly composed by Clair herself, music and lyrics, and even arrangements. It boasts of great session artists like Jeff Porcaro of Toto, Abraham Laboriel, and Pat Coil, plus the men behind the technical production are Doug Sax and Bill Schnee, who if I’m not mistaken was nominated for a Grammy for his past works. And last but not the least, Clair herself put her entire commitment to the project, even signing on as one of the executive producers for this album.” Not to forget, other top-notch session musicians featured here also include Dean Parks on electric guitar (i.e., a regular Steely Dan and Michael Jackson sideman), Leland Sklar on bass (i.e., a regular Phil Collins bassist and recent Toto alumnus) and Luis Conte on percussion (i.e., long-time Jackson Browne collaborator.)

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Records and Recordings Moderator Philip Chua

When Wired State moderator Jen Dones broke the news that Marlo herself shared that she might perform in Manila, I wasted no time to ask if I could interview her for my blog. To my delight and surprise, she agreed to the idea. Read on and find out why, notwithstanding the fact that it’s been 26 years since Let It Go,  it would still be difficult to let go of the music of Clair Marlo.

Let It Go is widely regarded as an audiophile collectors’ item in many countries. A near mint vinyl copy easily commands a 214 dollar price tag among record collectors. At Discogs.com the average price of a near mint copy ranges from 275 to 377 euros excluding shipping and custom duties. How do you respond to the niche that many audiophiles assign to your debut album across various parts of the globe?

First, I wish I had more copies of the original LP! 🙂 Then I am in shock that it has become such a collector’s item. But then, the musicianship on that LP is so amazing. The players in that room are/were the best of the best. I wish for everything that we had videotaped the sessions. The feeling in the room was something that spoiled me forever for wanting to make live recordings. So, maybe that’s what the audiophiles are responding to. It’s not a bad record I think.

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Jeff Porcaro of Toto

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Axeman Dean Parks

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Leland Sklar on bass

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Percussionist Luis Conte

I understand that you will be reissuing the album soon. How different or similar is the upcoming vinyl reissue of Let It Go? Which studio is involved? Who are the studio engineers who will work on the vinyl reissue? To what extent will it be faithful to the iconic Sheffield release or the well-received Cisco release? Or will the next reissue be an even superior audio experience the way Jennifer Warnes and her team reworked the Famous Blue Raincoat for the 20th anniversary box set edition? When can we look forward to its availability?

I’m not sure on any of that right now because I was going to do it with Doug Sax and unfortunately he passed before we could do it. But I will likely work with his protege, Eric Boulanger, who was to work closely with Doug on the reissue. I’m also planning on issuing my third release on heavy vinyl, and I’ve asked Eric to work on it with me. Doug loved and respected Eric very much and I trust his amazing talents. I would like to, for the reissue, add notes about the sessions.

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The Cisco reissue featured 3 new tracks.

Let It Go was released in 1989 while Behaviour Self came out in 1995. Cisco did release Let It Go in 2003 with 3 additional tracks not found in the 1989 first release. If Trinity, the current working title of your third studio album does come out – and we, your fans would really want to have it come out – in 2015 that’s an average of 8 years between each studio album. May I ask why it takes such a long time for you to release a studio album?

Well, one of the drawbacks of being a working composer/producer is that there are lots of projects to do that aren’t necessarily my personal artist projects. I love writing and producing and I love making my records, but sometimes my record has to wait in line behind other projects that pay the bills! I’m not like many artists in that I don’t tour often, I’m much more of a studio rat. But the good news is that I plan on recording more now that I have a new production company to write and produce some of the television and film music I’ve been doing in the last years. I’ve written over 3,000 pieces that are in use all over the world in some way, either radio or TV or film… That’s a lot of music I’ve done. I haven’t been lazy that’s for sure! I plan on releasing more instrumental music recordings as well. I hope my fans are interested in hearing what I have to say musically, because I truly feel like my best work is coming.

How different is your upcoming album Trinity from Behaviour Self and Let It Go? Does it have an overarching theme? When can we expect its release? How many tracks does it consist of?

Trinity is more like Let it Go than Behaviour Self was. I really like the songs on it and the sound of the recording is warmer than Behaviour Self. It’s between 12-14 songs at this point.

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Her sophomore album

In your official website, your credentials also include various projects as producer, composer, arranger and guest musician, which of your non-solo album projects has been most rewarding and fulfilling over the years and why?

My most rewarding non-solo album project was the Michael Ruff project. I was a fan for many years before I brought him to Sheffield Lab and the musicianship on that CD is astounding. It was really a labor of love and I was very happy to bring him to a new audience.

How would you characterize the music industry in 2015 compared to the time when you recorded and released Let It Go in 1989 and Behaviour Self in 1995. What has changed most significantly? What has remained the same? Would you agree that musicians in 2015 are in a much better place compared to where they were in 1989? One indie musician points out that in the 21st century and as portrayed by the character played by Keira Knightley in Begin Again, it’s much easier for musicians today to record and publish their work.

I think we are in a wonderful time and a terrible time. On one hand, it is easier and more fulfilling to be an artist and build your career on your own terms. You can really do what you feel without needing huge budgets to record your music or make your video or build your fan base. When I made Let it Go, it cost about $150,000 to make that record. I couldn’t have done it without the record company funding me. When I made Behaviour Self, I used the recording budget for musicians and for recording equipment and did some of it in my own recording studio and some at a commercial studio. With Trinity, I’ve built my studio out and it’s great to record there. It was made for way less and sounds great. That’s a great development. On the other hand, you have to have much more business savvy and understand marketing and branding and how the business works. You have to promote yourself and that takes time out of other things. And the business is changing so the rules are changing and it’s kind of like the wild west right now. Also, we are dealing with a whole generation of music lovers that believe that music should be free. But that’s not possible because how would we as musicians be able to survive without being supported by our art in some way? I think it will be something to see in the next years how it will shake out. I am hoping that people like music enough to pay for the art that is made. I still buy music all the time, because I like to be able to play the music I want to hear when I want to hear it.

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An album you can’t let go of

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? Could you kindly describe your turntable set-up? How many vinyl records comprise your collection?

I’m not a vinyl collector in the audiophile sense but I have a large vinyl collection of music that is kind of obscure and didn’t come out in any other format. I still love playing a record and hearing all the songs but most of my listening is done in the studio now and my turntable recently broke so I am without a turntable right now. I had some Infinity speakers set up in the house, but when I had kids everything had to be put away. So now I love my Genelecs in the studio and my records are packed away for the time being. But they will come out again – there are about 2,000 records as of now.

Could you kindly describe your songwriting process? Where do you draw inspiration? Or do you approach it like work where you sit it out and work hard at your craft instead of waiting for inspiration? How long does it typically take you to finish a composition?

My songwriting process is different depending on whether I’m writing for me or for someone else. If it is for a composing project, then I sit and write for that project and there’s a deadline and a direction and it’s me working at my job. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration, but instead I find that I can sort of tell my mind that I need to be thinking of a certain style or a certain emotion and it does it. Once I get started, it flows and I work on a certain amount of music every day. Maybe one entire song, or 2-3 minutes of a longer piece. When I am writing for myself, it is much more about what I am feeling or going through. Or it is about what I would like to say about myself, or about someone else that I have observed. It takes a little longer because I have to take it from inside myself and sometimes I am confusing to myself! It’s a time of being open and raw and sometimes that is difficult to go through, but I embrace those moments of raw honesty because that’s what people connect to. It’s about feelings and we all go through many of the same feelings. It’s good to connect to others who may be going through the same thing or feel the same way. So those songs can take weeks. I remember “Without Me” was a song about a relationship I left, that took me 7 years of thinking about, and when it finally came out of me, it was written in about 5 minutes top to bottom. But it simmered for 7 years.

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Clair Marlo circa 2015

Who would you consider as your key influences as a musician? How does the idea of doing a covers album of your key influences sound to you? Is doing a covers album to pay tribute to your musical heroes farfetched at this time?

I love Peter Gabriel, Sting, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Warnes, The O’Jays, Pink Floyd, Brian Ferry, Elton John. I actually did a cover of a song Elton John did (but he didn’t write it) on Trinity. It’s called “The Love Song” and one of my favorite songs. I would do Sting’s “Fragile.” I would do Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street.” I would do Brian Ferry’s “Avalon.” I would do “Blackbird.” Yes, I would consider doing a covers album – I think it would be fun to find songs I love and do an album. Maybe that’s not a bad idea.

After Trinity, what would you consider as your next dream projects? Could you kindly give us an idea in broad strokes?

I would really like to do an album of instrumental music with vocals as an added instrument as opposed to a vocal album with lyrics. I’m really into world music and orchestral music and I love Chill and Trance as well. I’m not sure how it will all work just yet, as I am just starting to think about what I would like to do next. I’m planning more trips to Croatia, where I have family, and spending time there always influences me musically. I like bringing the European viewpoint into my music. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have a clue as to what it will be yet but it’s simmering.

Arc

febblog jackson browne

Somebody once wrote that the quickest path to disillusion is to fall in love. It may seem strange to someone who is in the so-called honeymoon stage of a relationship. But for someone who is going through a crisis in a relationship,  nothing could be more true.  Consider Jackson Browne’s articulate musings set to music in “In the Shape of a Heart,”

“There was a hole left in the wall

From some ancient fight

About the size of a fist

Or something thrown that had missed

And there were other holes as well

In the house where our nights fell

Far too many to repair

In the time that we were there

People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking of

Wait around for the one who fits like a glove

Speak in terms of belief and belonging

Try to fit some name to their longing”

While this may be the case given the sad statistics that tend to cast doubts on the notion of happy ever after, thankfully, every now and then, we do come across relationships whose arc offers a glimmer of hope. And we are not talking about the movies  here albeit the arc of these relationships  might as well be remembered by  songs that are almost cinematic in terms of their depth and breadth.

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“Til Kingdom Come” (Coldplay)

This hidden track from Coldplay’s X&Y album and centerpiece of The Amazing Spiderman OST does justice to the thoughts and feelings of someone who is totally smitten for the first time. You are fine and yet you are not fine. You are restless  and yet you are rested. You are centered and yet you are wasted.  All you know is you love her and that is all that matters. You can afford to wait  til kingdom come.

“I don’t know which way I’m going

I don’t know which way I’ve come

Hold my head inside your hands

I need someone who understands

I need someone, someone who hears

For you, I’ve waited all  these years

For you, I’d wait til kingdom come

Until my day, my day is done.”

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“Fields of Gold” (Sting)

But wait there’s more. Cloud nine awaits with the discovery that you have not wandered into a one-way street.  She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah! Mutual promises of commitment and attendant pledges of devotion are effortlessly made. Eternity is hereby  invoked. The future is easily claimed. Nothing could possibly  go wrong. Worse comes to worst, it’s you and your beloved against the world. You complete each other after all. So it’s relatively easy if not natural to visualize a future where you hold hands as you walk through fields of gold even as…

“You’ll remember me when the west wind moves

Upon the fields of barley

You can tell the sun in his jealous sky

When we walked in fields of gold

So she took her love

For to gaze awhile

Upon the fields of barley

In his arms she fell as her hair came down

Among the fields of gold”

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“The Space Between” (Dave Matthews Band)

And then something interesting, make that disturbing,  happens along the way. You both realize that “men are, indeed, from Mars and women are from Venus.”  You are two different individuals raised in two distinct and different homes with different sets of value systems.  Disagreements set in. Conflicts arise.  Difficulties and problems come from all directions. A third party complicates things. Bad influences abound. Molehills become mountains. And just like that, the future suddenly looks dim and bleak. How in the world did we get here? Is there a way out?

“These fickle, fuddled words confuse me

Like, will it rain today?

Waste the hours with talking, talking

These twisted games we’re playing

We’re strange allies with warring hearts

What a wild-eyed beast you’ll be

The space between the wicked lies we tell

And hope to keep safe from the pain”

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“One” (U2)

Fortunately, along the way, through the confluence of events or  the influence of others or the grace of self-reflection or all of the above,  one of you and eventually, both of you grow up by  coming to the realization that it’s alright to be one and two at the same time. The difference is what ultimately makes the difference. Awareness leads to acceptance and acceptance to adaptability. Problems are eventually uncovered as  disguised opportunities. Stumbling blocks become stepping stones.  Indeed, all is grace.

“One love

One life

When it’s one need

In the night

One love…

We get to share it

Leaves you baby if you

Don’t care for it…

We’re one, but we’re not the same

We get to

Carry each other

Carry each other

One…”

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“In Your Eyes” (Peter Gabriel)

As you come full circle, you get a glimpse of something far better than the first time you fell head over feet in love with your beloved.  This time around, you  can now  truly say that this so-called “woman from Venus” is indeed the love of your life, the ultimate gift from up above, the yin to your yang, the day to your night.  In sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, til death do you part. These vows can actually happen in the end but only  through a lot of hard work coupled with tons of faith. Doing a John Cusack in Say Anything is optional.

“In your eyes

The light the heat

In your eyes

I am complete

In your eyes

I see the doorway to a thousand churches

In your eyes

The resolution of all the fruitless searches”

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“Song of Bernadette” (Jennifer Warnes)

Easier said than done?  I agree which is why the arc of relationships that defy the odds ultimately grounds itself in The “Thee.”  The existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel offers a very astute and well-meaning  recommendation if we wish to refute Jackson Browne’s assertion: “I hope in Thee for us.”  The hope that Marcel is referring to here is not the empirical kind.  Meaning, there is no proof that there is something to be hopeful about. Neither does it have an objective. That is to say, there is essentially nothing specific  being hoped for.  The hope that he wrote about is a kind of hope that addresses itself to the fount, the ground and the norm of all love, God Himself. It is a humble  admission and an all-out acknowledgment that without God, all human love will always fall short, celebrity couples included. Hence, Jennifer Warnes’ invitation to hold her beloved like Bernadette Soubirous would do.

“There was a child named Bernadette

I heard the story long ago

She saw the queen of heaven once

And kept the vision in her soul

No one believed what she had seen

No one believed what she heard

But there were sorrows to be healed

And mercy, mercy in this world…

…So many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine

Torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo

I just want to hold you, won’t you let me hold you

Like Bernadette would do.”

A 2014 Christmas Playlist

“Ruby” or not, come rain or come shine, Christmas is practically just around the corner. And along with the familiar sight of the parol and Christmas lights all over the country, one sure sign that there is no stopping Christmas is the almost omnipresent sound of Christmas carols from a myriad of storage devices and streaming media.

Here are my top 10 Christmas tracks or if you will, songs my family and I can’t do without come December. Thankfully, most, if not all of them have not been accorded the overplays that tend to make some songs grate on your ears after some time. Check out how they stack up compared to your list.

1. “Gabriel’s Message” (Sting) Notwithstanding his declaration that he now eschews all types of organized religion (including the Judaeo-Christian tradition in which he was raised) – choosing instead to believe in a higher being – Sting’s inspired rendition of this 1892 classic by Charles Bordes and Sabine Baring-Gould makes you feel like you’re actually eavesdropping on how Gabriel must have spoken to Mary complete with the flapping of wings in the backdrop. The ethereal counterpoint is its key highlight.

a very special christmas

2. “7 O’Clock/Silent Night” (Simon & Garfunkel) Recorded in 1966 as part of the album “Parley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” this song features the signature harmonies of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel against the backdrop of depressing headlines read by newscaster Charlie O’Donnell during an imagined 7 O’Clock evening news. This version of “Silent Night” is unparalleled in communicating the continuing relevance of the carpenter’s son for fleshing out the meaning of love for 33 years in a world that continues to be in dire need of it. It was so in 1966. It is so in 2014.

Parsley-Sage-Rosemary-And-Thyme-cover

3. “Hands” [Christmas Version] (Jewel) Composed by Jewel Kilcher and Patrick Leonard in 1998, this song reminds me of the philantrophic mindset which, I suspect, grounds how Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to regard their vast wealth and resources. The same might as well be said about humanity’s less celebrated unsung heroes who have chosen to devote their lives to serving the poor and the marginalized. “In the end,” Jewel would remind us, “only kindness matters.” And the Christmas season is the best time to realize that each of us has been blessed with a pair of hands precisely to explore the varied ways we could show such kindness.

joy by jewel

4. “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” (Amy Grant) The ominous-sounding introduction of this song is almost cinematic in paving the way for appreciating the burden Mary must have felt as she conceived the Son of God. “I have traveled many moonless nights. Cold and weary, with a babe inside.” The song takes flight as Mary chooses to humbly ask for the grace of God to handle “the load I bear.” In this regard, it naturally offers itself as a fitting continuum and an apt response to Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message.’

amy grant xmas album

5. “Christmas Lights” (Coldplay) What Coldplay describes as a “mid-tempo number” was actually released in 2010. In any case, a careful reading of its lyrics would seem to suggest its motif would have made it feel at home with the tracks that comprise the 2014 “Ghost Stories” album. Like most of the Coldplay songs we’ve grown to love, this song is melancholic both with respect to its melody and its lyrics. Its soaring and thankfully, hopeful chorus is a valiant musical attempt to get over heartbreak and move on: “May all your troubles soon be gone. Oh Christmas Lights, keep shining on.”

Coldplay_-_Christmas_Lights

6. “The Rebel Jesus” (Jackson Browne) In the event that Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has lost its edge to unsettle you due to repeated overplays, check out this little-known Christmas song guaranteed 101% to disturb your merry-making and make you aware that Christmas should not be reduced to “noche buena” and “aguinaldo.” It’s also supposed to make you ask why some of us enjoy the best of the season with style while some of our fellow Filipinos make do with “pagpag” over candle light in a room that, as it is, is already too small to fit 2 but is nonetheless occupied by 10.

jackson browne

7. “A Christmas Song” (Dave Matthews Band) This song which first appeared as a surprise track in “Remember Two Things,” the debut album of DMB back in 1993 offers an unconventional and, therefore, fresh retelling of the life of Christ from His Nativity to His Crucifixion. In fact, the first time I heard it, I thought Matthews was narrating the story of a boyfriend and a girlfriend until the part where he cites the wise men who came to visit the bouncing, baby boy. Makes you realize that indeed, “Emmanuel”  means God with us.

remember two things

8. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” (Sarah Mclachlan) Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971, this song was the culmination of more than 2 years of peace activism mounted by the couple against the Vietnam war. It was given a new lease on life when Sarah Mclachlan recreated it as the carrier single of her Christmas album entitled “Wintersong” in 2006. This along with “Rebel Jesus” offer themselves as powerful wake-up calls to counter the siren call of consumerism which is at its peak during this season and bring back, as the cliché goes, Christ to Christmas. Hence, Lennon and now, Mclachlan’s conscienticizing: “And so it is Christmas, and what have you done?”

Sarah_McLachlan-Wintersong-Frontal

9. “The Answer” (Corrinne May) This is the only original track in Corrinne May’s Christmas album aptly entitled “The Gift.” It is also the most personal as it is actually a prayer penned by May herself, a devout Catholic who completed her studies at the Berklee College of Music. “Give me strength when I am weary; give me hope when I can’t see; Through the crosses I must carry, Lord, bind my heart to Thee.” Interestingly, its melody is based on “Jupiter” which was part of the “Planets Suite” composed by classical music composer and conductor Gustav Holst (1874-1934.)

corrinne may the gift

10. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (James Taylor and Natalie Cole) For some reason, James Taylor and Natalie Cole’s 2006 cover of this 1944 classic brings to mind the witty one-liner exchanges between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in the 80s hit “dramedy” series “Moonlighting.” Penned by Frank Loesser, this song has been recorded by over 25 pairs of musicians from the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr and Carmen McRae to Idina Menzel and Michael Buble. It is quite possibly the most romantic Christmas song.

james taylor christmas

Have a Blessed and Meaningful Christmas celebration!

Walk on the Vinyl Side (Writer’s Cut)

Posting the final draft of another story I submitted to PDI in November 2013. This was eventually cut into three parts and trimmed down to fit the character parameters assigned to me. The first part was published as “Back in Black” and appeared in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. The second and third parts were published in the Entertainment section of PDI in January 2014 under the title of “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

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The Iconic Technics SL 1200 turntable

WALK ON THE VINYL SIDE

(A Report on the Vinyl Resurgence Phenomenon in the Philippines)

 By Von Katindoy

Back in Black – The Return of the Vinyl

“Forget the hearse ‘cause I’ll never die, I got nine lives, Cats eyes…Cause I’m back, Yes, I’m back…I’m back in black.”

-Angus Young, Malcomn Young and Brian Johnson

745% growth! That is the figure being bandied about in a recent news item circulating in several audiophile online fora regarding the growth of vinyl sales at Amazon since 2008. Time was when vinyl was dismissed as an obsolete format, a relic of the previous century, if you will. Not anymore. In a nod to its viability as yet another income stream for the world’s largest online store, Amazon created a distinct and separate section for vinyl reissues in 2007. All hail the vinyl? Or should we say, vinyl is back in black with AC/DC banging away in the background about forgetting the hearse, nine lives and cats eyes. Faster than you can say Awesome!, however, Stereophile and Analog Planet editor Michael Fremer corrected the misinformation. The correct figure is 12% year on year increase since 2008 and not just at Amazon. In 2013, it is projected to increase by 30%. “It’s definitely growing” writes Fremer, when asked if indeed there is such a trend and whether it is, in fact, holding.

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Michael Fremer

He sent this writer the graph below ironically from Digital Music News to reinforce his point. He further points out that “used is not included in these figures” and that “GZ (Pressing Plant, one of the oldest and best in the world) in the Czech Republic pressed 7 million records this year…” It is difficult to track used records as the selling and buying of such are part of the so-called underground economy. To quote Fremer: “Nielsen SoundScan only gets the tip of the iceberg…”

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Infograph courtesy of Michael Fremer

To the uninitiated, vinyl records or “plaka” as they were referred to in the vernacular traditionally refer to three variants of vinyl records: the 78rpm (i.e., revolutions per minute for the recording to be heard as it was originally recorded), the 45 rpm single and the 33 1/3 rpm long play album. Of the 3, what is most associated with the current global vinyl resurgence is the 33 1/3 rpm otherwise known as the LP (i.e., Long Play.) Columbia Records is credited for releasing the first commercial vinyl record in 1948. For the next 4 decades it was the dominant storage medium of recorded music despite the invention of the cassette tape and its numerous incarnations. Until the CD entered the picture that is. Sony and Philips introduced the digital music format in 1982. By the early 90’s the vinyl format lost the critical mass it used to command and was eventually considered by many as an obsolete and inferior format compared to the CD. The operative word to differentiate the vinyl from the CD, the MP3 and other contemporary formats is analog. By analog, we mean the sound recording is literally etched into the physical grooves of the record which are then read by the stylus or “needle” of the turntable and converted into soundwaves by an amplifier working in harmoniuous synergy with the speakers. In contrast, with CDs numerical information in zeroes and ones is what is used to encode the recording on the disc which is then read by the laser eye of the CD player and amplified by the digital component system.

Just in case you missed it, mainstream media have been steadily documenting the recent global resurgence of the vinyl format in recent years. Here is a quick sampling.

In the October 2007 edition of Wired Magazine, Eliot Van Buskirk wrote that “as counterintuitive as it may seem in this age of iPods and digital downloads, vinyl — the favorite physical format of indie music collectors and audiophiles — is poised to re-enter the mainstream, or at least become a major tributary…Talk to almost anyone in the music business’ vital indie and DJ scenes and you’ll encounter a uniformly optimistic picture of the vinyl market…Pressing plants are ramping up production.”

On January 10, 2008, Kristina Dell of Time Magazine reported that: “from college dorm rooms to high school sleepovers, an all-but-extinct music medium has been showing up lately. And we don’t mean CDs. Vinyl records, especially the full-length LPs that helped define the golden era of rock in the 1960s and ’70s, are suddenly cool again.”

Rolling Stone Magazine’s Matthew Perpetua observed on January 6, 2011 that “sales of vinyl increased by 14 percent over the previous year, with around 2.8 million units sold. This is a new record for vinyl sales since 1991, when the format had all but disappeared in the wake of the CD boom, according to a report released yesterday by Nielsen SoundScan.”

Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post noted last April 11, 2013 that “the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, tallies $171 million in global vinyl sales in 2012, up 52 percent from the year before. That echoes other reports, including Nielsen’s most recent Soundscan, which have found strong growth in vinyl sales over the past five years — not to mention a steady uptick in vinyl-related Kickstarters and analog fan blogs.”

From Allan Kozinn of The New York Times dated June 9, 2013: “These days, every major label and many smaller ones are releasing vinyl, and most major new releases have a vinyl version, leading to a spate of new pressing plants…When the French electronica duo Daft Punk released “Random Access Memories” in mid-May, 6 percent of its first-week sales — 19,000 out of 339,000 — were on vinyl, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which measures music sales. A growing number of classic albums — including the complete Beatles and early Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan catalogs — have had vinyl reissues in recent years as well.”

Not very far behind is Hollywood which has been enthusiastically celebrating both the turntable and the vinyl format in both the movies and in the TV series genre.

To name a few, there is Jack Harper, the character of Tom Cruise in Oblivion (2013) where he plays a vinyl copy of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procul Harum to reminisce the way life on earth used to be circa 2017. In Warm Bodies (2013) the zombie “R” portrayed by Nicholas Hoult plays “Missing You” by John Waite not because he is a purist but because “they sound warm and more alive.” Iron Man 3 (2013) featured a high-end turntable playing Joe Williams’ “Jingle Bells” on Tony Stark’s command to Travis to “drop the needle” as he suits up in his state-of-the art laboratory.

Not to be outdone is the TV series genre. Top of mind is the character of Walter Bishop portrayed by John Noble in Fringe who has a vintage turntable in his lab. And then there is the Suits’ Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) whose wall of vinyl records testifies to his encyclopedic knowledge of various music genre. House, M.D. features the lead character portrayed by Hugh Laurie as an audiophile at heart who is comfortable both with an Ipod and a high-end turntable.

Notwithstanding the preceding, does this resurgence of sorts apply to the Philippine music scene where piracy continues to persist? More to the point, why the interest in vinyl in this age of Ipod, streaming, filesharing and downloading both legal and illegal. Equally important, where exactly is this going? Are we coming full circle with the realization that despite the dizzying pace of technological advances, in the end, nothing can really beat the sound of vinyls playing on turntables? Or does the “plaka” belong to a bygone era as celebrated in “Sirang Plaka” by Anak Bayan, “Huling El Bimbo” by the Eraserheads and “Betamax” by Sandwich never to go back again.

Spin the Black Circle – Why Vinyl?

“See this needle…dropping it down…well here it comes…I touch the plane…Turn me up…won’t turn you away…Spin, spin…spin the black circle…You’re so warm…oh, the ritual…when I lay down your crooked arm…Spin, spin…spin the black circle…”

                                                                                                                                -Eddie Vedder

Long before the vinyl resurgence, Pearl Jam were true-blue believers in vinyl. “Spin the Black Circle” is the band’s tribute to vinyl records. No wonder then that Vitalogy which featured “Spin the Black Circle” as its carrier single, was first released on vinyl two weeks before the CD release in 1994. Drawing inspiration from this song, we sought out those who like Vedder literally live out the excitement associated with the unabashed homage of the band to vinyl to ask them the question, why did they get into vinyl records? Their answers will most likely make you take a long, hard look at the “plaka.”

1. THE RITUAL

Listening to vinyl recording involves a ritual which engages virtually all five senses. Robert Crespo, former corporate communications manager of Crossover 105.1, vividly remembers his surreal analog bliss experience dining with the jazz pianist great David Benoit. Towards the end of the dinner, Crespo brought out his prized sealed copy of Urban Daydreams to ask Benoit to sign it. Instead of signing the record right away, Benoit did a curious thing. He held the copy in his hands and took the time to gaze at the album cover. Next, he perused the details on the back cover from the track listing down to the team that made the album happen. Then, like a seasoned vinyl collector, Benoit used his thumbnail to make the proverbial incision through the upper edge of the album jacket to unseal the record. Before carefully pulling out the record from the jacket though Benoit took a long, slow whiff of the vinyl record with his eyes closed the way a wine connoisseur does before enjoying a newly-opened bottle of wine. That, of course, is just half of the ritual. Next, you use a microfiber cloth to clean the surface of the vinyl carefully wiping the disc clockwise. You then set it on the platter of the turntable and push the start button. Before lifting the tone arm and setting the stylus on the first track, you pull out your anti-static brush and ever so gently let its thousands of micro fibre brush against the vinyl surface. “Well, here it comes…” Eddie Vedder sings. You’re ready to enjoy recorded music on vinyl format.

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Robert Crespo

This is exactly what indie film and music video director Marie Jamora meant when she says that listening to vinyls is more “organic compared to listening to CDs” and other formats. The tactile element of the LP engages the listener in a way that the MP3 or even the CD cannot. Which augurs well with how rock icon Ely Buendia regards vinyl. Writes Ely, “ Vinyl still retains that mystique of the record buying lifestyle. It makes me appreciate the music more.”

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Ely Buendia photo courtesy of Heima

There is a downside to this ritual though which accomplished classical violinist and lifelong vinyl enthusiast Joseph Esmilla warns about: “… listening to LPs is not for everyone, especially not for people who want instant gratification. It’s technology from a bygone era for those (masochists perhaps?) who choose to go through the ritual of vacuum cleaning both sides of an LP, turning on vacuum tube electronics, waiting for the filaments to glow, and queuing the tone arm on the first track, before sitting back on an Eames lounge chair and lighting a pipe.”

2. THE SOUND QUALITY

Vinyl enthusiasts swear by the sound quality of vinyl records. Indeed, broadcast journalist Julius Babao cites it as a critical factor for his passion for vinyl. “I guess it’s the clarity of the recording. I find the sound of CD or MP3 recordings too sharp and hard. Music recorded on vinyl sounds as if it has a life. The bass and treble sounds fuller or more natural.”

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Julius Babao

Much though depends on the quality of the gear or hardware that you’re playing the record on as Buendia discovered: “ I was finally able to find a turntable that I really liked… It was only recently that I found for myself that the sound quality really was a far cry from all the other formats.”

Marie recalls how the sound produced by a live band in some settings could actually pale in comparison to the sound of vinyl. One such experience involved The Diegos playing a 29-year old vinyl pressing of “Thieves Like Us” by New Order off their Substance album right after a band performance at Route 196 along Katipunan. For some unexplained reason, the sound quality of the vinyl recording proved to be worlds ahead of the sound quality of the live music that was just performed. It was an incredible experience that literally blew her away and that she remembers to this day.

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Marie Jamora (right)

Film director Robert Quebral points to the unique sound quality of vinyl as “a natural progression from the usual cd/digital format. As a hi-fi enthusiast, you seek for better sources and the analogue/ vinyl format is the next step…in my opinion vinyl playback has better soundstage (i.e., placement of musical instruments and vocalists in a recording) and is more dynamic in terms of pace and rhythm.”

3. THE ARTWORK

And then there is the artwork which cannot be appreciated on CD format as much as it can be relished on vinyl albums given the significant difference in dimensions of scale. Boy Bustamante, a 30-year graphics arts industry veteran remembers buying vinyl records on the strength of the artwork. He cites the titles of the albums like they were his kids. There is Abraxas by Santana where the artwork is by Mati Klarwein, Velvet Underground with the now-famous banana artwork by Andy Warhol, Beggars’ Banquet by the Rolling Stones with its 3D design cover, the Led Zep covers with die cuts and Live at Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers Band. To quote Boy: “even the simple black and white photo by Jim Marshall says a thousand words…analogue is an art environment – from the artists to the recording process to the packaging all the way to the listener.”

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Boy Bustamante

World-renowned painter Elmer Borlongan who specializes in social realism agrees. In fact, part of the attraction of the hobby is its affinity to his vocation. Case in point: he remembers buying Brain Salad Surgery of Emerson, Lake and Palmer without even bothering to check if the album is a superb sonic experience. The sheer artwork was more than enough for him.

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Elmer Borlongan

I-Witness anchor and Motorcyle Diaries host Jay Taruc shares how: “ unang-una, yung vinyls, for me, they have better packaging. That 12″ X 12″ album sleeve with the cover art, pictures, graphics, information sheet-liner notes, and other physical and visual element is a very big plus over Compact Discs or MP3s. The experience from playing vinyl is just not comparable with ANY digital format. That big vinyl allows you to experience and physically hold the end product of an artist or a band: the creative process that goes through to actually produce it, the vinyl record somehow represents all that… for some reason CDs cannot give that and I also collect CDs.”

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Jay Taruc

Long before he put up Terno Records, DJ Toti Dalmacion was already into vinyls partly because of “the album art, the one that grabs your attention, the details, the inserts, the lyric sheet. More often than not, this is what attracts you into picking up a record you have no knowledge of and discover gems because of it.”

4. THE THRILL OF THE HUNT

“Life’s a journey not a destination,” Aerosmith sings in the song “Amazing.” So is the enjoyment of this hobby. What vinyl enthusiasts refer to as the thrill of the hunt is yet another reward that vinyls provide that other formats cannot. It’s so easy to just download songs. The same applies to CDs which you can order online or buy from the nearest record store of your choice. But vinyl albums are something else. Sure there are reissues that are starting to flood the market online and fairly recently, the physical record stores. But there are numerous sought-after albums that are out of print and albums that are every collector’s dream for being first pressings or for being made in Japan, Europe or the U.S.

Borlongan still remembers how he found John Lennon’s Double Fantasy in Shibuya, Japan. It gave him a different kind of high that never quite goes away. Thus, his advice to those who are in hurry to complete their wishlist. To wit: “the thrill is in the hunt. Collecting and listening to vinyl is a whole different experience.”

DJ and musician Diego Mapa of Tarsius, Pedicab and Cambio fame tends to agree: “when digging a record at thrift, discovering old music that is new to you has a good feeling to it. And not all old music or 45s are on the net. So you still get something surely only some have.”

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Diego Mapa

The setting for selling and buying records makes the thrill inevitable. As Julius Babao notes: “there are a lot of record stores worldwide that sell cheap records. I just got back from Tokyo, Japan and I was able to purchase rare LPs at reasonable prices.” Toti Dalmacion’s over 30,000 records which are comprised mostly by first pressings and out of print records of both pop and cult favorites took years and in some cases, decades to find and acquire through his viny-hunting expeditions around the globe.

One need not actually go abroad to experience this so-called thrill of the hunt. There are several vinyl record stores in Manila which can help you afford such experience. There is Vinyl Dump in Cubao, the Grey Market at White Plains, Tres Kuletos in Mandaluyong, Vinylhead Wreckords near Cash and Carry and the long-running Bebop Records in Makati Square.

5. BACK TO THE MUSIC AND THE MUSICIAN

Borlongan believes part of the fascination for vinyl bears some anti-technology themes. “Dulled na yung senses ng maraming tao ngayon due to the sheer volume and variants of media.” Vinyl for him is like a back-to-basics kind of experience for our time, an apt response to the common tao’s overload from too much technology. You can have thousands of records downloaded but what do all those songs mean to you when you don’t even know who is playing what and what the song is about. Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels With Nothing On” comes to mind. “We switched ‘round and ‘round till half-past dawn, there was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.” Or for that matter, Joey Ayala’s “Machine Answering” and its lament over technology’s invasion of the personal.

Marie Jamora complains how some Ipod or MP3 users couldn’t care less anymore what they have in their Ipod or MP3 players. The indifference to music is what vinyl ostensibly addresses. It makes especially the youth who were born and raised on digital formats care about music. Which aligns with what Diego calls “the personal relationship.” A vinyl makes you understand that the musician took great pains to sequence the songs in the album into two groups: side a and side b. Furthermore, these songs were not just placed in the album haphazardly. There is a reason why some tracks are considered opening or closing tracks. Sting’s Ten Summoners’ Tales which opens with a Prologue: “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” and concludes with an Epilogue:“Nothing ‘Bout Me” is a fine example. So is the Apo’s “Mga Kwento ng Apo” which presents 10 different stories ranging from loving across social divides to assuring a barkada of unconditional bromantic love. It’s good to remember that before the Ipod empowered the listener to create his/her own playlists as he/she sees fit or feels, the vinyl format gave the musician the wherewithal to create an “album” of how he/she thinks and feels his/her opus ought to be enjoyed by the listener. In the words of Jay Taruc: “Playing a vinyl record gets more into the artist and the music. I put on a record and I focus more intently on the album.” Triathlete and food blogger Erwan Heusaff’s seemingly simple answer of vinyl giving “a better sense of appreciation for the music” locates itself both here as well as the ritual aspect of vinyl listening.

6. HISTORY AND FAMILY

Interestingly, apart from the sound quality and the art work, the one thing that most influenced those featured in this report was their history by way of their their family and friends.

We are ultimately a product of our times according to social scientists. Joseph Esmilla notes that “I was born and raised during the era when the LP was the standard storage medium for recorded music.” It was not a matter of choice, writes advertising executive and composeer Nonoy Gallardo: “yun ang meron noong panahon ko. Noong 70s wala namang digital. Mayroon nang open reel at cassette tape players. I also had those, pero parang mas masarap makinig ng plaka noong panahon ng analog.”

If you are looking for evidence about the power of family and peer influence, look no further.

Diego Mapa shares that “I was turned on with my Dad’s vinyl collection at first. And he also bought me my first record. A best of Jimmy Hendrix album. Then in high school I would sometimes see a thrift or ukay, buy 1 or 2 and that’s it. Finally, I met music nuts same as my age who were already buying a lot.”

Marie Jamora knew the basics of cleaning records at the age of 5. She credits her dad and her elder siblings for her love of vinyl. She fondly remembers how her dad at that time would often go home from his frequent travels abroad with records from U.K. as “pasalubong.”

Julius Babao remembers getting his first record at 5 years old. “I grew up listening to vinyl records. I remember my very first vinyl record. It was Help by the Beatles which my mother bought for me when I was 5 years old.”

Jay Taruc has his generous barkada to thank for introducing him to vinyl: “Sometime between 1983 to 1989 another neighbor (i.e., we had extremely generous neighbors, by the way) introduced me to some vinyls available at the time. Aztec Camera’s Knife, Billy Joel’s Glasshouse album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. I was hooked!”

Toti Dalmacion recalls growing up in a very musical family. “My grandparents, parents, uncles and aunties were really into music. In fact, my uncles are Dennis and Rene Garcia of Hotdog so it was inevitable for me to eventually get into music and at that time, the dominant format was vinyl. My first exposure to it was via 45’s also referred to as the 7-inch.”

7. THE MEDIA AND POP CULTURE

Borlongan remembers the year he revived his vinyl interest after an almost 20-year hiatus. The year was 2004. The place was New York City. As he was leafing through a magazine, he chanced upon a picture of a Vestax portable turntable. “Meron pa pala nito,” he muttered to himself. The next thing he knew, he was buying one for himself and, subsequently, buying used records and reissues like it was the 70s. And then came the upgrades every couple of years before he finally settled for a vintage Technics SL-1200DMark2. Borlongan credits media for the renewed interest in the format. The youth, he says, “see it in movies like Empire Records or High Fidelity and they are drawn to it out of curiosity.”

Marie Jamora has an interesting theory about vinyl in movies. She says the guys behind these movies most likely grew up on vinyl records. They are just acting out what they saw growing up. Which is all good for the format as those who see these movies eventually do one of two things. The youth who never had a direct experience of the format get curious enough to check it out. The young once who grew up on records get intrigued enough to find out if indeed the format is very much around.

8. THE NOSTALGIA BUG

Speaking of the young once, yet another driver of the renewed interest in the vinyl format is the nostalgia bug. That longing to go back to the past as immortalized in John Mayer’s “Stop This Train” and celebrated in the Eraserheads’ “Minsan.”

It is most unmistakable in Jay Taruc’s choice of hardware. Even if he can easily afford an all-new set-up, Taruc “opted for a late 70s to an early 80s set-up to replicate the sound (of my youth.)… The reason behind the choice of speakers was influenced by the music media to be played as well. Dapat tunog 70s to 80s din.”

Marie cites virtually the same reason for opting for a vintage Akai turntable instead of a brand new set-up. “I prefer to tweak the knobs to control the treble and the bass levels just like in the old days,” she says.
Ely Buendia confides that “for a time I was mostly buying vinyl for childhood nostalgia.”

Erwan Heusaff’s vinyl interest is just as steeped in nostalgia as he reminisces that: “when i was a kid, an old record player with a bunch of vinyls came with the house my parents had just bought in Canada. I remember my favourite album was one by The Chordettes and the snap crackle and pop that came from the speakers right before the song “Lollipop” played always made me so happy.”

Before the Deluge – The Prime Movers of Analog Music Then and Now

“Some of them were dreamers, some of them were fools who were making plans and thinking of the future…Some of them knew pleasure, and some of them knew pain, and for some of them it was only the moment that mattered…”

-Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne was said to have written “Before the Deluge” as a wake-up call addressed to the Woodstock generation who lost and eventually found their idealism with the rise of the yuppie in the 70s. He spoke about the myriad of personalities that found their wings and did something that would eventually make a difference. He might as well be referring to the people behind the vinyl resurgence in this regard.

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Joseph Esmilla

The musician Joseph Esmilla credits Wired State – Friends in Audio for keeping the analog fire burning. The forum was put up by Francis Sogono, a vinyl enthusiast himself in early 2003 to “create a virtual community for all who love music and audio – thus, the friends in audio” tag. Its membership is comprised by “designers, engineers, musicians, hardware and software dealers, DIYers but majority are simply the common lovers of music whether live or recorded. Another Wired State advocacy was to help promote and market Philippine-made and assembled ampllifiers and speakers.” It currently boasts of 6,000 members ranging from newbies to veteran audiophiles of which 20% actively participate in discussions. “Analog discussions dominate the forums over digital with a ratio of 5 to 1,” observes Sogono. It has anything and everything a vinyl hobbyist could possibly ask for and more. From which records to buy next to setting up your first turntable. From vintage gear to state-of-the-art equipment. From DIY gear to hand-me-down stuff. From trivial questions to existential ones. It even welcomes posts to pre-empt analog burnout (i.e., photography, cars, guitars, planes, scale models, etc.) Anyone and everyone is welcome. You can choose to just lurk or you can choose to post. To ensure everyone is on their best behaviour, it has moderators and administrators per topic and section. Best of all, membership is free. To quote Esmilla, “Wired State is the only forum I know in our country that caters to the interest of LP lovers. This is where local dealers and enthusiasts hang out. And every November, we all gather for a weekend of listening and LP hunting at the Hi-Fi show.”

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Tonyboy Deleon (left) with Francis Sogono (right)

The November Hi Fi Show came into being through the friendships formed in Wired State. Tonyboy De Leon who has been at its helm for the past 10 years refers to Wired State as “the bridge” that made it possible for them to meet up. In fact, the November Hi Fi Show started as an informal record swapping event among friends at the LPL Manor Building in Makati in 2004. That same year, Tonyboy and what would eventually be the Nov Hi Fi Show Team comprised by Boy Bustamante, Robert Crespo, Arnold Cruz and Joseph Esmilla were moved by the analog spirit to formalize the event at the Mandarin Oriental which would become its home until 2011. They moved to Dusit Thani in 2012. Crespo cites the Kevin Costner-starrer Field of Dreams as an early inspiration: “if you build it, they will come.” They put up the show by the balls sans feasibility studies and a proper org chart. Among their objectives at the time in addition to putting up a venue to enjoy music through the vinyl format were to showcase DIY audio to help local builders (who were featured gratis) and provide a physical venue where hobbyists can learn the latest hardware and catch up on their software needs and wants. Over the years, they got more than what they initially signed up for. There is the added psychic income of supporting indie bands like the memorable 2004 concert of the Radioactive Sago Project and indie films like Ang Nawawala and Jingle Lang ang Pahina. In addition, there is the now-famous and highly-anticipated Saturday night fellowships that would rival your most memorable high school reunions and the ever-increasing analog awareness among the youth meant to reverse what Tonyboy calls “the age of (musical) indifference.” Financially, it was a losing proposition on its first two years with Tony Boy bankrolling everything . On its 10th year, however, he looks back with vindicated pride when he remarks that it is the only show in Manila which not only counts on a loyal following. More important, year on year, visitor size has respectably grown. And so despite the fact that it is held in five-star hotels like the Mandarin and Dusit, he has managed to waive entrance fees. Thanks to public support as well as the critical support provided by audio-visual exhibitors both local and foreign. This year boasts of 55 exhibitors capped by his biggest coup, thus far. To wit: bringing in the Analog guru himself, Michael Fremer to Manila to conduct a workshop on setting up a turntable the right way.

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(left to right) Boy Bustamante, Tonyboy Deleon and Robert Crespo

Long before there was Wired State and the Nov Hi Fi Show though there was Rene Rivo who has been specializing in turntable repair, restoration and set-up for the past 30 years. An engineer by profession, he started buying vinyls in Bislig, Surigao del Sur while he was in high school ran by the Salesian Brothers. Thanks to his dad and his elder brother, he inevitably developed a talent for tinkering with all types of audio visual equipment, from Betamax to laser discs eventually graduating to VHS and DVD players. His first love though was the restoration and set-up of turntables, amplifiers and speakers. Asked how many turntables he has repaired or restored for the past 3 decades, he smiles and just says, “countless bro.” He still remembers his first successful restoration job though – an ST-70 Dynaco. After college in 1983, he jumped from one company to another for 2 years until he realized his bliss was in his passion. He has not looked back since. For the next 30 years , business initially coming from both the suppliers and buyers at Cash and Carry enabled him to raise a family and put his kids through college. Recently, celebrities have been knocking on his door to ask him to either repair their audio gears or set up one. He has no Nielsen Soundscan statistician to measure the vinyl resurgence but get this: these days, he averages a minimum of 1 turntable repair per week.

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Rene Rivo

Noly Dy of The Analog Source only got bitten by the whole idea of restoring turntables in 2007 but he is an interesting mix of Tonyboy and Rene. That’s because complimenting his skill at restoring to-die-for Swiss-made Lenco turntables (i.e., he has restored 50 and counting over the years) is his informal awareness campaign to educate particularly the young about the wonders of the analog sound. He is possibly the only analog enthusiast who would go out of his way to demonstrate gratis what a turntable is and how it works mostly in schools and related social events. The psychic income comes from the young who would tell him about their experience of listening to a better-than-MP3 sonics. And then there is the eureka moment from grown-ups who marvel at the fact that: “meron pa pala nyan ngayon.” It seems to be paying off. He says per month he averages around 10 visitors asking about turntables and set-ups. Most of them surprisingly are not from Wired State. His vision is for more people to discover analog despite the dominance of the digital media.

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Noly Dy

You may have the right hardware but without the software to play and enjoy, the analog experience is not complete. Bebop Records owned and operated by another De Leon, in no way related to Tonyboy, has been the go-to place over the years. Bob De Leon boasts of a 30,000 record collection which he has amassed over the years starting from high school. Like Rene who tried his hand at different jobs, Bob struggled with day jobs that did not move him after his college studies. He knew early on what he wanted his life to be about – vinyl collecting. And to sustain it, he took to buying and selling what else but records, thousands of them. Bob started out as an avid buyer at Phoenix Records and A2Z both in QC before deciding to go into the same line of business. On top of the income that he uses to sustain his hobby while raising a family, Bob gets a lot of fulfilment when he is able to pass on his passion and his encyclopedic knowledge of vinyl music to start-up hobbyists who wish to grow in the hobby. Since he was himself a buyer cum collector before he became a businessman, his empathy and sympathy for the vinyl buyer complements his pursuit of profit. He will tell you in all honesty whether a used copy is near mint or VG at times even going to the extent of discouraging you from buying what he is supposedly selling you if he thinks you will not be happy with the sound quality.

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Bob De Leon

Bob’s remarkable longevity as the proverbial go-to vinyl “pusher” is matched by the ingenuity of two up and coming vinyl advocates: Heima and Satchmi.

Heima (“hi, ma!”) which is owned and operated by Bong Rojales is strictly speaking not a vinyl store. Rather, it is a home and lifestyle company established in 2009 which “designs quirky furniture and furnishings for one’s home.” Vinyl records and portable Crosley turntables are only two among the many items that they sell. There’s home decors, mint-condition typewriters, scents, lighting, furniture, lithographs and paper art. Writes Bong Rojales: “Lifestyle is part of our brand, the music part is in a way complimentary. We are not a full time record store. We have records and players because it fits the brands’ identity.” Nonetheless, Heima owns the distinction of being part of a group of companies which helped Jamora release a Filipino movie soundtrack on vinyl in the 21st century. Nawawalang Soundtrack which director Marie Jamora describes as the “best music in the world” boasts of vinyl-only tracks by Ebe Dancel (i.e., “Cuida” recorded live), Ely Buendia and Raymund Marasigan (i.e., “Minsan” rearranged for the movie soundtrack) and the Apo ( i.e., “Ano ang Ibig Mong Sabihin”) and some of the best releases by indie bands today.

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Bong Rojales

Satchmi, on the other hand, which was inspired by Louis Armstrong’s nickname Satchmo, positions vinyls and turntables as a call to action. Established in 2012 by 3 vinyl enthusiasts, Edric Chua, Ronald Sy and Aislinn Chuahiock all born in the 1980s, its goal is no less than to tear down the walls between vinyl cultists protective of the exclusivity of their hobby and the general public particularly the youth sector and those who once had a love affair with vinyl growing up. Nope, they are not out to pick a fight with vinyl audiophiles. Their call to action is in response to a “very fast-paced culture” with “a 3-second attention span and…a tendency to (write) 140-character status messages before going back to the grind.” Satchmi has its roots in Vancouver where its chief strategist Edric Chua lived after college. While walking In downtown Vancouver, he happened into this old vinyl record store which gave him the inspiration for what his team calls the Satchmi experience – “marvelling at beautiful things, romantic pasts, and uncommon luxuries.” To transport such an experience to the country though, Edric and his team struggled with the question, how will their target clients get past the supposedly 60K entry fee – the estimated amount it takes to purchase an all-new analog set-up? Their answer is the Motorino – a portable turntable which the curious could take home to give vinyl records a try without breaking the bank, as they say. To reach out to the greatest possible market for music, Satchmi employs a two-fold strategy: partnering with Astro Plus and participating in as many bazaars as possible which was how they started.

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(left to right) Ronald Sy, Edric Chua and Aislinn Chuahlock

Despite their varied backgrounds, what cuts across all of these groups and these personalities can be captured by one color – red and one word – passion that knows no bounds. Nothing more, nothing less. Interestingly, both the veteran Hi Fi Show organizer Tonyboy De Leon and start-up Satchmi’s Edric Chua did not commission any feasibility studies for their respective passion projects. They literally flew by the seat of their pants.

The Future – Where Is the Vinyl Format Really Going?

“Things are going to slide, slide in all directions. Won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore. I’ve seen the nations rise and fall, I’ve heard their stories, heard them all but love’s the only engine of survival.”

-Leonard Cohen

The mind reels from these kaleidoscopic insights shared by vinyl devotees and prime movers of the black circle. If such is the power of the vinyl format and such is the passion of its advocates, collectors and consumers, could it eventually retake its place as the dominant format given that the CD is reportedly dying as a format?

Leonard Cohen’s “The Future” drops some clues to help the reader navigate through the future of vinyl albeit by metaphor. In this pre-apocalyptic song , Cohen admits that despite the signs of the times that the end is near, there is still enough reason to hold out for hope and survival by way of what else? but love, love, love. True, it looks like the end is near but wait just yet. It looks like the vinyl format is ready to make a comeback and achieve critical mass but wait just yet.

It could still go either way. The jury is still out if this vinyl resurgence will eventually hold out even if it seems that way.

Forever a Niche Market?

Crespo reminds us that, “you must remember that during our time, vinyl was the only format to enjoy major record releases.” “Wala pa nong internet o CD o DVD o MP3” as the band Sandwich would put it in their song “Betamax.” That is no longer true today. Which explains why none of the major players we interviewed consider themselves purists when it comes to vinyl music. They could easily shift from one format to the next depending on the circumstances or their moods. Gallardo offers: “pag pang background lang yung music, saksak ko yung Ipod. When I have the time to sit down and listen at gusto kong namnamin ang areglo, ang bawat nota – LPs.” Which reminds me of rock and roll hall of famer Neil Young’s observation that Steve Jobs who gave us the Ipod may have made it easier to carry your music library in your pocket, but “when he goes home, he listens to vinyl.” Granted that digital is here to stay, the question persists: will this grow? Most of the people we interviewed agree it will grow but it will not achieve the kind of critical mass it used to enjoy.

Bong Rojales notes that “the vinyl market is definitely growing worldwide, but so is iTunes and other modes of music listening (i.e., Spotify, Soundcloud, 8tracks, etc ). People have more choices in the 21st century. I for one move from one format to another, in various modes at any given day. I may listen to vinyl for breakfast, move to my desk and play FLAC files on my desktop then listen to 8tracks while mobile, put on a CD in the car, then cap the night streaming music on an AppleTV. The main difference at this time is that because of people and the indie community who helped revive the interest in vinyl, the market is going mainstream.” Rojales’ Heima released Nawawalang Soundtrack and supported Number Line Records’ Primate by Diego Mapa’s Tarsius. It is also retailing The Number Line Anthology which features the best tracks of Number Line Records’ stable of indie bands. “All are doing or did well by our standards,” says Rojales.

As if on cue, Toti Dalmacion’s Terno Records released Capacities by Up Dharma Down also in 2012. Per Dalmacion, “it’s been selling steadily. Market response is positive” even if his company “has a unique and distinct strategy to market it. We only sell it during gigs and at Fully Booked branches. Radioactive Sago Project will most likely be up next but we will have to base it on pre-orders. It is an expensive proposition. Pressing can only be done abroad as there are no pressing plants left in the country.”

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Toti Dalmacion

The local recording industry has yet to jump into the vinyl bandwagon. Except for Polyeast Records that is. Richard Calderon, the New Media manager of Polyeast is the lone ranger of mainstream recording companies when it comes to checking out the prospects for an OPM vinyl release. The results have not been disappointing, so far. He shares how stunned they were with the fact that almost 50% of Bamboo The Singles vinyl units were sold within the first week of its release. He is hopeful but is at the same time, cautious. In fact, he and his team are so hopeful that a second wave is being readied for release to the market soon. Before the year is over, anthologies from OPM icons FrancisM, The Dawn, Joey Albert, and True Faith will hit the market. Calderon is pinning his hopes on the vinyl resurgence as a protracted way of reversing the damage done by piracy. In his words: “hopefully, it will make people care more about how great our music is as a country.” There was a time¸ shared Calderon, when music was on a 1 is to 1 basis. You wanted the Beatles’ White Album, you get yourself a copy. Digital music and its attendant developments changed all that. Calderon states that: “we were already talking about doing some vinyl release as early as 2012 since we have a vast OPM catalog.” His take on why Polyeast seems to be all by its lonesome is that “we must all realize that all these current companies deal with CD and digital. Vinyl is really a different field for them. Someone within these companies should really take the initiative and re-learn a lot about the vinyl format.”

bamboo album cover

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}

Or a Brewing Critical Mass?

But will all of these heroic efforts at reviving the format in the country reach critical mass?

If we go by the power of the two distinct groups of vinyl buyers whose numbers are increasing, it might not necessarily be beyond the realm of the possible.

The first group is the youth. Heima’s Bong Rojales notes that most of their vinyl buyers are young, between 20s to 30s. This is the same group which has been purchasing Crosley turntables from them. Observes Toti Dalmacion, “there appears to be renewed interest in the format mostly coming from the youth sector who are getting curious about the phenomenon. It’s perceived as something in, trendy and cool these days.” There is also a certain defiance and quasi-rebelliousness in the youth that Boy Bustamante and Noly Dy detect. The parents of today’s youth listened to CDs growing up. The youth, true to form, want to be different. So they take to vinyls. Those who underestimate the power of the young would do well to brush up on their history. The Katipunan, the NPA and the People Power revolution were powered by the youth. In fact, music is primarily consumed by the youth since time immemorial.

There is another equally significant group though, notes Marie Jamora, whose economic power augurs well with the possibility that the vinyl market will continue to grow in the coming years. To wit: the market segment which grew up on vinyl and who now have the disposable income to invest in it. Think about it. These individuals who were born and raised in households where the vinyl was king are now in their 40s and 50s. They grew up in households where the “plaka” was the dominant storage medium. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the Philippines. In concerts by classic rockers like The Eagles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and U2, it is not an uncommon sight to see 40 and 50 year-olds plucking air guitars and pounding air drums next to audiences in their 20s and 30s.

Which lends credence to Noly Dy’s fearless forecast even as he agrees that objectively as of today, it’s really a case of a growing niche market. In the same breath though, he asks, who knows? A couple of years ago, this whole business of pampering oneself through the spa and the different variants of body massage were considered luxuries. The tablet, it should be recalled, was dismissed as superfluous given that everybody has a laptop already. Smart phones were unheard of as the attendant expense would most likely make it next to impossible to buy them. Look where these are today. For all the objections to the price tag associated with the analog experience, the entire gamut of mindsets grounded in the themes of quality of life, work-life balance, time for oneself, slowing down and going back to the basics may be said to be the same kinds of motifs that might just facilitate the return of the vinyl to the mainstream.

Could it be that this was exactly what visionary director JJ Abrams had in mind in 2013 when he chose to showcase the vinyl and the turntable as still the ultimate way to enjoy music circa 2354 – the year that Star Trek Journey to Darkness is envisioned to have taken place. A future where wonder of wonders, space ships can time warp, humans can be beamed up from one place to another and the dead can come back to life. A future where remarkably music can only truly be enjoyed through vinyls playing on turntables.
Joseph Esmilla’s insight tends to dovetail with JJ Abrams’ reserved place for the vinyl and the turntable: “The first microgroove LP was released in June 1948. The first CD player and audio CDs went into the market in October 1982. It’s November 2013 and we are talking about LPs, which are still available on the top floor of Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street, along with CDs and DVDs. That in itself is an indicator of its remarkable staying power.”

In the end, regardless of whether it will achieve critical mass or remain a niche market, to the vinyl enthusiast, Dave Matthews’ declaration suffices –

“I am no superman. I have no answers for you.
But I do know one thing is where you are is where I belong.
I do know where you go is where I wanna be.”