World Wide Listening Station Tour
Superfly Records in Paris
I’d just finished sound checking the sound system in the basement club of the Generator Hostel in Paris and I was walking up the stairs with “I’m New Here” - Gil Scott-Heron’s last ever album - under my arm, the same record that I had just played loud to test the club PA.
All was quiet as I walked past the Analogue Foundation listening station and the AT team were still busy fine tuning the set-up, calibrating the turntable and checking that the station would be ready for the guests during the party that was due to start in a couple of hours.
I could hear them chatting quietly about the different cartridges on use, the sound of the doors of the listening station opening and closing and the shuffling of the sleeves of the records that were being used to test the station - sound details you don’t usually hear in a crowded space, let alone a noisy club.
All was very calm and even quite serene, the ideal moment to discover the listening station and allow myself to be immersed in its unique analogue listening experience. I put “I’m New Here” on the Technics SP 10 turntable and placed the AT headphones with ebony wood cups on my ears. I know the album quite well but listening to it on the station was like rediscovering the music and giving a new life to the already rich tones of Gil Scott-Heron’s voice. Simply listening to the introduction of one song was enough to notice this. Swapping the ebony headphones for ones with titanium metal cups I reminded myself once again, even after over 20 years of experience as an acoustics consultant, that wood is the supreme material for acoustics.
It was late in the afternoon and outside dark clouds were looming in the spring sky, yet the sun was still peeking through, giving the rooftop terrace a ‘bord de mer’ feeling, as if we were by the coast in Brittany. Guests were beginning to gather under the canopy on the seventh floor, admiring the stunning view of Montmartre and waiting for the talk about the aesthetics of analogue to begin.
Panelists were Elsa Boublil, musical journalist and host of the Musique Emoi show on France Musique, David Godevais, President of CALIF (the organisation that supports French independent record shops), Jérôme Caron aka Blackjoy, electronic music producer and sound engineer for Red Bull Music Academy and Theo Veret, DJ and part of the Paris collective La Mamie’s.
The talk flowed openly between the panelists, with everyone agreeing not to oppose analogue and digital but rather embracing the two in a “best of both worlds” approach. Jérôme Caron spoke passionately about the analogue approach in the studio, and how ‘mistakes’ that arose from the recording of certain albums in one take had often become their strongest points. Elsa Boublil talked about how she liked to take the time to play all the way through a piece of music chosen by her guests on her show. David explained the success of Record Store Day and Theo mentioned the parallel between analogue and the slow food movement. As the audience commented, questioned and celebrated the aesthetic of analogue in all its beauty, it occurred to me that we were touching on something a little more profound. As Elsa Boublil had previously said, perhaps analogue is about taking the time to devote your attention fully to what you have in your hands or in your ears.
Before heading for a few refreshments, I concluded my moderation of the talk by reading the words of Gil Scott Heron on the inner sleeve of "I’m New Here” which go like this :
“There is a proper procedure for taking advantage of any investment.
Music for example. Buying music is an investment.
To get the maximum you must
LISTEN TO IT FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER OPTIMUM CONDITIONS.
Not in your car or on a portable player through a headset.
Take it home.
Get rid of all distractions (even her or him).
Turn off your cell phone.
Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles.
Make yourself comfortable.
Play your LP.
LISTEN all the way through.
Think about what you got.
Think about who would appreciate this investment.
Decide if there is someone to share this with.
Turn it on again.
Downstairs in the club, I warmed up the dancefloor as guests started to switch from listening to dance mode. The DJ set-up included the DJR400, the famous handmade portable rotary mixer, kindly lent to us by the maker himself, Paris-based Jérôme Barbé, and part designed by the DJ that was to follow, DJ Deep. Warming up a room as a DJ is a great feeling, you are building the foundations for the night, the dancefloor is still quite empty, you can really see who is dancing and interact more intimately with them. Paris has one of the best “club” dance scenes in the world and some of these dancers came down to party: Waackers, Vogueurs from the Houses of Mizrahi and Ninja and members of pioneering Paris House Dance collective O’Trip House. Dance is an oft-neglected part of DJ-obsessed club culture, but for me bringing back dance to the centre of the club is like going back to the source, exploring communication with the body rather than the mind and the word. DJ Deep finished the night off by playing a slamming set of House, Techno and Disco to a vibrant dance floor of guests who had come expressly to sweat, and the mid-week jam finished with a warm round of applause from all, not only for the DJ but for everyone involved.
Later in the week I went to check out the listening station once again, this time in the warm settings of Superfly Records, a Paris store specialized in second hand and new Jazz, Soul, Afro, Disco and Latin vinyl. Needless to say, thanks to the sound enhancing qualities of the listening station and the expert advice of shop owner Manu Boublil I treated myself to a bag full of vinyl from Brazil, South Africa, Cape Verde and Cameroon! The listening station has now moved on to another destination to spread the beauty of analogue, and perhaps also help people understand that magic is revealed when you listen carefully.