Monday, November 11, 2013

U DIG IT?: Steve Becker digitizes Miles Davis's 1965 recording At Plugged Nickel, Chicago Vol. 2

The James R. and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection presents

the neUmann DIGITization project
Beginning in fall 2013, we're giving interested students the chance to choose an LP to digitize from the ca. 50,000 jazz-related recordings currently in the Neumann Jazz Collection and then to answer a few brief questions about their experience.  If you'd like to be a part of the project, you can find out more information. Today our post is by Steve Becker (OC '15), who chose the 1976 Japanese release [At Plugged Nickel, Chicago Vol. 2 (CBS Sony 25AP 291)] of Miles Davis's famous 1965 live recording.

Why in general did you want to take part in this project?
As a musician, CD collector, record enthusiast, and student-employee of the Neumann collection, I’ve grown to care more and more about the process of record digitization, especially when it comes to the preservation of 1950s and 60s jazz records that are rare or seemingly headed towards extinction. This music, in vinyl format, is timelessly important, and so is the act of maintaining it.

Why did you choose this particular record?
I chose the Plugged Nickel recordings because, to me, they epitomize the art of spontaneous composition as executed with masterful fluidity and grace. You can hear the band members pushing themselves beyond what’s comfortable, taking creative risks with harmony, melody, time and form in every solo. The group functions as an open-minded unit whose music echoes a variety of styles, ranging from the soulful aesthetics of blues and swing music to the modern aesthetics of abstract improvisation and non-vernacular language. The result is an epic frenzy of improvisation that turns standard ‘American Songbook’ tunes into wide-open landscapes of sound, shaped both by head-turning harmonic imposition and cathartic lyricism.

How was this experience different from simply locating an existing digital version of the LP on YouTube or Spotify?
Digitizing this collection of the Plugged Nickel recordings allowed me to hear and feel the music in a new way. I specifically chose to digitize the second volume of a Japanese reissue released in 1976 (more than 20 years before the box set came out) with only a handful of the recordings from the actual concert. This slightly limited version of the record offered me a new presentation of the music that resulted from the natural sound of wax as well as the different track order, spliced recordings (on the last track, “Yesterdays – The Theme”), and those sweet vinyl hissing noises and pops.

What musically stood out to you as you listened to the recording? 
Listening to the Plugged Nickel on vinyl was far different from my first listening experience to the sprawling 7-disc box set. Event though these recordings are a bootleg in both formats, the vinyl offers a noticeably fuller sound that accentuates everything from instrumental clarity to audience interaction. I could more clearly hear the low-range frequencies of Ron Carter’s bass, the high to mid-range frequencies of Tony Williams's cymbals, and the quiet humming of “Stella by Starlight” by whoever happened to be sitting close enough to the recording device.

Can other students listen to the LP now that it's been digitized? 
Yes, just click here and, when prompted, enter your ObieID and password. If you're off campus, you'll need to authenticate using Oberlin's VPN.