Tuesday, 6 May 2014

My passion for music

I know that I am totally out of touch with the mainstream print media when I miss interesting stories such as this, which does not appear in the newspapers' main pages. This particular feature in The Star appeared quite some time ago on the 19th of April, which makes it, what, 17 days ago? Yup, 17 days ago and I just noticed it today. And I would have missed it too if I had not been trying to catch up with the stack of old newspapers in the storeroom before chucking them away.

And what's this particular feature that I missed? A story about how Record Store Day was being celebrated here in Malaysia. Record Store Day is a movement that is slowly gaining momentum around the world as more and more people are starting to recognise the versatility of music on vinyl records and getting around to adopt the medium again. Which, where I am concerned, is both good news and bad news.

The bad news is that there are now more people who are going to compete with me in searching for rare old gems among the second-hand record stores, and prices are bound to creep upwards as demand starts overtaking the supply. While the good news is knowing that the vinyl record revival can only lend credence to long-time hobbyists' reluctance to give up on his music format despite the challenges.

When I was still staying in Seang Tek Road at the peripheral of the city of George Town, Penang, my father and I started getting into music and buying records either in the late 50s or the early 60s.

I remember that one day, he brought home a radiogram which consisted of a PYE radio and a Garrard turntable. It was the pride of the family when we sat it in the hall. Our collection of records was very modest. Later, we bought a HiFi system comprising a Lenco turntable, a non-descript amplifier of unknown quality and two humungous speakers. In those days, we tend to impress people by the size of the speakers: the bigger, the better, never mind the sound quality.

When we moved to Zoo Road in Ayer Itam, there wasn't space to keep our HiFi system and we had to pack them away. At first, we were toying with the idea of throwing away the records as they were bulky and heavy but a voice in me told me to pack them up in a wooden crate. Thank goodness for that! But as a reminder of our music, I had brought along the Lenco turntable although I couldn't hook it up to any amplifier. The turntable followed us when we moved first to the Siakap area and then to the Semilang area of Seberang Jaya next. But it remained in the storeroom with the crate of records which was now back in my possession.

While living in the Semilang area, I decided to resuscitate my HiFi system and set it up in the master bedroom. I still didn't have an amplifier or a pair of good speakers, and resorted to channel the music through one of those Sony integrated music systems. Then I discovered that the age-old Lenco turntable was alread on its last legs. Perhaps not, if I had the presence of mind to bring it to a competent audio repair shop to service it. But the problem was, I did not know where to turn. So one day, I decided to simply throw it away. That was a big mistake and I really regret it now.

For a while I was searching for a replacement turntable and one day, I heard that an audio shop had a second-hand Rega Planar 3 available. That turntable eventually ended up with me. When I was in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting in the late 80s, I picked up a Bose Acoustimass 5 speaker system from their showroom in Petaling Jaya. Everything fell into place when finally, I bought a Technics integrated amplifier. My new HiFi system was complete. I could listen to my records again.

Of course, when I couldn't listen to my records in the 70s and 80s, I had turned to listening to cassettes. Like everyone else, I found the walkmans to be so convenient. I think that I may have played through, spoilt and discarded three or four walkman players. I also had those radio cassette players with attached external speakers that were starting to become popular. The Sony brand was of course the mainstay but other brands that I used included Aiwa, Denon and Philips. In particular, I liked the Denon best of all for its fantastic sound reproduction.

With the advent of the compact discs, there was no stopping me from buying a dedicated CD player. The first player that I bought was the Arcam One. It proved very reliable but I really disliked the noise from the transport whenever the CD tray opened or closed. But eventually, I had to have this CD player put aside when I couldn't get its laser serviced or repaired satisfactorily. CD tracks kept skipping and some of my CDs could not be read at all. My latest CD player is a second-hand NAD.

Oh yes, for a brief period, I was also caught up with the Minidisc craze and actually had a MD deck with me. And I also went through two or three portable minidisc players too. Unfortunately, the Minidisc never really caught on and I am now landed with a big box of unusable minidiscs because I've nothing to play them with and minidisc players are no longer in production. Sad.

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