Long-Play Comfort Sounds

What does a roaring fire, crispy bacon, a rainy day, and an LP record have in common? I'll give you a moment to ponder that. Meanwhile, on a related note, let me opine that the best thing about LPs isn't their high sound quality. It's their lack of it. Let me explain.

Last time, it was 4 AM and we pulled off the road to get some coffee at that culinary cathedral of comfort food — Waffle House. This time, let's consider the question of comfort sounds.

Comfort Sound #1: A Roaring Fire. Chain back through your family tree until you arrive at your earliest ancestor, crouched before a fire. In a cold and cruel world, fire is everything. It lights the darkness, it fends off wild animals, it warms you. Since the beginning of human life, the sound of fire, that crackling of embers, has been much more than just another sound — it has been the foundational sound of civilization itself.

Comfort Sound #2: Crispy Bacon. You ancestor has killed a wild pig and is now roasting it. The grease in the meat, harboring the same cholesterol that will clog your arteries, hits the fire and makes the most wonderful sound — those sizzling and popping sounds whet your appetite like nothing else. When you are hungry, that is the most delicious sound ever.

Comfort Sound #3: A Rainy Day. It's a cold and rainy day and your ancestor is crouched under a thatched roof. He looks out to see the unlucky ones shivering in the rain, soaking wet and thoroughly miserable. But he is inside, warm and cozy — next to his fire, eating bacon. The sound of rain on a roof — a reassuring sound, the sound of safety and shelter. Not convinced? I could point you to a zillion recordings of ambient sounds featuring the sound of rain because it is so soothing.

Comfort Sound #4: An LP record. Blow gently across the vinyl surface, center the disc on the platter, and start the stylus on its journey of spiraling happiness. What a wonderful, comforting sound. But wait a minute. Why does vinyl sound so comforting? I'll tell you why — it's because of the surface noise endemic to analog records. Because for the past million years, the most comfortable sounds were the crackles and sizzles and pitter patter that signified warmth, food, safety. And today, your LP is comforting because when you drag a rock across plastic, in addition to a vague sensation of music, it sounds just like meat on the fire and rain on a roof.

Still not buying it? Consider this: When CDs were first introduced, hardcore audiophiles complained that the digital sound was cold and sterile — soulless, they said. They were not complaining that the CD added something objectionable. They complained that CDs were missing something. Objectively, the only things CDs were missing were things that were extra to the actual recording — in particular — surface noise. CDs lacked that all-important, reassuring, comfort sound. Without it, the hardcore audiophiles felt naked and afraid.

Non-intuitively, sometimes the very worst aspect of something is actually its most valuable and desirable quality. In particular, those unavoidable defects of LP records are its most endearing quality. Surface noise is not a bug. It's a feature.

Today, now that digital audio has become pervasive, the surface noise of analog audio has largely disappeared and over time, will be forgotten. A fire without crackle? Bacon without the sizzle? A rainy day without the pitter patter? A record without noise? That's sad. Well, channeling my best Humphrey Bogart, we'll always have Rice Krispies.

trynberg's picture

Ha, Mr. Pohlmann, you are weird in the best of ways. The first thing I thought of when I finished reading this was watching film. The grain and 24 FPS is so comfortable and embedded that modern movies shot digitally and/or at a higher frame rate just do not look right.

barfle's picture

How many of us miss the scan lines, the Moire effects of the color carrier, and that lovely interlace movement we used to trace on the screen as a kid?

Yes, occasionally a bit of white or pink noise is restful, and I still love my vinyl. Methinks this article is about five months early.

davidjwillson's picture

I totally get where you're coming from. When it comes to watching movies for free online, one platform that often comes to mind is Kanopy. It's a streaming service that partners with libraries and universities, offering a wide range of movies for free porno with a library card. Another option is Pluto TV, which has a decent selection of movies and operates on an ad-supported model, so you don't have to pay. Just keep in mind that the library of available titles may vary depending on your location. Hope that helps!