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Get real! A new book takes the analog argument far beyond vinyl

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Smith Galtney

Considering the number of recent vinyl-revival articles clogging up your local lifestyle section (and this magazine, admittedly)—not to mention the small libraries of record-fetish tomes that already exist—a new book about it might seem unnecessary at this point. But David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter scores by digging deeper than the vinyl boom and detailing why other concrete devices—film, paper, board games—are resurging as our material lives get sucked further into the Cloud.

In addition to visiting United Record Pressing—the country’s largest vinyl factory, located in Nashville, Tennessee—Sax heads to Italy to hang with the makers of Moleskine notebooks in Milan and visit one of the world’s oldest film manufacturers in Cairo Montenotte. (The latter was recently restored at great risk; filmmaking chemicals are deadly.) Then it’s off to Snakes & Lattes café in Toronto, where a hardcore board-gaming night draws lines around the block, and then back to London, where thriving independent bookstores continue to belie the cliché that digital has killed print. Even Paperless Post—a company founded back in 2009, when pens and pencils were endangered species—now credits half of its activity to paper-related business.

The book’s title is a tad misleading, as analog isn’t anywhere close to replacing digital, but the two have learned to scratch one another’s back. One designer recalls the week his firm first received Photoshop, and how the quality of his team’s designs declined overnight. “After a few months of this, [the office] gave out Moleskine notebooks and banned the use of Photoshop in the first week’s work on a project,” writes Sax, adding that those handwritten results were then transferred to a computer for fine-tuning. “It was so successful, this policy remains in place today.”

There’s a similar hand-in-hand aesthetic with film. Recognizing that digital’s immediate results and infinite possibilities can be a creative setback, director Harmony Korine prefers to shoot on film; his cast has 10 minutes to get it right, so it had better be on. But when Marc Maron recently asked him if he still edits with an old Steenbeck flatbed, Korine laughed: “No way, man, that would be crazy!” It’s analog for the first draft, digital for the rewrite.

Wisely, Sax avoids the “Which is better?” question. Film doesn’t automatically make a finer picture than a digital sensor, and there are mountains of LPs out there that sound far worse than their CD counterparts. Two of my recent impulse purchases—new vinyl pressings of The Church’s Starfish and Iris Dement’s My Life on Plain Recordings—sounded so bad I did something my record-hoarding brain rarely permits: I returned them, then pulled out my old CDs. In that moment I came to the realization that I’ve become that guy in the famous New Yorker cartoon, showing off his turntable to a friend with the caption, “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience.”

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