The Sound of Secrecy: What’s So Appealing about Vinyl?
It is always exciting to witness rebellion – assuming it’s non-violent. Even if you are the most rule-abiding conformist, the goodiest of goody-two-shoes, you’ll surely feel a light electric thrill run up your spine when you see defiant behaviour. There’s something utterly captivating in it. And the rebels themselves… phew! What admiration they provoke, what romantic folk heroes they become, these curious creatures who dare to do different.
Cédric D’Hondt and Christopher Denruyter are two such characters whose friendship of thirty years and shared passion for experimental music led them to launch their own music label, Matière Mémoire, four years ago. This record company is resolutely independent, with an emphasis on vinyl releases. Not much to see here, you might think. But don’t be so hasty. Their philosophy reveals revolutionary traces.
‘I left cities sixteen years ago to live in the countryside. I’m motivated by a search for ataraxia,’ Cédric tells us. ‘I like to take time for reflection and the label’s productions. I think it’s urgent and essential to reclaim time and find the paths to contemplation and tranquillity.’
Cédric is a purist who believes that technology has interfered with composition.
Cédric is a purist who believes that technology has interfered with composition. ‘For decades, indiscriminate digitalisation has treated art as an object of consumption. Music has been particularly abused by digital media, losing part of its soul and its sacredness in the process.’ This is one of the reasons he believes physical copies are special, though he is hardly alone in this.
The vinyl has been experiencing mega-resurgence for a while. UK sales reached 4.8 million records sold in 2020 (the highest number in 30 years), and 2021 saw a further increase with a whopping 5.3 million LPs purchased. These figures alone show how valuable vinyl is to the entertainment sector. They also challenge the popular assumption that we’ve exclusively descended – as mankind – into binge-watching sinkholes. ‘This return to the love of craftsmanship is very encouraging for independent producers like us,’ Cédric comments.
Our daily life is accompanied by incidental noise and varying decibels. It is sound-tracked by dominos of three-minute loops which we absorb unconsciously from shops and restaurants. Cédric believes that this kind of intake ‘restricts and hence damages the perception of music’, and often reduces it to ‘data collection.’ But the commodification goes deeper than that. With AI-curated music consumption we become part of the product too.
If, for instance, you overhear a tune being played in a shop you’re passing, chances are it’s laced with ‘ultrasonic beacons’. These are sound frequencies inaudible to humans, so they can be embedded into any form of audio, transmitted, then picked up by microphones in mobiles. That means just by virtue of having a phone on you, your shopping can be location-tracked by the shop itself, or by some other, shadier, force.
It’s accurate enough to determine how long you lingered in a certain aisle, or what display window you stood in front of. If you use a bank card to buy anything clever marketeers can inspect an alarmingly precise log of your movements to figure out exactly how many times you heard about the product, on what platforms, at what time of day, and how long it took you to buy. Then they tweak the formula to try and get you to the till even faster. Music is being exploited, used as a decoy to manipulate us.
Music is being exploited, used as a decoy to manipulate us.
It is hard to stomach all this subtext when you just want to listen to your favourite song. But even what becomes your ‘favourite’ will be guided by tech giants if you let them. When Spotify launched in 2008 – now existing as the world’s most popular audio streaming service with 365 million active monthly users as of June 2021 – it did nothing to stimulate or challenge listers. With playlist curations based off our moods people are pushed further into autopilot.
Matière Mémoire, meanwhile, is fixed on reversing the trend and reviving profound musical emotions in human bodies. Cédric insists it’s important for us to enter a deep intimacy with music, and to take the time to savour it. ‘It’s a key reason why we’re focused on the production of complex and creative music; music that calls for taking a break from the pace of modern life. It is almost a political act to encourage listeners to free their time in an age where pervasive acceleration alienates us.’
Do we even know how to take time for ourselves? Our late-stage capitalist world keeps us on a hamster wheel, conditions our behaviour. We should hop off. Don’t work harder. Don’t fight for the promotion. All of these are the marks of a throwaway age that has fried our attention spans and tried to erase talent with artificially generated bleeps and bloops. Instead of pushing to succeed in this infrastructure, Matière Mémoire wants you to sit down; and listen.
Working with artists Cédric and Christopher admire, such as Phill Niblock, Charlemagne Palestine, Hampus Lindwall and Carlos Casas, they execute ingenious projects. In 2020, a series called MMXX (2020 in Latin) was conceived and launched, in which twenty artists created a new twenty-minute piece for the A side of an LP, and an illustration laser-etched onto the B side. Jim O’Rourke, Stephen O’Malley and Shiva Feshareki were some of the contributors. ‘I dare to hope that through the sumptuous work of our artists we contribute a little to the happiness of our listeners.’ Cédric says.
‘MMXX was an indirect homage to Raster Noton’s (a German experimental music label) work leading into 2000’, Christopher explains. Christopher’s background is in applied maths and derivatives trading, yet this serious CV does an injustice to the playfulness and inquisitive spirit of this co-founder. A long-time lover of avantgarde music, he pensively continues, ‘It’s very strange for me to see the experimental stuff from the late 1990s that everybody hated and I loved suddenly get recognition. We’re betting on more of this open-mindedness with the label, and some social trends show it’s likely to go that way. There are more abstract sounds in mainstream pop; more general interest in art, meditation and psychedelics. I see these things as connected, as clues to where we’re headed.’
Matière Mémoire is ultimately the by-product of the founders’ yearning to reconnect the listener and the sound so others can experience the enjoyment they do. ‘We are moving towards productions that are ever more refined. We have no consumerist desire,’ Cédric states emphatically. It’s their missing obsession with churning profit that makes them true contrarians in the current landscape of materialist-mania. Though the tide is slowly turning, and it’s exciting to watch. We certainly won’t be taking our eyes off Matière Mémoire anytime soon… they are the forerunners of a more thoughtful future.
Find out more on the Matière Mémoire website
For download codes of Phill Niblock’s Exploratory Vol 1 & 2, please email LONDNR at email@example.com
For more info on the individual artists and their work in London, follow the links on individual names