Passions and Obsessions

The ‘plaka’ and I actually go way back

33 1/3 rpm records by Abba, Burt Bacharach, The Beatles—There is only one reason the vinyl record will continue to hold its own

“Punta ka lang. Di ka naman pipiliting bumili.” That was how a well-meaning friend positioned his invitation to Analog 101, a one-off meet-up cum seminar for new and long-time Pinoy vinyl hobbyists from all walks of life. I remembered that 2009 seminar after hearing the news that the November Hi-Fi Show, the much bigger annual exhibit of analog and digital audio hardware and software, will finally resume after two years.

Even then, vinyl collecting was already an expensive proposition, so I initially ignored the invitation. But like the typical Pinoy, I relented after more prodding. As for my friend’s disclaimer, he was right. I was not forced to buy anything.  After hemming and hawing, I took home a near-mint German-pressed vinyl copy of Sting’s …Nothing like the Sun (1987).

Truth be told, the “plaka” (i.e., Filipino for vinyl record) and I actually go way back. Thanks to my father’s almost daily ritual of capping a working day by playing vinyl records. This would typically start with my mother preparing my father’s favorite “dilis” with the obligatory spiced vinegar.  Papa would then open an ice-cold bottle of San Miguel and head for the sala.

There, the inviting aroma of his favorite “pulutan” was no match to the distinct scent of vintage and new vinyl once he started rifling through his modest collection of 33 1/3 rpm records by Abba, Burt Bacharach, The Beatles, The Cascades, and Fleetwood Mac, among others.  OPM was ably  represented by the Apo Hiking Society,  Cinderella, Dulce, Freddie Aguilar, Nonoy Zuñiga and the like.

Looking back, I now realize that long before I discovered the engaging record reviews of  Jingle and Rolling Stone, I learned how to review records from my father. No, he did not launch into incisive analyses of this or that record a la Juaniyo Arcellana or Eric Caruncho. Instead, he reviewed music by showing me, instead of telling me,  how to really listen to music.

The author’s father record hunting during his schooling in the US. Note the albums by Dan Fogelberg on the wall and Jane Fonda on one of the racks.

The author’s father as a young F-5 pilot based in Basa Air Base, Pampanga.

The Carpenters’ Jambalaya (On the Bayou) meant his day went real well 

Depending on how his day went, Papa would choose the record to play for the evening. The Carpenters’ Jambalaya (On the Bayou) meant his day went real well. Matt Monro’s Who Can I Turn To? was code for the opposite. He would then take his sweet time gazing at the front and back album art of the former’s Now and Then (1973) or the latter’s The Very Best of… (1974) as if it was his first time to play the record—even if often, it wasn’t. Only then would he carefully pull out the vinyl from its sleeve. Before  placing the record on the platter, he would ever so slowly wipe his favorite side using the round green record cleaner he bought from Cubao. For good measure, he would hold the record on its edges to scrutinize the grooves for dust or dirt while whistling the melody of the lead track with anticipation. Satisfied with his “ocular” inspection, he would let the record settle on the built-in turntable of our National Quadrosonic—our family’s most prized appliance that took Papa years to save up for with his meager government pay—nudge the Play lever and finally sit next to Mama…to listen.

On some nights, Frank Sinatra’s light baritone would beckon my parents to Fly Me to the Moon.  On other nights, Henry Mancini’s deft orchestration would coax them to  dance to Moon River. Sometimes I would chance upon them reminiscing to Susan Fuentes’ melancholic Usahay. At other times, I would find them basking in the soaring harmonies of Asin’s Masdan Mo ang Kapaligiran even as the band warned of what we now know as climate change.

The records would differ from one evening to the next, but the end result was always the same. As the pops and crackles of analog sound ushered  the words and music of the evening’s featured singer/songwriter,  the unmistakable  warm and round sound of the “plaka” would envelop my parents and transport them through space and time. That was how I  remember deciphering the peaceful and easy look on my parents’ faces as they listened to Jose Mari Chan waxing philosophical in Constant Change or Barbra Streisand singing about better days Somewhere.

Sound Trip was how those who grew up in the ’70s would call it—an apt way to describe the bliss that accompanies the vinyl listening experience. Perhaps this is why decades later,  I can so easily  turn to vinyl to retreat from the 21st century’s VUCA world, be it through Adele’s  plea to go  Easy on Me or Ebe Dancel’s discovery of his why via Bawat Daan. 

The author and his ‘plaka’

Much has been written about the continuing resurgence of the “plaka.” In the end, I think there is only one reason the vinyl record will continue to hold its own despite the ease and affordability offered by streaming. It remains unrivaled in engaging all but one of our five senses even in this day and age. As such, the plaka is the ultimate tangible reminder in an increasingly digitized world that “music” as the philosopher Gabriel Marcel once wrote, “is not an instrument.  It has its value in itself, a value greater than all ideas. It is of its essence to be its own end.” 

About author

Articles

He is a graduate student of UP Diliman and Harvard Extension School. He taught philosophy at Ateneo and UP Cebu.

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