When 100 copies of a single album are played on vinyl at the same time, they start off sounding harmonious but rapidly descend into chaos.
For an example of this, check out artist Rutherford Chang's 2013 New York City exhibition "We Buy White Albums." Chang collected hundreds of copies of The Beatles (better known as the "White Album") and placed them on display. Some records and sleeves were in perfect condition. Some were destroyed. Each of them was a physical representation of the person who had owned it. He also recorded each of the 100 records playing simultaneously to show how warped and scratched and changed each of the pieces of vinyl music had become.
The messy cacophonous sound Chang creates could never be made with digital music. No Spotify single or Soundcloud recording has a blip or a scratch that pauses the song in the middle. Only a physical version of a song can be flawed, and that might be part of the growing nostalgia for vinyl.
Sales of vinyl records shot up 32 percent in 2013 alone, according to data gathered by Statista. In June, Jack White's new album, Lazaretto, quickly became the highest selling vinyl album since Pearl Jam's Vitalogy in 1994. Yet as we have written in the past, vinyl doesn't sound any better than CDs do.
Why has vinyl seen such a renaissance in the last decade? Spin magazine argued that vinyl never really died, while The Week argued that nostalgia is driving purchases. "It is just cooler than a download," Steve Redmond, a spokesman for Britain's annual Record Store Day, told The Economist.
But one reason vinyl and even cassette tapes may be experiencing such a comeback is because they are actual physical objects. Unlike a piece of digital music, vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and CDs are all objects that can create nostalgic memories not just about the songs they play, but the way those songs are played. These physical media become literal records of the lives they and you have lived, bumps and bruises, moves and changes. That's much harder to do with bits of information that exist in the cloud.