Airports are peculiar places, full of noise. Crowded seating halls, humming machines, strange people in starched uniforms behaving starchly, ready to rub their hands up and down your inner thighs.
Underwood was born in an airport two years ago. At the top of an escalator a man was carrying a portable gramophone. Not a regular LP player but a wind up gramophone. He had a specially adjustable belt to balance the object and a long side pocket full of 78 records, which he would dust off meticulously before playing. Something like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. The noise produced by the gramophone was startling amid the Starbucks chatter, an unapologetic, squeaky symphony. As he waddled along in search of his gate number, the man smiled in a way I hadn’t seen anyone do so for some time. Boarding at my own gate sometime later I began to wonder if my iPhone, purchased weeks before, was not the revolution I had hoped but simply another humming machine, one that I willingly put in my pocket to vibrate every quarter hour. Maybe I didn’t want my playlist to shuffle or too know where I was standing on a digital map. Maybe I just wanted to touch something, hold something, to hear a story without the alien, digital gloss.
I wrote to Toby Litt, a wonderful writer I had meet recently, and asked if he would be interested in reading one of his short stories for a vinyl record. Was the idea crazy? I asked. Yes, he said, but that’s why it’ll work. Everything fell into place after that when I contacted Clare Wigfall, another inimitably talented short story writer, and she agreed to record a story too. With the help of the designer Emily Chicken, the Underwood logo and font type was mulled over before we decided on Gil Sans. We sent both stories to American graphic artist Jordan Crane who enthusiastically interpreted them in green, brown and black. When the record was delivered it was a joy to see the final object, which opens out like a story book with giant images of a bird and hare.
Why produce stories on vinyl when you could record a podcast, create an app, or send haiku’s out on twitter? Because podcasts can’t get dusty or fingerprinted or scratched. Because apps don’t crackle or get caught in a groove. Because tweeting and reading tweets is often a joyless task, a bombardment of information that leaves me feeling dull, uninspired. If you don’t own a record player, I encourage you to buy one, or seek out a friend who might have one. It has been my experience that little compares to the very-peopled sound of a vinyl LP.
This is the first Underwood record. We plan to do more. Would you like to touch something, hold something, hear the crackle of a story in sound?