John Lardas Modern (I almost typed “Vardas”—let’s call it an accidental homage to Agnès Varda, who is someone I think about when I think about those weird spaces at the edge of realism, when you fall into pure perspective and some sort of spiritual fizzing or its harsher alternative; anyhow, she was one of five people present at Jim Morrison’s burial, so I am filing my moment of misprision as subliminally relevant) has a really interesting website. In addition to penning Secularism in Antebellum America and serving as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame, Modern is a curator and vinyl collector. Interested, interesting.
His Vinyl Prayers Project, “a virtual mix-tape of vinyl prayer,” allows him to (and for the most part—seamlessly) blend those identities into the persona of a monkishly meditative steward of tracks repressed and unhinged from pop culture that hover in the realm of what he defines as prayer, or, “a weapon, a request to heal the body or boost the brain, an epistemic cry, a meditation, a mediation, a quip, a plea, a means of passive resistance, a wonderful gift from God.” Like for all collectors and most seekers, there is a strange borderland to cross between obsession and devotion, and this is likely the archive you’d desire to listen to again and again if you were to spend the rest of your life, say, chanting that eerily conversational single-line opening from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (“Turn it up.“) as your Vedic mantra; i.e., it’s great.
There is something about vinyl that brings the medium of sound recording to the fore—all the gears and belt drives and chemicals and heat and engineering propositions and amplification strategies. You are not listening to the illusion of presence, but to the presence as it lives—imperfectly, which is to say not wholly present to itself or you—in the world. Materiality, here, does not corrupt some imagined authenticity—you in a small room and the voice or instrument quite literally in your ear as you listen in that small room—but rather a steampunk materiality is the message, a palpable mechanical blur which negates the very possibility of imagining authenticity. Listening, in and to this process, becomes revelatory.
There is an energy to these songs and selections. Even as they are digitally reproduced for you, dear listener. Instructions are included.
For this is what I am calling vinyl prayer—the act of trained listening to vinyl and, specifically, listening to those songs and selections on vinyl that formally and/or affectively implore the listener to move against and beyond, to encounter an otherness that refuses reduction, to somehow, and miraculously, satisfy the desire to be someone or someplace else, at least for a moment.
There’s a lot to take in here—as Modern suggests, at least until you “walk over and nudge the needle.”
Read more about Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America here.