Digital Music, Analog Cooking

Back in 2010, before the Foos began recording Wasting Light, and the album was still in its conceptual stage, Dave Grohl conveyed to producer Butch Vig his vision for a different kind of album. According to this 2011 article from writer Tom Doyle, in Sound on Sound magazine, Dave wanted to go back to recording basics.

Rather than recording in a state-of-the-art studio, he wanted to record at home; specifically, in his garage. And he wanted to record everything on tape, rather than digitally. Recording to tape is the old-fashioned, analog process, and most artists don’t use it anymore.

Vig was skeptical at first, but warmed to the idea, thinking that once all the tracks were recorded, they could be transferred to a digital format and cleaned up. Which was exactly what Dave didn’t want.

“Butch said,” Grohl remembers, “‘If we run into any real trouble we can always dump it into Pro Tools.’ I said, ‘No no no no, dude. No fucking computers. Not one computer. None.’ Personally, I’ve always preferred using tape, because I like the sound of human performance. I don’t like the mechanical, perfectionist attitude to making music.”

Vig agreed, but issued a caveat: “That means you guys have to be razorsharp tight. You’ve gotta be so well rehearsed, ’cause I can’t fix anything. I can’t paste drum fills and choruses around. This is gonna be a record about performance, about how you guys play.”

It was a calculated risk that paid off. Many fans and critics consider Wasting Light to be the band’s finest work. It is the album that got me hooked on these guys, after all, so I’m inclined to agree. Sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best.

Not every technological advance is necessarily an improvement on every process, although you can make the argument that there are advantages to both old methods and new ones.

I’ve become something of a slave to my iPod, and I love the convenience of having all my music available to me in a handy, compact device. If I want something new, it’s just a digital download away. But that’s really just about storage options. Digital music is just easier. It’s better than toting around a notebook full of CDs. Or tape cases for our cassettes, or even bigger tape cases for our 8-track tapes, if you grew up in the dark ages like me.

Many of the most devout audiophiles insist on vinyl. There’s something to be said for the slightly scratchy and authentic sound of music from a vinyl record. I’d love to have an extensive vinyl collection, but I haven’t had an operational turntable since the late 80s. Maybe someday. For now, I’m happy to have my music portable and at the ready. As authentic and amazing as vinyl is, you can’t tote your collection around in your back pocket.

If I had to choose, however, I’d say I’m an analog girl at heart.

As much as I appreciate the convenience of e-readers, especially for folks who travel a lot and don’t want to carry books and magazines with them, I much prefer to settle in with a real book. I like books. I like the way they smell when you crack the pages. I like to wander through a bookstore and find a new story to disappear into. I like that you can still go into a library and check out a book. Books provide the ultimate environmentally-friendly, recyclable pastime.

I love crossword puzzles. Even though they are available online, I want my crossword experience to be analog. I want to sit down with a section of newspaper and a sharp pencil and enjoy the challenge. Always a pencil, never a pen. Even after working the New York Times crossword puzzle daily for most of the last 15 years, I know better than to be that cocky. Mistakes will be made. That’s part of the process. Like making music or baking a cake. Anything that requires one’s own handiwork is subject to error.

When it comes to cooking, another favorite pastime, there’s really no way to classify kitchen tasks as analog or digital. There are old-fashioned ways of doing things in the kitchen, and there are kitchen hacks and shortcuts that save time and effort. Both schools have their merits. I guess in that sense I’m an analog/digital hybrid.

I don’t own a butter churn, but I do own a microwave. It saves both time and energy and has numerous practical applications. I have my fabulous, nearly 30 year-old KitchenAid mixer -The Beast, which you may have met before – but I’m a whiz with a whisk too, and there are some things that just need hand-blending. One of the most requested desserts I fix is a delectable flourless chocolate cake that must be prepared with a food processor, but my most recent kitchen purchase was a marble mortar and pestle. You can’t get much more analog than that.

I try to use methods and materials that make food taste the best. I don’t have any objection to shortcuts, but I prefer to use the ones that save time without affecting flavor. Consider whipped cream, for example. Ahhhh, whipped cream!

If I have a recipe that calls for a tub of Cool Whip, and there are several layered desserts and pies that do, I’ll use it. I don’t object to keeping a can of spray whipped cream in the fridge, either, especially if I’m serving brownies and ice cream, or some other sundae-type dish that might be improved by a spritz on top. Kids like canned whipped cream, so it’s fine for kid-friendly desserts and parties.

But if I’m going to the trouble to make my mother’s spectacular chocolate ice box pie, or the aforementioned flourless chocolate cake, which is covered in whipped cream before serving (this is the dessert my husband refers to as “Sex on a Plate”, just FYI), I’m going to get a carton of cream and whip it with a pinch of sugar and some vanilla extract. Because a high-caliber dessert deserves real whipped cream.

And speaking of vanilla extract, I’m adamant about using real Mexican vanilla. You just can’t get better than that. I won’t use anything else. It’s a rule in my kitchen. If you’ve not tried it, do. If you’re not going to Mexico, you can find it on Amazon. La Vencedora is my current favorite. Real vanilla, not vanilla flavoring. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.

A frozen pie crust is perfectly acceptable when you’re short on time (I prefer Pet-Ritz, personally), but nothing is better than a homemade crust, and they aren’t that tough to make. It just takes a little time. Likewise, I have many good dessert recipes that start with a cake mix as their base, but I find a cake built from scratch to be more satisfying. Even when that cake doesn’t come out perfectly, it still seems to taste better because I put a little more of myself into it.

I guess it’s like Butch said. It really is all about the performance, and giving it your all. Mistakes may be made, but perfection is highly overrated anyway.


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