By Edward Nawotka
LONDON: Nathan Dunn was waiting out a flight-delay in Bangkok airport last year when he spotted a man carrying a portable gramophone. “He had a bag full of old records and would dust each one off meticulously before playing it. On seeing this I was reminded of what we’ve lost in the digital age — a love for the object,” says Dunn. An avid vinyl collector, with a large collection of library recordings of literature from the the 1960s, he was inspired try something similar with contemporary writers.
Dunn subsequently launched Underwood: Stories in Sound. The company’s first release, a record featuring Toby Litt’s story “The Hare” is on Side A and Clare Wigfall’s story “Along Birdcage Walk” is on Side B, went on sale last month. Priced at £23.00 in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, the record is selling briskly through the company’s website, www.underwoodstories.com.
Dunn, who holds a PhD in contemporary art history, also wanted to ensure that the record packaging went beyond “just another image” and commissioned Los Angeles-based comics artist Jordan Crane to illustrate the recording, making the work all the more collectible.
He expects to release recordings every six months, with the next due in November.
Asked why publish in vinyl, when there are already so many recordings of writers reading online via podcasts, Dunn replies, “I’ve always loved short stories and avidly listen to writers reading their work on podcasts. But somehow podcasts always leave me cold.” Instead, he wants there to be “a sense of occasion” when listening to a story.
“A vinyl record is a combination of unique sound and beautiful packaging — quite the opposite of digital,” says Dunn. “Records are all about the experience: you’ve got to lay them down on the turntable, drop the needle and then change the side when it’s done. Sitting around in a group and listening to the perfect crisp-crackle of a record simply doesn’t compare to a CD or mp3.”
To this end, Dunn points out that the stories are deliberately not printed in the liner notes (though Litt’s story originates in his 2004 collection “Ghost Story”) since the point is not to read along, but to sit down and listen – an experience that should be as intimate as when one was being read to by a teacher at nursery school or a parent at bedtime.
“There’s a satisfying wholeness to the experience,” he says. “A record makes you slow down, sit back and pay attention to the words. Writers deserve that and the short story as a form deserves that.”
DISCUSS: Is Analog More Authentic Than Digital?