When a friend whom you haven't seen in a long while and you are about to see calls and says "Change of plans! We're going to a record sale!" You might be a wee bit skeptical...especially since you just recently were sated with vinyl at the magical Princeton Record Exchange...but, when it is both a friend whose judgement you trust and whose style you covet you follow her to the tiny block of 54 White Street down in Tribeca where you discover a place and people who represent exactly what you were seeking when you too were a New Yorker: a group of passionate, thoughtful artists looking to preserve and add to a meaningful cultural legacy!
The ARChive of Contemporary Music is too good to be true. First off, they are named after a sci-fi story written by African scientist/novelist Emmanuel Boundzéki Dongala. In the story aliens descend upon earth, find value only in palm wine & Jazz and crown Sun Ra (starring in video above!) the new leader! The ARChive wants to be sure that " [Coltrane's ]'A Love Supreme' will be there when it's needed," that the aliens, or more likely future man, will find a real sense of our capabilities and joys through the preservation of what is our most joyous and most life indicative expression: pop music! Pop music isn't really seen as an artifact in a lot of archival circles (sideways glance at the Library of Congress) which is kind of crazy if you think about the tons of facts a song can tell about a time or a place- the state of technology through the production, the types of sounds we find pleasing, our concerns (however banal!) in the lyrics, the album art depicting an era or band or a target audience or style-- this org seeks to preserve all of this as the historical documents they should be seen as! Since the mid 80s their mission has been to act as a resource for pop music around the world, collecting, researching and archiving global sound recordings starting from the 50s and, judging by the size of the factory space boasting over 2million records surpassing any other US pop music collection in size, they are staying true to what they have set out to do!
As for the sale itself, let me tell you, if you like vinyl you should go! Just go! All of it was reasonably priced and constantly being rotated as Simon & Garfunkel and The Rolling Stones and Pavement and Penderecki and soooo many other types of records flew from boxes! The ARChive also specializes in sound design for tv/film too (an extensive timeline of sound recording can be found here ) and, as a foley artist, coming upon a row of packed boxes labeled "Production Music + Sound Effects" made my pulse quicken a little! Especially when the first sound listed on the first LP I picked up was "Dog Cart (milk cans rattle + dog barking)! The sale wasn't a mob scene either as cool jazz and champagne were flowing at the inaugural day of the event, a calm atmosphere of people who just love a thing so much they are compelled to shelter it for the future in the name of the past! The people behind the project, and the legendary board, really did make me feel like I was stepping backwards to an older generation of New York where rent was cheap and people were acting not talking... talk is twitterly cheap in this hipster-tastic generation of laziness but being surrounded by ARC disciples of all ages that are guided by strong voices (of way more than 140 characters!) made me feel so great, remembering that there is a heritage here that some of us will continue to protect regardless of the changing landscape of the city!
The ARChive of Contemporary Music annual sale ends June 17th... even if you aren't a music junkie this not-so-little time capsule is the type of place we should all cherish & support! (Listens to "Hot Frying Pan Submerged in Water #1" from Side A of Robert Hall Productions Sound Effects record, shivers to the howls of Krzysztof Penderecki and discovers a whole new world of Charles Mingus)