Instagram became the photosharing site bought by Facebook for $1 billion not by helping its users produce the most realistic photos of the world, but by supplying users with filters that serve mainly to reproduce the feel of vintage photos. In our nostalgia, we go out of our way to avoid reality rather than trying to reproduce it perfectly.
And this kind of nostalgia isn’t limited to photos – anyone who has paid any attention to music over the last 30 years will easily be able to pick out the vintage sound of the 80s or 70s. Modern bands go out of their way to reproduce these sounds.
What’s more curious to me is that everything we consider to be vintage – to be evocative of an earlier era – seems to have looked or sounded the way it did because of the limitations of technology at the time. The good people at Polaroid who made the first instant cameras probably weren’t trying to create images that were oversaturated, with fading at the edges. I have to imagine that they were trying for perfection, and oversaturated images with fading at the edges was just the best they could do with the technology of the day. Sometimes I forget that the 70s wasn’t an oversaturated decade – it just looks that way based on the photographic evidence.
This idea holds true for music as well – when the first keyboard synthesizers were created (think 70s classic rock or 80s pop), they had certain hard technological limitations. So they were capable of just a few sounds, like the square wave, which most of us will recognize immediately as a staple of 80s pop or the only sound most early computers were capable of making. Another early limitation that defined the sound of the era was that early synthesizers were only capable of playing a single note at a time (which is to say they were monophonic). This led directly to the classic sounds of bands like Rush and Steve Miller (listen to Rush’s Tom Sawyer at about 1:32 for a great example of monophonic, square-wave based sound). Contemporary musicians who want to reproduce these sounds have polyphonic synths with filters and settings that make them mimic the limitations of earlier monophonic synths.
So what I’m curious about is where we go from here. If vintage is all about viewing or listening through the filters of old and imperfect technology, and new technologies have allowed to to essentially reproduce reality perfectly, what kinds of images and sounds will evocative of 2013 in, say, 30 years from now? Or is this the end of vintage as we know it?