DAVID DING, RECORD COLLECTOR
For our next Re-Touch interview, our team, composed here of Yanan He, had an in depth talk with David Ding, a passionate collector of records. He told us his story and the details of his fascinating collection.
Breakthrough+"Re-" team: Hello, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for our project! Could you please introduce yourself and your profession?
David Ding: Hi, I am David Ding, a Chinese art film producer mainly focused on non-fiction films, archival film and experimental movies., I also serve as an organizer in the Beijing International Short Film Festival. Besides that, I also work as a movie critic.
B + R: Are vinyl records your main collection? Around how many pieces you have?
D. D.: Yes, although I collected several items, vinyl records are my main collection.
In total, I have around 7000 - 8000 records in my collection.
B + R: How did you receive your first vinyl records? How long have you been collecting
D. D.: My grandfather’s generation collected vinyl records from Russia (USSR). I started
listening to 78 rpm hard rubber records at a very young age. Apart from that, I listened
to records made by the China Record Corporation during the Cultural Revolution. When
I was younger, I listened to a lot of records from the Soviet Union musicians, and around
that time I inherited 20 - 30 records from my grandfather. Now, I have been collecting
continuously for 11 years.
B + R: Why do you collect vinyl records?
D. D.: I am not collecting just for the sake of collecting. After listening to tons of classical
music, you will realize that digital media, the streaming technologies that we are using,
cannot imitate precious historical records. This includes the golden age of classical music
of the 1960’s, 1970’s. There are many great historical records, however, you cannot find new,
contemporary media to listen to. So the only way is vinyl records. At the very beginning of
my collecting, I would collect rare, out of print records, then gradually it turned into collecting
other kinds of records.
B + R: How do you choose your collection?
D. D.: Classical vinyl records constitute a professional kind of collecting. At the beginning, I chose my collection based on its contents, its music. If the contents didn’t interest me, I wouldn’t touch them. The contents include the tracks, composers, orchestra, musicians. If I am interested in the contents, I will see their date of production; normally it would not be written clearly on the record, so it required a certain collecting experience to do some research on it. Also, I would have to look into its record company, which year it was produced, even including which edition it was. Because if it is an extraordinary record, you normally have dozens of editions; for example, the record of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B♭ minor, Op. 23, played by American pianist Van Cliburm who performed at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. This record, produced by The RC company in America, has all together about 30 different editions. From the collecting perspective, the best scenario would be to get the first edition, the first one made. Other than these, I choose records based on if they have something special, like if they are signed by the artist, they have a limited cover, or they use a painting that I love.
B + R: Do you have specific categories in your collection?
D. D.: I have three different categories in my collection: primarily classical music, then progressive Jazz, and finally folk music and foreign music standards.
B + R: When you are collecting classical music, is there any special instrument you prefer? Or any other preference?
D. D.: Yes, I do like clavichord, also called Harpsichord. So I prefer records with this instrument. Otherwise, I listen to a lot of ancient music, opera from the 17th century, which are quite special in the collecting field. I also collect the works by neo-composers of the 20th century, which is also called neo-classical or contemporary classical music, like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Alban Berg, Pierre Boulez. My taste is quite divisive, part of the reason being that I have listened to too much classical music. Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms’ work are way too familiar to me, I even have some great records of them. I collected their work in my early collecting stage, so I have gained all the knowledge I wanted on them. Also, collecting is a periodical procedure. Five years ago, I was looking for the German-Austrian tracks by east German conductors, and some works by Polish, Czech composers. When I have reached that goal, my interests shift. Now, I mainly collect works played by Harpsichord.
B + R: How do you care for your collections?
D. D.: My collection is mostly put in my home, and I have sold those I don’t like.
B + R: What is the standard for selling?
D. D.: There are no specific standards, I mostly give them out to my friends.
About six or seven years ago, I bought many things, and most of the time you
will end up having some records in bad condition. Then I will give those to my
friends, or throw them away. Apart from that, when I have very precious records
that I no longer have any interest in, I will sell them.
B + R: During your collecting procedure, is there a final goal? Or just
D. D.: I have a purpose, but not a singular one. The difference between the
collector and amateur is that collecting is a career, and so you need a
collecting plan. Especially in the vinyl records area, you cannot buy randomly,
you need a specialization. In this world there are way too many records, you
can’t buy all of them! In Latin America, there is a famous collector who
bought millions of records, but that’s another story. As for collectors like us,
when you buy records, you also think about them in terms of the space
they take up. Therefore, we will aim for the small, valuable branches of the vinyl
records history to collect.
For example, there is a series that I have been collecting for many years, it’s an east German company called “Eternal”. For the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, they made a whole collection of his work; it was of great quality and very precious. They made limited editions for Chinese officers back then as a Christmas gift. I have about 80 records of the series I am collecting now, and I need 20 more to finish it. Another example is the progressive Jazz company in France called BYJ, who had produced a lot of records of Free Jazz in the 1970’s. These records are made by the musicians the company found, and are very rare, and some even extremely so. Until recently, I had never seen them, but now I have collected three fifth of all the records. In America, there is a company called ESP DIC, and it is way harder to get because of crazy high prices, but I have one third of these. They made almost 120 different kinds of records, of which I have 40. As for foreign music standards, my favorite is a small production in India, because finding their folk music in good condition is very rare.
As for the records, if they are made out of plastic and the previous owner didn’t take care of it, the damage will be very apparent. The condition of the records is very important; the chances of a record surviving 30 years in perfect condition is relatively high. However, a record from the 1950’s, so 70 years old, is very difficult to find in perfect conditions.
B + R: What attracts you more, the record itself or the contents in the record?
D. D.: It is a give and take relationship, it is hard to separate, both of them are important. Receiving a great record in great condition, that would be the absolute best.
B + R: If you could use one word or one sentence to describe you and your collection, what would you say?
D. D.: It is hard to describe, but I don’t feel like their master. I am more like a student who is listening to them, watching them. Even when I’m holding them, it’s a very intimate feeling, a kind of physiological relationship. They are different from CDs or digital media, they are aged, most of them are much older than me. They are like my old friends, passing on all their knowledge to me.
Images provided by David Ding.
This interview was conducted in Chinese by Yanan He.
Translation to English by Yanan He.