Do you know what Riepl’s Law is? Let me explain with a story that threads through my digital life. A couple of week’s ago I was listening to BBC 6 Music on my DAB radio in the jeep while I was picking up my son Rhys from the station. He is 21, just started his first job after Uni. One of my favourite DJs Gilles Peterson was on. He’s known for playing jazz, hip hop, world music and the like, and he owns record labels Acid Jazz and Talkin’ Loud. He was playing a song called Lowrider from a London outfit called Yussef Kamaal. I assumed that was a guy, but it’s actually Yussef Dayes on drums and Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) on rhodes and synths, ably supported by Kareem Dayes or Tom Driessler on bass, and some others. They play unashamed, mostly trio, jazz fusion, with some funk and hip hop beats thrown in. It takes me back to the likes of Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith and George Duke of the 70s. I really liked it. When I got home I found a live set on YouTube that they played at the Boiler Room. Then I downloaded Lowrider and Yo Chavez from iTunes to my iPod and played them through my sound system.
The following Sunday I was sitting in the Pret A Manger in St. Albans, having a cappuccino, tapping on my Mac, waiting on my son and daughter when I received this photo on FB messenger and the news that Rhys had just bought Black Focus, the Yussef Kamaal album on vinyl at Empire Records round the corner. You see, Rhys is using my old Pioneer PL-12D record deck (with Ortofon FF15E cartridge) to listen to vinyl. He’s steadily working through my collection, creating his own, buying his music on vinyl first. I was pleased to hear the vinyl copy comes with a download code, so I’ve now completed the Black Focus album on my iTunes/iPod too (it’s excellent).
This is an example of Riepl’s Law. Wolfgang Riepl was editor in chief of Nürnberger Zeitung. In 1913 he published a dissertation which established a law that has shaped the history of communication. No new media form replaces the existing one. Apart from maybe cassettes and 8-tracks it has continued to work through history (and taping wasn’t killing music). The book did not replace oral story telling. Newspapers haven’t replaced books. Then we get radio — still going. Then TV comes along and grows from the 2 or 3 channels of when I was a kid to the 100s of now, and then social media networks and YouTube, and then we can all broadcast live ourselves from the smartphone we each carry everywhere. For music the live band hasn’t been replaced by the phonograph and vinyl records, although people worried at the start. The technology steadily improved and then we moved to CDs and then MP3s, digital downloads and streaming services. Personally, I buy most of my music on CD, because I like to have a wall of it to look at and choose from, and about 10% as digital download. My son, born in 1995, is just before or at the start of Generation Z/Millennials. As you have heard, he is buying vinyl.
I have just started teaching a segment of the Digital Marketing & Social Media Masters Degree at the London campus of French Business School Sup de Pub, which is part of Groupe INSEEC. 13 French students on my course all around 21 or 22. I was telling them this story, and explaining Riepl’s Law in class with them last week. As I was telling them I came up with another example that comes from my son. He is an excellent photographer and is starting to do it professionally, was taking shots recently at London Fashion Week. I take snaps, but he knows how to compose. As well as the various Canon and Fuji digital cameras and gear that he has, he has a Pentax 67ii medium format camera that I bought him. He also has a battered Nikon F3, an Olympus OM2 and a Bronica. He loves film. He’s got the gear to develop, although he regularly gets it done professionally, and then scans the negatives on his Epson scanner. He’s also a fan of Polaroids — you can still get the film, manufactured by the Impossible Film Project. He has an SX-70. If you check out his Instagram, a lot of the time those shots start as polaroids.
As I was explaining this part of the story to the students, I told them that the previous week he found and I had downloaded an awesome free iPhone app called Filmborn designed to bridge the world’s of digital and film photography. Apart from being a really cool photo app with seriously great features, it has filters that make your pictures take on the tone and look of prints from Fujifilm, Ilford, or Kodak in various styles and speeds. Three of the students immediately wanted help (spelling Filmborn) to download the app, as they are film fans too.
This is Riepl’s Law in the 21st century combined with digital ingenuity and innovation. And I love it.