Saturday, 10 April 2010

The making of a 78

Via the excellent Mike Lavocah, a beautiful film (in three parts, all three linked below the embed) depicting exactly how a record was made in the 1940s.

Part One (as above) | Part Two | Part Three

I'm just delighted with the brilliant ingenuity, the precision, and in some ways the simplicity and directness of this process, obviously the result of a long evolution yet to be continued. It's genius.

I also love the film itself, with the first-person narrative of its unseen narrator, and his innocent joy at the pure wax smoothed with flame, the electroplating, the giant glooping shellac mix machine, and the unexpected way the labels are put on. And as the sort of social-historical matter which would interest my mother, notice how the sex of the workers changes through the process. You can't draw any conclusions, as you can often only see one worker at a time, and some of the roles may well have been mixed. But it tells you something about how each job was perceived at the time.

Mike says:

What really struck me was how the finished record – being an analog process – contains an imprint of the vibrations made by the musicians at the time of the performance. In some sense, you are connected directly back to that time. This is something that digital music – especially with our attempts to “improve” the music with filtering and other kinds of post-processing – can never capture.

I'm not sure I agree that the connection is more 'direct' in any literal sense. And I'm not sure that I know what that notion of connection means or in what way whatever it means is important. But I sympathise with his sentiment about the physicality of this process, all the same. I once went to a public lecture on human biology, after which I approached the lecturer with some question or other, and was privileged to hold in my hand, briefly, a hand-axe 250,000 years old. A thing that was made by someone's hands, a quarter of a million years ago.


Tangocommuter said...

Lovely material, and a loving presentation: many thanks. I also have doubts that the connection is any more 'direct' or physical. There's an article on Todotango by Enrique Binda about the recording system using electric microphone and amplifiers which, he says, was first used in 1926. The moment you use a system that transforms sound into electric current, whether analogue or digital, any direct physical connection is surely lost. Binda doesn't say, but I assume that before 1926 recordings were made through a horn straight onto a disc. That was direct, and the sound quality is poor. The electrical system made the talkies possible.

Binda adds that the recording companies didn't advertise this new technology because they had huge stocks of old recordings. They conspired to keep quiet about it, and there is little indication on the records, an odd mark, on some the letter 'e', to show that they were produced electrically.

msHedgehog said...

I think that what Mike has in mind is maybe more that an analogue recording is a recorded representation of the shape of the sound rather than encoded as bits (0s and 1s) as it is on a CD. So it's 'direct' only in the same sense that FM radio is - the indirectness being not the electricity but the necessary preprocessing (much the same encoding and decoding that means digital live radio is always a few seconds behind the analogue version of the same channel). I'm sure you're right, but I think that's what he's saying there.