Before There Was Vinyl

Like many audiophiles I have appreciated the recent surge in the popularity of vinyl recordings. There is not only a marked difference in sound quality but there is also something satisfyingly tactile about placing the record on the platter and positioning the tonearm, triggering for yourself the moment the music begins. Putting an audio CD in the slot and watching the machine suck it in or tapping an icon on your phone just doesn’t have the same vibe.

That said, there is an even older format than vinyl that we are not very likely to see come back in the same way – beetle resin. That is to say – shellac.

That’s right – beetle resin. Shellac was used for a variety of things in it’s heyday from furniture and violin finishes, to fingernail polish, to electrical insulators, to..  well, records. If you have ever watched an old movie and seen someone break a record to stop it from being played again, it’s very likely it was a shellac disc because they were quite fragile and shattered quite nicely. Some of you will point out that vinyl breaks as well, and while that is true it just isn’t as easy to do as with shellac and in movie making you go with what works consistently.

The records ran at 78 rpm which is why you most often hear them referred to as 78s rather than “shellacs” and their fragility plus the fact they are made from beetle secretions is why you’re not likely so see this little piece of nostalgia on the shelves at Best Buy® any time soon. That doesn’t mean there is something wonderful happening with them however.

I recently became aware of The Great 78 Project, and effort by the Internet Archive, George Blood L.P., and The ARChive of Contemporary Music to preserve for posterity as many 78s as they can, physically and digitally.

The digitization work is being done by George Blood L.P., and will be made available to the public for download – FOR FREE! Great news for audiophiles and soundscape designers everywhere.

For the techies among my readers, I would like to point out that this is not easy because unlike their vinyl descendants, shellac records were not all created equal. Other than the fact they all rotated at 78 rpm (more or less) there were differences in manufacture from one publisher to the next, including diameter, groove size, spiral spacing, and shellac formula (some were softer than others so too heavy a tonearm might damage the groove). For the most part shellac records were designed to be played on the machines manufactured by the publisher of the music. They didn’t want you playing other company’s records on their machines and if you wanted you play their music you needed their machine. Kinda like Apple®.

As you can imagine this makes getting an accurate digitized copy challenging because it’s hard to tell exactly what the recording was supposed to sound like. George Blood met this challenge by, among other things, creating a turntable with four tonearms, each with a different size stylus. The full story on the digitization process can be found here.

The Great 78 Project is out to preserve as many 78 recordings as they can, not only sourcing them from artists and collections at various museums but they want your 78s as well. You can donate your old 78s to the project or they will advice you on the best way to digitize your collection and then you can upload the digital files to the project for inclusion.

Check it all out at The Great 78 Project.  @great78project



Testing: One… Two… Three… Is this Thing On?

A great many things have happened on December 6th over the centuries, but for audio buffs the world over one event stands out above the rest. It was on this date in 1877 that the first audio recording was made by Thomas Edison. Previously, April 12th was considered to be the anniversary based on a date Edison wrote on a sketch of his device made in 1917; but subsequent research has revealed that Edison had misremembered the date and now many historians accept December 6th as the date of record. (pun intended)

Edison with phonograph (1877)

Edison with Phonograph in 1877. (Photograph by Matthew Brady - Courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

That first recording was made with the assistance of Charles Batchelor and John Kruesi. Working under the Edison’s direction they created the first phonograph consisting of a cylinder with a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around it.  Sound was received through a funnel, which was connected to a diaphragm. Yelling into the funnel caused sound waves to vibrate the diaphragm, which in turn vibrated a small stylus (needle) that was attached to it. The stylus pressed the pattern of the sound waves onto the tinfoil as the cylinder was turned by a hand crank.

The indented tinfoil sheet then was moved to another, nearly identical, device that had a stylus attached to the diaphragm with a delicate spring. As the hand crank was turned this time the stylus was passed over the indents on the tinfoil. The indentations caused the stylus and thus the diaphragm to vibrate in the same manner as when the original words were spoken. The vibrations of the diaphragm were amplified by another funnel and, if one listened closely, the recording was  heard.

Kreusi, who actually built the device from Edison’s sketches, is credited with the first review of an audio recording. His response? “Gott in Himmel!” (God in Heaven!)

The tricky part was turning the crank at the exact same speed as when recorded so the sounds could be recognized. Those early tinfoil recordings were quite fragile and could be played only a couple of times before they would become damaged and be lost forever. In later, more commercial models, wax and other materials would replace the tinfoil.

And what was that original recording you ask? It was Thomas Edison himself reciting the childhood classic “Mary Had a Little Lamb“. As already mentioned, those tinfoil recordings were fragile and the 1877 original is lost forever, but the following link will let you listen to a re-enactment made by Edison at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Phonograph made in 1927.

Today, 134 years later, quality recording technology is readily available to almost anyone. You probably have one in your pocket or purse right now. Few inventions have contributed to the shaping of culture and society world-wide as the ability to record and distribute the human voice.

In celebration of this world changing event I leave you with my favorite recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by Stevie Ray Vaughn.

A Dainty Little Recording

The title of this post is a nigh unto unforgivable pun; but it’s late and I wanted to post this before I forget to again. I’ve been meaning to post this since the Easter Service it was recorded during, but I seem to keep forgetting to do it when I sit down at the computer. I usually wind up listening to a meditation stream from Mangatune instead.  But I digress.

My home church is blessed to have among our number Kareena Edward,  a very talented singer/actress who professionally goes by her maiden name Kareena Dainty.  At our Easter Sunday services Kareena, accompanied by Brian Watson on piano, sang a wonderful rendition of Twila Paris’ ‘How Beautiful’.  I made on quick on-the-fly recording of the performance and so here, for you enjoyment, and the convenience of the Dainty clan, is a posting of that recording.

How Beautiful – Kareena Dainty

Roll over the link above to launch player.  Click to play the song in your browser. Right click and “Save Target/Link as…” to download.

Where Are all the People

I know, I’ve been away doing other stuff. Among the things I’ve been working on is the following. It’s a poem a friend of mine wrote. I really liked it so I wanted to record it, but I didn’t want to just set it to music and have done. So after making several recordings of various women reading the poem I decided this was the best way to go.

Roll over the title to call up the player and listen to the recording and let me know what you think.
Click to launch file with plug-in or right click and ‘Save As..’ to download.

Where are the People – rtm

Where are the parents who love and comfort me?
The people who nurtured me,
The people who banished my fears like the wind,
The people who loved me no matter what?
Where have they gone?
Why aren’t they here now?
Do they still exist?
Perhaps they never did.

Where is the girlfriend?
The one who lent an ear,
The one who hugged me when my world turned upside down,
The one who was always there for me?
Why isn’t she here now?
Does she exist?
Perhaps she never did.

Where is the man who loved me beyond reason?
The man who helped me through life’s darkest hour,
The one who carried me when I couldn’t walk,
The man who would never leave me?
Why isn’t he here now?
Does he still exist?
Perhaps he never did.

Where are the people who care for me?
The ones who never leave,
The people who supported me,
The people who encouraged me,
The people who loved me unfailingly?
Why aren’t they here now?
I crawl sadly back inside myself,
That’s the only place they exist

By Rachel Tucker