Wednesday, July 9, 2014

78s and all...

So, today I have been doing something rather unusual...

...sampling old 78s to see if there is anything worth using on this project.

The 78s came into my possession via my wife's family. As you can imagine, they're in rag order having been stored in a wooden box for many decades (as in, these were never played on anything other than a gramophone), and they're an odd mixture of musical hall acts, "standard" ballads and instrumental pieces.

I'm sampling them via my old Sony hi-fi turntable which only takes power from the amplifier, so I've had to drag the whole lot down from the attic for the purpose. The audio signal is recorded onto the Tascam 2488 with the turntable playing at 45 rpm. I'll speed them up in AA3 in due course.

Excuse the mess...

There must be close to 100 discs here, so this is going to take me an age to complete.

You may know that I'm not a great fan of vinyl - this whole upsurge of interest in the format just strikes me as being a vain attempt to recapture one's youth (buy a Sodastream and a Raleigh Chopper, why don'tcha...?) - but I have an absolute phobia about 78s. And here's why...

...back when I was a kid, in the town in which I grew up, we had an empty shop space which my mother would occasionally rent out to various wannabe business-types. When things were quiet and the space was empty, it would be used as a "communication centre" for the annual carnival. A PA system and turntable would be set up in the shop window and records would be played for several hours during the day. I even got a go on the turntable myself from time to time. The records generally came from a neighbour's daughter's collection and other sources and were generally the pop music of the late 60s/early 70s, with an unhealthy smattering of showband/country & Irish music thrown in for "good" measure.

One evening, I was sifting through the pile of discs when I came across on old 78 of Johnny Ray. I have no idea what the song was - I can only recall that it was on the Philips label (back in the day when that type of thing mattered...). I put on the record without giving it that much attention.

Boy was I in for a shock. The disc had been pressed off-centre and yawed from side to side ferociously, with the sound from the disc varying in pitch at an alarming rate. And there was poor Johnny, with his hearing-aid and all, sounding like he was scared to death, trying to sing while riding on a rollercoaster. It was a most unpleasant and frightening experience for me - it felt like Johnny had been trapped forever within the grooves of the 78, howling in varispeed agony.

I haven't played a 78 from that day to this.

I have to say that playing the discs today hasn't been quite as unpleasant as I'd feared. Yes, old scratchy vinyl played at the wrong speed sounds just as awful as you might imagine. But I'm thinking of all the people who were involved in the production of these discs:- composers, musicians, singers, studio techs, label owners, people in the pressing plants. All dead now. Not to mention the people who sold the discs - some were sold in bicycle shops for heaven's sake. All dead now.

Pretty much like the record industry, when you think of it.

These people deserve to be remembered and respected (although I'm sure some of them were disreputable in their various ways - no matter...).



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