Thursday, April 08, 2010
Recording the Duke, gravity
Given the date, the recording technology looks surprisingly spiffy. Thirteen years later, when a young George Martin began his career at EMI, he was surprised to discover the Dickensian apparatus under the hood:
The routine of another recording take began again. Charlie Anderson, the engineer, began winding a large crank, and a heavy weight rose slowly to the ceiling. As he did so, Oscar walked through to tell the musicians that he wanted another performance, murmuring a few words of encouragement to them. In the control room a fresh warm wax disc was taken from the cabinet and placed on the turntable, and the engineer checked his settings. Then he shut his little window, released a brake, and spun the turntable. Slowly the weight began to fall....The manufacturing process was even cruder, Martin recalls. Now, the factory pictured in the video is hardly a high-tech clean room. There were probably enough chemical spills and environmental hazards to give a latter-day OSHA official the cold sweats. But Oliver Twist could have worked in the facility Martin describes:
To my new and untutored eye, the whole set-up seemed incredibly crude. I had thought, for instance, that the use of falling weights for motive power had gone out with Galileo. The answer, it seemed, was that electric motors in those days were not reliable enough to guarantee a completely steady and "wow-free" 78 revolutions a minute. Gravity, on the other hand, knew no hiccups.
Before I visited the works where the records were pressed, I expected immaculate, white-coated operatives standing by stainless steel, plastic-topped counters, pressing buttons and watching the automatic moulding of the discs. How wrong I was. Reality was a hot and dirty factory, with men stripped to the waist, bathed in sweat and forever grimy with the black carbon dust which hung in the air.