MUSIC

I’ve long been wary of “advances” in technology and of “progress” in general. Introducing hedgehogs to the Hebrides thirty years ago to control slugs was a great idea – until they starting wiping out the ground nesting birds. Remember the ‘paperless office’? That was a good idea…

As V. Vale said in “Incredibly Strange Music Vol. 1”, “vinyl is archival – not cds”. You can buy an LP or 45 rpm single, play it once, stick it on a shelf and it will play just as well 20, 30, 50 years later. I had copies of Mel Blanc’s “I Tawt I Taw A Puddytat” and Phil Harris’ “The Thing” on 78rpm shellac until recently, pressed well over 40 years ago and playing fine. In contrast, we’ve already seen the first generation of compact discs decaying after 10 years and we don’t know how long the current ‘improved’ stock will last.

What about cassette tapes? I have home-taped stuff going back to the late ’80s which plays as well as any C90 ever played. But how long will they last? I got to thinking about this after reading Martin’s comments on the pre-web tape underground of the ’80s and early ’90s. And lo and behold a reference arose before me as if by synchronous magic.

BBC Radio 4 broadcast a repeat of “Mother’s Mountain” today, with a sequel next Friday, the story of a mountaineer who died on K2 in 1986, which includes lengthy extracts from a cassette of her audio diaries which were lost on a glacier in ’82 and only rediscovered in 2003. And the tape played perfectly. This may be an indicator of how rugged cassette tapes are, or perhaps only in certain conditions of extreme cold and possibly moisture. Still damned impressive, and the programme itself is very moving.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “MUSIC

  1. I heard long ago that some record companies keep their master tapes in cold rooms, so the Keep ’em Cold theory might be true.

  2. My father’s 78 of Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche” is the original Okeh pressing from 1929 (I researched it). It has some lamination cracks but plays just fine on my stereo with a little tweaking with the graphic equalizer. I have some Hawaiian, Irish, classical, and novelty 78s from the teens and they play well, too.

    On the other hand, I have cassettes, both homemade and commercially produced, from the 1980s that have already deteriorated so much as to unlistenable.

    The jury’s still out on CDs.

    • The need for EQ on that 78 might be due to the original pressing rather than any decay. Old technolgy wins again!

      • Yes–It actually has a lot of bass to it, unlike a lot of older 78s, especially those pre-1926 or so, which were recorded with the acoustical recording process. A little bit off the treble end to take care of some hiss (but not too much–don’t want to lose all the highs).

        With the older ones, sometimes you need to damp the lowest and the highest a bit. But you’re right–the original recording is just more compressed.

        Actually, where the old technology really makes it for me is with newer rock’n’roll and doo-wop 78s, which I have been lucky enough to acquire a bunch of cheaply. Listening to Little Richard, Frankie Lymon, the Ravens, or the Coasters on 78s, even scratchy ones, is a whole different experience, and there’s a real vividness, even if there’s a bit of bacon frying in the background, that I don’t hear on CDs of the same tracks.

      • (jealousjealousjealousrghghghgh!!!) not that I’d be able to play them anyway…

      • It’s not too hard to find an old turntable that plays 78 rpm. They even make new ones for around $200-300.

  3. My old band (The Strolling Ones) tapes from the eighties are still fine (except the content of course!). We used TDK all the time – good decision!

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