CategoryVinyl

More fun with liner notes

Shellac’s ‘The Futurist’

     Shellac (Audio Engineer Steve Albini‘s vehicle for musical abrasion) had some fun with the liner notes to their limited-edition ‘Futurist’ LP. Click the image below for a legible version. A quote from this site sums up the concept nicely:

shellac

     “The Futurist is also referred to as the “Friends Of Shellac” record. Apparently, the boys did an album of music for some sort of dance production, and decided to press it to vinyl and give it to 779 of their closest friends.”

     “The sleeve is black with silver printing. The entire front of the sleeve is printed with the names of each of the recipients of the record. It looks a lot like the cover of XTC’s Go 2.”

     “The band apparently wants the record to not get into the hands of anyone besides the original recipient. Each receipient’s record has their name circled in silver ink. This is so that if any of them turn up for sale, the band will know whose copy it is.”

     The site from which this quote is drawn appears to be the reigning authority on this matter, having compiled an extensive alphabetical listing revealing who each of the Friends of Shellac ‘is.’

     One copy recently sold on ebay for $810, which is absolutely INSANE. The Albinos on the Electrical Audio Message Board (I’m sure someone else has already proposed ‘Albinos’ as a term for Albini devotees, so I won’t claim credit) have determined that the copy belonged to Kimberly Stahr – described in the alphabetical listing as a:

     “Designer, erotic film actress. Member of Louisville band Saint Christopher (Link?).”

     Several posters have offered their opinions of the sale in this thread on the Electrical Audio bulletin board, to which Albini himself posted the following:

     “Hey, it was a gift, and when you get a gift, you’re entitled to do whatever you like with it.”

     Awesome. If I were Albini, I would have bought it myself, so she’d have had to ship it back to me.

     This post was inspired by Fred Metascene‘s pointer to a page indexing every posting Albini has made on the Electrical Audio Message Board. Also relevant: Albini’s raised his rates.

Further Vinyl Minutiae

     …presenting yet another addendum to my series of vinyl trivialities.

Alternate playback methods

     I’ve turned up (and had suggested to me) a number of interesting variations on record playback whilst ‘researching’ vinyl oddities. On the ridiculous audiophile end of the spectrum are laser-based turntables. I’ve found two examples implementing this idea differently, one a collegiate study and the other a commercial venture based in japan.

     The Japanese ELP Corporation offers their fully-featured laser-based playback system for the paltry sum of $14,300. If you visit this page, you can sign up to recieve a free demo CD and some literature on the player. I’ve listened to the Demo CD, and can say that while it does seem to improve playback quality, you’d have to be one picky son of a bitch (alternately: filthy, filthy, rich) for the rather slight improvement to be worth fifteen grand.

elpjapan

     The technically inclined will be interested in this page, detailing the specifics of how playback is accomplished. One huge selling point of such a setup lies in the ability to play damaged records without the characteristic noise. The demo CD includes a track that is claimed to be a recording of a record broken into pieces and reassembled in the tray of the ELP laser turntable. There are still audible pops, but nothing even remotely resembling the cacophony that would ensue if one were to try something similar with a stylus-based player.

ELP Laser Turntable – Broken Record Demo

From: ELP Laser Turntable Demo CD

     The academic implementation of this idea can be found here. This implementation uses an optical fiber stylus that contacts the groove ridges in areas undamaged by normal stylii:

     “The force applied by the fiber on the record is limited to 60 mg, about 40 time less than that of a modern pick-up. Such a low force is possible because the guiding of the optical head along the groove is obtained by servomotors controlled by optical signals. The system allows the crossing of cracks and small zones without grooves, as frequently observed in ancient records made of a sheet of resin plated on a metallic surface. The spurious audiosignals (tocs, etc…) due to these type of defaults can then be easily removed using common numerical techniques.”

academrecord

     The website has an audio sample (.au) of the playback of the damaged record seen above, as well as a video (.mov) of their player in action.

     The most interesting caveat to the modern vinyl-enthusiast when considering a Laser-based turntable solution is the following:

     “Clear or colored records are transparent, or translucent, and will not reflect light to the sensors.”

Lo-Fi / Hi-Fi Optical Solutions

     Fellow vinyl enthusiast Ofer Springer reasoned that If one were to scan the grooves of a record at a high enough dpi, a program to ‘play’ the images of the grooves could be coded. He made a valiant attempt at producing such a setup in his spare time, and produced the Digital Needle website, where you can listen to the result of his attempts. While the resultant mp3’s are very noisy, traces of the recorded music are audible. He notes that he was not entirely clear on the way sound data is stored in grooves at the time he made these recordings:

     “The whole thing was done in a couple of late nights so I didn’t really have much time to gather all the technical details concerning phonograph modulations. Moreover the “archeological” reverse-engineering aspect was part of the fun. I now know (thanks to some great replies) that the horizontal modulation (the only one I did decode) is the sum of the left/right audio channels (which are each encoded on the sides of a V-shaped groove).”

groovesscan

     This idea has since been developed further by two physicists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California:

     “Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev have developed a new way to preserve the contents of old discs and wax cylinders: they take pictures of the groove instead of dropping a needle into it. The team shoots thousands of precise sequential images of the groove and then stitches the images together, measuring the shape of each undulation and calculating the route a stylus would take along the path.

     “We grab the image and let the computer model what the stylus would have done if it had run through the surface,” said Haber, a senior scientist at the lab who led the research team…”

opticalhifi

     The above quotation was pulled from a New York TImes article that is no longer available online. Further information can be found here and here. Those who are interested in the specifics will be pleased to learn that their 21 page paper on the subject (‘Reconstruction of Mechanically Recorded Sound by Image Processing’) is available online in .pdf form. A few more lines from the NYT article, briefly describing their method:

     “One day a few years ago, a radio program that caught their attention prompted them to consider a new application. “We heard a show on National Public Radio on the problems of preserving delicate recordings of the past,” Dr. Haber said. He wondered whether the precision methods the group used for particle detectors might be of use. “Why not just measure the shape of the grooves on the surface?” Dr. Haber said, and then pose the question to a software program: what would a needle do?”

     “The physicists began with old 78 r.p.m. discs, on which grooves run laterally, undulating in the plane of the record parallel to its surface. “So from the top down, you can see the groove profile,” Dr. Haber said.”

     “The team used a commercially available electronic camera and zoom microscope to acquire images of the grooves. But it was a slow process. It took 40 minutes to scan one second of audio, primarily because the optical tools were not optimized for the task. “It will run much faster when people use a machine built solely for scanning records,” Dr. Haber said.”

     Sound files of ‘before‘ and ‘after‘ recordings are available here. The difference is amazing – clear as a bell.

A Human Optical Implementation

     Dr. Arthur Lintgen, a Philadelphia physician is able to examine the grooves of records and determine the content of the recording. How does he do it?

     “All is explainable – up to a point. First, Dr. Lintgen is a dedicated audiophile with an extensive knowledge of the record catalogue past and present. He can identify only music that he knows, and he guarantees a high rate of success only in orchestral music ranging from Beethoven to the present. Earlier music has a less demonstrable contrast of dynamics, he says, and chamber and solo instrumental music create erratic patterns to the eye. He also prefers newer recordings to the narrower sonic range of early LPs. “I get a lot of these right,” he said. “But I’m much surer within my own limits.” This range excludes excerpts or suite arrangements, because the length, structuring and order of different movements are part of the doctor’s deductive processes. “I have a knowledge of musical structure and of the literature,” he said. “And I can correlate this structure with what I see. Loud passages reflect light differently. In the grossest terms, they look silvery. Record companies spread the grooves in forte passages; they have a more jagged, saw-tooth look. Soft passages look blacker.”

lintgen

     So we see that Mr. Lintgen is not discerning the actual audio content from the grooves, but rather the length and dynamic structure of the music. Using these findings he is able to identify the piece using his encyclopedic knowledge of orchestral music. Further Reading on Mr. Lintgen’s talents is available here, here, here and here.

Japanese Ingenuity

     Regular readers of Boingboing saw a post last week about a japanese vinyl-recording model kit (2). Some insight, provided by Boingboing reader Josh:

     “it’s a working model kit that costs about $40. that cup is actually a ’paper’ cup. in fact, it says that you use any paper cup and a regular sewing needle to complete the model. it also says that you can record onto CD-ROMs or ‘the lids off of cups of ramen’!!! that sounds too good to be true, but that’s what the site says. you can then play back whatever you record on it as well. it also gives tips on how to get better sound and one of the tips says to use ‘aluminum bags’ mounted to either a cardboard circle or CD-ROM (because the bags would be too thin) to get good sound (not quite sure what an ‘aluminum bag’ is…). it runs on two batteries, takes only an hour and a half to put together and they say that all you need to make it (that’s not already included in the kit) is scotch tape, a phillips screwdriver and a scissors. of course you also have to provide your paper cup and sewing needle as well…”

japanmodel

     There is a complete translation of the text here. The same site also points out that Amazon Japan has it, but my own efforts to order were thwarted after entering my shipping address (“We’re sorry. This item can’t be delivered to your selected destination. You may either change the delivery address or delete the item from your order by changing its quantity to 0 and clicking the Update button below”).

More Vinyl Manufacturing Minutiae

Toys

     It was pointed out to me in the comments for my article on parallel grooves that one of the most ingenious uses of this technology is in children’s toys, the classic example being the See & Say – a pull-string toy that plays a variety of randomized prerecorded sounds. There have been many designs over the years, but they all look something like this:

seensay

     Pulling the string sends the arrow spinning around. The area on the perimeter where the arrow lands determines which sound will be played. This playback is achieved using a plastic disc with numerous parallel grooves. In the photo below you can see the lead-in groove to each of the parallel samples along the edge of the disc – each of these lead in grooves corresponds to one of the selections on the perimeter of the See & Say.

see-say-disk

     The grooves are played by a stylus that is attached to a plastic cone. The stylus transmits the vibrations to the cone, which acts as the ‘speaker.’ There are no electronics whatsoever. You can see an example of the stylus / cone machanism below.

see-say-needle

     These photos came from How Stuff Works, a site that has a more elaborate explanation of the inner workings of the See & Say on this page. The same principle was used in some pull-string talking dolls with multiple ‘sayings.’

     Earlier talking dolls – manufactured to use Thomas Edison’s then-new sound reproduction technology – employed simpler mechanisms. Edison’s first attempt to capitalize on this idea failed, though he eventually managed to turn a profit after letting someone else do the work for him. A quote from this site:

     “Despite several years of experimentation and development, the Edison Talking Doll was a dismal failure that was only marketed for a few short weeks in early 1890. Edison had envisioned the idea of a talking doll as early as 1877, but it was another inventor, William W. Jacques, who first developed a prototype based on Edison’s original tinfoil phonograph. Jacques and his partner Lowell Briggs founded the Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Company in 1887 with Edison agreeing to lend his name to the planned product in return for royalties and stock ownership. Before production began, however, Edison took over the company, demoting the founder and leading to years of ill-will and lawsuits.”

edisondoll

Self-amplified Records

     Another anomaly I accidentally found reference to while researching my previous articles on vinyl stuff was this promotional item for Skippy Peanut Butter – a record with the player built in. The sound was reproduced by spinning the record with a pencil and resting a pin, attached to the cardboard horn, in the groove of the record.

skippyR

     The Skippy item is described on The Internet Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records:

     “It’s a crude sound and I wonder how this was thought to be the proper medium for the Skippy Peanut Butter company to send their message. This is the only product I’ve seen by Sound-O-Gram, the company that manufactured this. It is a simple and effective mechanism for sound reproduction. About 78 rpm, 195?.”

     You can view the instructions here, and watch a short clip of the device in action in Realvideo format.

Vinyl Home Recording

     An interesting sidenote in the history of grooved playback are ‘blank’ records. Many different companies marketed records that enabled the purchaser to crudely record sound using their home phonograph. These records were primarily made of metal – a good gallery of several examples can be found here.

     The ‘Repeat-a-Voice Metal Recording Discs‘ printed the following instructions on the sleeve:

     “Put a ‘Repeat-a-voice’ metal recording disc on your phonograph. Use an extra loud needle and a small megaphone. Then talk or sing into the horn [speaker]. That’s all! Play the record and you’ll hear your voice.”

     I’ve included an image of the sleeve below. These discs operated on a simple reversal of the principle normally used to play records. Instead of the needle transmitting vibration to the speaker, the speaker was used to transmit vibration to a hard cutting stylus. You can view an image of the webhost of the The Internet Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records recording such a record here, and listen to the resultant recording here (Realaudio format).

RepeatC

     This practice of using a speaker as a microphone is still used in some capacity today. Many recording engineers maintain that this is a sure-fire way to capture low frequencies when recording bassy instruments such as the kick drum of a drumkit. This has become so entrenched in recording engineer lore that Yamaha has begun marketing a ‘SubKick Low-Frequency Capture Device’ (MSRP $299.99), as seen below. Detailed information can be found here, and all sorts of fun threads particularly dealing with the Yamaha product and the theory behind it can be found via the Tape Op message board (links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

kickdrummic

     As technology improved, slightly more advanced methods for recording records were devised. One such example is the Recordio, which used a microphone element to directly impart the sound to the cutting stylus. The coin-operated recordios appealed to the novelty of recording messages in one’s own voice by offering the recordio-gram. Home-use recordio machines were also eventually produced.

     Before rushing off to ebay to get your hands on a vintage recordio machine to screw around with, be aware that the problem of finding quality blank media to record on is an issue among the diehard community of people still tinkering with them. Some discussion grabbed from the newsgroups:

     “…a very
important thing is age. Back in the days when disc recording was
commonly in use, you always bought the freshest softest discs that you
could find. If you could nick the lacquer with your fingernail, you
had a good disc. The lacquer hardens with age, and no longer cuts
quietly, but with a rushing, scratchy sound. I have several NOS
recordio discs, but they cut a pretty lousy record.”

     “I use the clear sheets used for spiral notebook covers (the kind that you put > 3 holes in and screw a spiral in). I cut it into a circle and then cut a hole in the center. Depending on how deep the machine makes grooves, you may be able to record on one side or both.”

     If this sort of thing fascinates you, there’s a decent history of such devices here, with all sorts of nerdy tangents to follow up on.

CD-RPM

     After noting my unhealthy obsession with vinyl trickery, George V. told me about a band called Nautical Almanac, who have been doing some great stuff using a dictaphone (A device similar to the Recordio mentioned above) and CD-R’s. I wrote to the band asking about their process and got a detailed reply from member ‘Twig’ Harper:

     “We [currently] have our own lathe. For the longest time we used an old dictaphone
transcrition machine which cuts tighter grooves – the fidelity is
horrible but it was all we had. We could fit about 8 mintues on the
information side of a cd, and we made a ton of these from 1997-2001. Once we got a CDR burner, we put half cd info and half grooves on one
format, which saved our ass cutting-wise because you have to cut in
real time which is a lot of hours sitting down. The machine [was] slowly dying, [and] it finally did after we finished our 2003
summer tour-only release (Did about 200 of those). We had our friend
work on our Presto 6N lathe and he got it up to par. We have an RCA head on
it now which sounds a little better than the original presto head. We still need to get a proper amp to drive it but we have a rigged set up. We
will probably make a few hundered cdr/recs for the Nautical Almanac
tour we’re doing this June/July….

     The major problem with the old
dictaphone set-up was figuring out the right material to cut on. Nate
Young worked on figuring this out – [he tried] plastic soap detergent
bottles, ‘solo’ brand plastic plates – anything soft plastic was used.
One day after sitting around, the idea of cutting onto cds magically
appeared in our heads – duh… – seems so simple in retrospect but for a
year or two we didnt think of it. The next step was to figure out a way
to hold the cd in place, so I had to glue a cd tray to the spinning
platter and then tape the cd down to get a centered cut.
I’m really happy the thing died… it was a pain in the ass.”

     Twig sent along photos of the dictaphone and a CDR with grooves cut into it, which I’ve included below:

naut1
naut2

     Mr. Harper also discussed some of the new challenges he’s encountered owning his new presto lathe, so if you’re a lathe expert, feel free to get in touch with him. You can visit Nautical Almanac’s website here.

     “The only problem with the presto is that i can only fit about 1 1/2 minutes
until the feed on the head stops. I hear there is a way of modifying
the 6n so you can cut all the way to the center if you want. Ill have
to call up someone in the secret society of lathe trolls to get this
information and trade some semi precious materials. The fideleity
is pretty insane with the presto, but ive only had it fixed for a little
bit so I’ll see what other problems come up. Right now, everything is sold out, but we’re getting ready for tour and will be making runs of some lathe cut cdrs and recs.”

Vinyl Data

One strategy that major record companies have been employing lately to deter downloading is adding bonus
computer content to new CD releases. I recently discovered that this technique is not unique to CD’s, but had in fact been practiced in the
vinyl era as well. That’s right: there were a handful of records released in the late 70’s and early 80’s that contained computer programs as part of the audio. This is totally insane, and totally great.

Most of these programs were written for the Sinclair Spectrum home computer series. The Sinclair Spectrum was a relatively cheap home computer system that used a television set as a monitor and loaded programs from tapes. It thrived in England in the early 80’s:

     “If the PC is the great electronic product of the 1990’s, the Sinclair Spectrum was the great electronic product of the 1980’s. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum (nicknamed the Speccy) was invented by Sir Clive Sinclair, a British Inventor.”

In the case of these programs on vinyl, the user would have to play back the proper portion of the record, record the resultant chatter to tape, and load the tape into the spectrum. Some users have mentioned playing certain games so much that they could recognise the loading sounds.

Photo by Iñaki Quenerapú

The Spectrum is emulated, so you can download the data files and an emulator and view the programs / play these games. Failing that, you can play most of these games directly in your browser (provided you have java enabled). All of the data files are available in the archive at worldofspectrum.org, and there are tons of emulators available for both the PC and mac (I used Spectaculator for Windows and Fuse for OS X).

The most ordinary of these vinyl-encoded programs are purely informational. Inner City Unit, a spinoff from Hawkwind, released an album called ‘New Anatomy’ in 1984. The last song on side two – ‘Hectic Electric’ consists of the audio pulses of a program that can be recorded to cassette and loaded into a 48k Sinclair Spectrum. When run, the program reportedly displays “a comprehensive description of the band, their recordings and tour schedules, etc.” I was unable to find this program data online, but the track has been included on the CD reissue.

Nik Turner's Inner City Unit - 'New Anatomy'

Similar, though slightly more involved was a program included on a record called ‘XL-1′ by Pete Shelly, former leader of The Buzzcocks, in 1983. The last song on the record – ‘ZX Spectrum Code’ – contains the audio pulses of a computer program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Again, the technically savvy listener was expected to copy the audio to tape and “play” it to their home computer. When properly input, the program was to be run while listening to the rest of the album.

Pete Shelley - 'XL-1'

If all of the above was executed properly, the program displayed rudimentary graphics and printed lyrics in time with the music for the duration of the album. Only the U.K. pressings of the album have this track. There’s a silent lockgroove before ‘ZX Spectrum Code’ so you can’t play it by accident (and deafen yourself). I’ve only found mention of one poor soul who has claimed to have successfully accomplished this feat – they mentioned it tangentially in a newgroup posting. If you have any further information, please contact me.

A gigantic step up from encoded text files were actual games included in the grooves of records. In 1984, The Thompson Twins released ‘The Thompson Twins Adventure Game’ in both regular vinyl and flexi disc formats.

Twins

This one has survived the ravages of time and is available for download online. You can play it in your web browser by clicking this link. The game is a bizarre text-based adventure in which you guide the Thompson Twins around a land of beaches and caves. If you didn’t grow up playing these games, in which you have to keep a map on paper and guess which key verbs the programmers used for certain actions, you may find it a bit frustrating. I poked around a little, but I haven’t played it enough to see how it ends. If you go north from the first screen, the Thompson Twins drown en masse. As always, the British say it best:

     “And, what a surprise, having deafened my family recording it onto tape on our dodgy stereo, when the game finally worked, it was crap. Bloody stupid Eighties floppy haired inumerate Chesterfield talentless ponces.”

Twins
Twins

Another spectrum game included on vinyl was found on the B-side of Chris Sievey’s ‘Camouflage’ 7″ single. The game is called ‘Flying Train’ and was coded by Sievey himself. It’s a pretty horrible game, notable only for the explosions, which throw a stickfigure engineer from the wreckage of the train.

Twins

You can download ‘Flying Train’ here, or play the game in your browser by clicking this link. Note that the instructions will ask you to hit ‘Cyan’ to begin, and no matter what you hit you’ll get an error. I’ve found that hitting the ‘C’ key three or four times at that point gets you by to a screen where you enter your last name, and you can proceed from there.

So who was this guy who wrote computer game B-sides to his pop singles? Chris Sievey led 80’s new wave popsters The Freshies. According to one newsgroup poster, “the most interesting fact (possibly the only interesting fact) about The Freshies is that all their instruments and equipment were painted pink. This is true.”

Twins

This history of the Freshies, from the liner notes of their greatest hits album is an
entertaining read. They had mild success with one single: “I’m In Love With The Girl At The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk” (which later had its name changed to “I’m In Love With The Girl At A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk”).

     “Sievey and Ryan approached the one record company not to be featured in Sievey’s expanding rejection folder, MCA. A licensing deal was swiftly completed, and ‘I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Check Out Desk’ spent a solid thirteen weeks on the Radio One playlist, remaining stubbornly in position throughout the heavily enladen Christmas chart and selling
over 40,000 copies. With dark and cruel irony however, a postal strike prevented the chart return statistics from the north of England from
reaching the central computing heart of London. Despite this agonisingly frustrating setback (The Freshies really wouldn’t have been The Freshies without being constantly blighted by such surreal slabs of plain bad luck), the band remained on stand-by, literally, with all the equipment stacked in the back of a Transit van for Top Of The Pops on three separate occasions, while the single bobbed and dipped with infuriating uncertainty.”

“I’m In Love With The Girl At The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk” ended up on a soundtrack cassette to a Spectrum game called ‘The Biz’. This game wasn’t included on a vinyl release, but it too was coded by none other than Chris Sievey, and can easily be seen as a sort of venting of his frustrations with the music industry.

The player inputs information such as name, band name, class, and hometown to begin the game. From then on, the ‘band’ is offered a dizzying array of options, all affecting variables used to determine your ‘Overall Star Rating.’ Players must schedule each week’s shows and rehearsals; hire managers; record, press and market singles; film videos; and pay attention to what genres the kids are buying on the weekly charts. I ended up playing it for way too long when I ‘tried it out.’ You can download ‘The Biz’ here, or play the game in your browser by clicking this link.

Twins
Twins

Sievey ended up making a living wearing a paper mache head, playing a character called Frank Sidebottom. Frank Sidebottom was originally conceived by Sievey as the Freshies’ number one fan, but he soon grew to be infamous in his own right (Or so I’m told, I’d never heard of him). He’s apparently released albums under the name, and become something of a celebrity soccer (football) fan.

Twins

Rockabilly revivalist Shakin’ Stevens – one of the best-selling artists in Europe in the late ’80s – also had a Spectrum game included on a vinyl release. ‘The Shaky Game’ is variously reported to have been included as the B-side of the ‘This Ole House’ single, and at the end of side 2 of “The Bop Won’t Stop” album, possibly both.

Twins

The program audio is preceeded by a message from Shakin’ Stevens himself, explaining the concept to less computer literate fans. The goal of ‘The Shaky Game’ is to drive Shakin’ Stevens’ car to the center of a maze while avoiding bats, who bite you.

Twins
Twins

You can download ‘The Shaky Game’ here, or play it in your browser by clicking this link.

Though not released on Vinyl, the cassette version of The Stranglers’ ‘Aural Sculpture’ album included the audio pulses of a game called ‘Aural Quest.’ The game, a text adventure in which you controlled the band’s tour manager, was written by their Keyboard
player, Dave Greenfield.

Twins

From the newsgroups:

     “Sorry, Mr. Greenfield, if you read this, but it’s true..the game’s so bad I took my copy of Aural Sculpture back to the shop to exchange for the version without the game on the end of the tape (which they had to order specially!)..it just wasn’t worth the aggro of falling to sleep with the tape on and being woken by a Spectrum 48k loading noise!”

Twins

You can download the file here or play it in your browser by clicking this link. There’s a walkthrough here.

There’s a bit of Spectrum audio code in the song ‘Thank You’ on Scottish band Urusei Yatsura‘s ‘Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura’ album, released on their own Oni records. Successfully importing the code produces a program that, when run, displays the following screen:

Twins

Examining the source for the program reveals the following comments:

“Hi Nick, is Robin there?”

“Judas Priest Satanic Message #3″

“What is sadder: a.) finding this b.) writing it”

Twins

You can download the file here.

The last song on side two of ‘Peace and Love Inc’ by 80’s synth popsters Information Society is an approximately three minute long modem transmission.

Information Society - 'Peace and Love, INC'

The title of the song – ‘300bps N, 8, 1 (Terminal Mode or ASCII Download)’ – gives all necessary information for importing the message. The message revealed upon playing the transmission into a properly configured computer is:

     “SO WE’RE SUPPOSED TO PLAY IN CURITIBA IN 18 HOURS, BUT OUR BUS IS BEING HELD HOSTAGE BY THE LOCAL PROMOTERS. THEY’VE FORMED SOME UNHOLY ALLIANCE WITH THE BRAZILIAN COUNTERPART OF ASCAP; THE PRS. APPARANTLY THE PRS HAS THE LEGAL POWER TO ARREST PEOPLE, AND THEY WANT A PIECE OF THE NATIONAL TOUR PROMOTER’S MONEY. THE LOCAL SECURITY FORCE, “GANG MEXICANA”, HAS BEEN BOUGHT OUT FOR 1800 CRUZADOS AND A CARTON OF MARLBOROS EACH. THE ONLY FACTION STILL OPERATING IN OUR DEFENSE IN “BIG JOHN”, OUR PERSONAL SECURITY MAN, AND HE’S HIDING IN HIS ROOM BECAUSE A LOCAL GANG IS OUT FOR HIS BLOOD BECAUSE OF A 1982 KNIFING INCIDENT IN WHICH HE WAS INVOLVED. OUR 345-POUND ROAD MANAGER, RICK ONLY HAD THIS TO SAY: “YOU WANTED THE LIFE OF A ROCK STAR!”. PAUL, JIM AND I REALIZED THAT THIS WAS ONE SITUATION WE WERE GOING TO HAVE TO GET OUT OF OURSELVES.

WE CONVENED A HASTY CONFERENCE IN THE NOVOTEL LOBBY. PAUL SUGGESTED CONTACTING OUR NATIONAL TOUR PROMOTER IN SAO PAULO, BUT WE REMEMBERED THAT HE WAS IN RECIFE WITH FAITH NO MORE, WHO HAD JUST ARRIVED FOR THEIR BRAZILIAN TOUR. WE THOUGHT ABOUT CONTACTING OUR BRAZILIAN RECORD COMPANY IN RIO, BUT THEY WEREN’T HOME. OUR EVER-DILIGENT AMERICAN MANAGER WAS ARRANGING HELP OF NUMEROUS FORMS, BUT HE WAS IN NEW YORK, AND JUST TOO FAR AWAY TO GET ANYTHING MOVING IN TIME.

AND THERE WERE 6000 KIDS IN CURITIBA WHO JUST WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND.

WE KNEW IT WAS TIME FOR ACTION. PAUL WENT UP TO THE PRS GUYS AND INVITED THEM INTO THE BAR TO DISCUSS IT LIKE CIVILIZED MEN OVER A FEW BRAZILIAN DRINKS, OFFERING EACH OF THEM A CIGAR ON HIS WAY. THE AMUSED PRS HEAVIES SEEMED
TO LIKE THE IDEA OF A FEW FREE DRINKS, EVEN IF THEY KNEW THEY WOULD NEVER GIVE US OUR BUS BACK. WHEN PAUL WINKED AT JIM AND I ON HIS WAY IN, WE WENT INTO ACTION.

I STOLE OFF TO MY ROOM TO PREPARE WHILE JIM WENT INTO ACTION. CREEPING CAREFULLY THROUGH A SERVICE DUCT, HE MANAGED TO GAIN A VANTAGE POINT SOME THREE METERS ABOVE THE BUS, AND DROPPED CAREFULLY ONTO THE ROOF. AFTER USING HIS ALL-PURPOSE SWISS ARMY KNIFE (AFFECTIONATELY KNOWN AS THE “SKIT KNIFE”) TO JIMMY OPEN THE ROOF HATCH, HE WENT THROUGH THE DARKENED INSIDE OF THE BUS AND REMOVED THE INSIDE ENGINE SERVICE PANEL. USING SOME SPARE ELECTRONIC PARTS HE FOUND WHILE ON AN ISLAND IN THE AMAZON, HE WIRED THE ENTIRE BUS FOR REMOTE CONTROL, NOT UNLIKE A REMOTE CONTROL TOY CAR.

AT THIS POINT, HE ASKED HIMSELF “NOW HOW SHALL I GET OUT OF HERE?!?”

PAUL WAS HAVING DIFFICULTIES OF HIS OWN.

“COULDN’T YOU SEE YOUR WAY CLEAR TO LETTING US FULFILL OUR CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATIONS IN CURITIBA? THINK OF THE KIDS!”

THROUGH OUR TRANSLATOR, FABIO, THE PRS MAN, ALDO, SAID:

“NO. YOU AMERICANS THINK YOU OWN THE WORLD. HAH! WE’LL BURN DOWN OUR RAIN FOREST IF WE DAMN WELL PLEASE. WE NEED ROOM FOR COWS!! WE WANT A MACDONALD’S ON EVERY… OH, SORRY, YES ANYWAY, NO. WE NEED 40% OF YOUR CONCERT
RECEIPTS TO GIVE TO DAVID BOWIE.” HE SAID, WINKING TO THE LOCAL PROMOTER, PHILLIPE.

AS PAUL CONTINUED THIS ELABORATE DISTRACTION, JIM EFFECTED AN ESCAPE FROM THE HEAVILY GUARDED BUS BY CRAWLING DOWN INTO THE CARGO BAY, CUTTING A HOLE IN THE FLOOR WITH THE SWISS ARMY KNIFE’S ARC-WELDER, SLIPPING INTO THE MANHOLE COVER SITUATED UNDER THE BUS, AND WALKING UP INTO THE HOTEL’S BASEMENT FROM THERE. JIM CALLED UP TO ME IN MY ROOM AND GAVE THE SIGNAL. WE WERE NOW TO MEET AT THE BACK ENTRANCE, WITH OUR TECH GUYS. BUT FIRST, PAUL WOULD NEED SOME HELP GETTING AWAY FROM HIS UNWELCOME GUESTS, AS THINGS WERE GETTING UGLY.

“HE SAYS HE HAS LOST HIS PATIENCE, AND THAT HE CAN THINK OF OTHER WAYS OF EXACTING PAYMENT FROM YOU KURT AND JIM PHYSICALLY.” OUR TREMBLING INTERPRETER SAID.

THE MOMENT HAD COME. JIM BEGAN OPERATING THE BUS FROM HIS BACK ENTRANCE VANTAGE POINT. AS THE REMOTE-CONTROLLED BUS LURCHED TOWARDS THE PARKING LOT EXIT, THE SUPERSTITIOUS SECURITY YOUTHS FLED IN TERROR. PAUL WAS PULLING ANXIOUSLY ON HIS COLLAR AS THE PRS MAN BEGAN DESCRIBING HIS COLLECTION OF WORLD WAR II NAZI CERIMONIAL KNIVES WHEN A SUDDEN CRASH SPLIT THE TABLEAU.

JIM HAD PURCHASED ME THE GIFT OF A COMPLETE BLACK NINJA STEALTH ASSASSIN OUTFIT IN ARACAJU. I HAD BEEN GEARING UP AND CRAWLING THROUGH THE AIR CONDITIONING DUCTS ALL THIS TIME. AS I CRASHED THROUGH THE CHEAP IMITAION-STYROFOAM HUNG CEILING TILES, SKATES FIRST, I FLASHED NINJA STARS ALL ABOUT ME. IN THE ENSUING PANIC, PAUL ESCAPED TO THE PRE-ARRANGED BUS PICK-UP POINT. UNFORTUNATLEY, MY SKATES WERE A POOR CHOICE OF FOOT GEAR FOR ESCAPING OVER THE BROKEN GLASS. OF THE TABLE I HAD LANDED ON. WERE IT NOT FOR THE CONFUSION AND THE NINJA-STAR-INFLICTED WOUNDS DELIVERED TO THE BAD GUYS, I WOULD HAVE BEEN SET UPON WHILE FOUNDERING ON THE GLASS-STREWN CARPET. AS IT HAPPENED, HOWEVER, I LEAPT THROUGH THE OPEN DOOR OF THE CAREENING BUS AS IT DEPARTED THE CITY OF MARINGA FOREVER.

IF ONLY WE HAD MANAGED TO GET OUR EQUIPMENT IN THE BUS, TOO . . .

EVERY WORD OF THIS STORY IS TRUE.

– KURT HARLAND

Japanese composer and synthesizer expert Isao Tomita released an LP called ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ on RCA records in 1979. A paragraph on the sleeve says “Each side of this Lp contains coded data in the form of sound effects. The message can be recovered if the electrical signal from the Lp is interfaced with the input of a micro computer programmed to the Tarbel system.” I found the decoded messages on Tomita’s site:

Side A: “THIS IS THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, OVER. SLOW DOWN. TARGET 50 MILES OFF SOUTH FLORIDA, A GIANT PYRAMID AT OCEAN BOTTOM.”

Isao Tomita - 'The Bermuda Triangle'

Side B: “THIS IS THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, OVER. LOOK OUT! THE CYLINDRICAL OBJECT JUST LIKE THE ONE EXPLODED OVER SIBERIA AND CRASHED INTO TUNGUSKA IN 1908, HAS JUST COME INTO THE SOLAR SYSTEM.”

Amazing. Tomita appends the following comments to his notes on the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ album:

     “Ocean explorers have found scientific evidence that a collosal pyramind – more immense than any other known – sits beneath the sea in the Devil’s Triangle. Sonar tracing reveals massive and symmetrical structure. Says author Charles Berlitz: “I believe we have found a pyramid where Atlantis may have existed!”. Pyramid as shown in artist’s sketch is in 1,200 feet of water and reaches incredible height of 780 feet. Undersea researcher found it 50 miles off South Florida.”

A few others that I haven’t found many details on:

  • A Space Invaders clone on the B-side of the ‘Google’ single by Atomic Robo Kid. ‘
  • Polish group Papa Dance released a 12″ called ‘Ponizej krytyki’ in 1987. It contained a program in two parts. The program was info about the group and some kind of quiz.
  • “Carter USM put a program at the start of a song on thier “101 Damnations” album. ‘A Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb’. It starts with about 15 seconds worth of loading screeches. It’s just code, though (the blue and yellow bit), with no header, so you can’t load it in, unless you know what you’re doing.”

Other Articles in this ‘Series:’

Oh, inverted grooves!

     Response to the vinyl manufacturing saga thus far, from Sarah:

“Get a room, man! ENOUGH’S ENOUGH.”

With that in mind, I present yet another installment.

     Another fun trick that can be employed while cutting the master
plates for a vinyl release is the inverted groove – that is, a record that plays from the inside out. Since the direction in which a standard turntable ‘turns’ to plays a record is not reversible (Without human intervention), the direction of the grooves is reversed.

Inverse!

     This practice appears to have practical origins in radio and soundtrack applications. Radioarchives.org is a site dedicated to preserving first generation copies (ie vinyl) of early radio programming. Some choice bits in the way of explanation from their site:

     “During the golden age of radio, programs were generally recorded on 16″ disks. Some were recorded during a live broadcast; others were pre-recorded for distribution to local stations. Since the concept of repeating a recorded broadcast didn’t really take hold until the early 1950s, many of these recordings were not retained once they had been played for reference purposes.”

     Apparently inside-out records used to be common for radio shows distributed on 16″ vinyl, as many are labeled “start outside” or “start inside”. Some theories on why this was done, culled from the newsgroups:

     “I would guess that it is easier to
cue;
you drop the needle into the wide band in the middle rather than a thin
strip
on the
edge. Also, it would be easier to watch for the end of the record.”

     Records with inverse grooves were also used to accompany silent films. Details from this newsgroup thread:

     “Yesterday, I went to a movie at one of the few remaining old-time
movie
houses, you know, the kind with only one screen with a curtain, a
marquee
over the entrance, and a bubble-like ticket window on the outside.

     Anyway, inside the theater, they had some display cases containing old
cinema artifacts. One of these was a 15-inch record that was used as a
soundtrack to a 1920s movie — not a movie soundtrack in today’s sense
(e.g. “I got the soundtrack to Titanic”), but the actual audio
component to
a movie being played. This was how it was done in the days before sound
was encoded on the film itself, and yes, sometimes the record got
annoyingly out-of-step with the film.

     I took a close look at this ancient record, and I noticed that there
was no
spiral on the lead-in area. Rather, there appeared to a single
lock-groove
around the perimeter. Then upon looking at the lead-out area, not only
did
the penultimate groove come to an abrupt tapered end, but the word START
was carved on the vinyl at that point. It therefore appeared that the
record was designed to play backwards, or from the inside out.

     Were inside-out records common back then, for that or other purposes? I
did hear that there are a number of novelty records being made that way
today, but with caution that they wreak havoc on modern tracking
systems.
Could one reason for using inside-out records in movies be that, with
the
assumption that outer tracks sound better than inner tracks, it saves
the
best quality sound for last?”

     The only reply that this post garnered was the following:

     “Sixteen-inch transcriptions were done in the days before hot-stylus
cutting, so audio that was crisp and clear at the edge of a 33 1/3 rpm
record would become muddy and muffled near the label. Therefore,
transcriptions were usually done alternating outside-in for side 1,
inside-out for side 2, outside-in for side 3, etc. This meant that the
sound quality would change gradually over a 30 minute cycle, rather
than a
jarring difference every 15 minutes when the record sides switched.”

     “Another reason for inside-out records was that they required less
babysitting while being cut. The chip cut from a lacquer has a tendancy
to
drift towards the center. If the record runs from the outside in, the
operator has to sit there and constantly brush the chip away from the
approaching cutting stylus. If it’s cut inside out, the cutting stylus
is
moving away from the chip, and the operator has one less thing to worry
about.”

     “In the ’50s, hot-stylus cutting and chip suction came along and made
both
of these issues moot points. Of course, they came with their own set of
problems, but that’s a different story…”

     There are a few contemporary releases I’ve managed to track down that use this technique, though many of them are no less obscure than the transcription records.

  • Blur’s promo-only 10″ version of ‘Tender.’ Adding to confusion is the fact that there were two promo 10″ versions of Tender – one with backwards grooves and one that came sealed in a silver bag.
  • Certain pressings of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘The Second Annual Report’ have one side that plays backwards.
  • The Checkpoint Charlie ‘Salz & Phiffer’ EP, which is actually by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (AKA Flo and Eddie, formerly of The Turtles) has inverted grooves, with a warning on the
    cover in both German and English “Warnung: Diese Platte ist nur von innen nach aussen Abspielbar” and “Warning: This record plays inside out!”
  • In 1979 Mercury Records released a sampler called ‘Counterrevolutionary Music: 33 1/3,’ including songs from the Scorpions, John Cougar, and others.
  • From a techno newsgroup: “On Circuit Breaker’s – “Experiments in Sound”-EP one side runs on 45 completely backwards (“When this song ends, so will your needle”) and the other side, which runs on 33, has two tracks. The outer track runs “forwards”, the inner one “backwards”, so both stop in the middle (Not in the centre of the record, but the middle of the playable vinyl area; if you had two needles, they would run
    towards
    each other). They did the same thing
    with their “Overkill/Frenzy” single. It’s a bitch to
    figure out which one is which when you’re spinning in the dark.”
  • Certain pressings of Megadeth’s Sweating Bullets 12″ single were pressed on baby blue vinyl that plays backwards.

HELLO ME! MEET THE REAL ME!

     There are also countless hardcore bands who have done this on one 7″ or another, but all the imformation I’ve turned up using google has been pretty vague. If you know of one, let me know.

     Also: ‘Inverted Groove’ would be a good name for a funk band.

Lock Grooves

     I’ve been writing about interesting vinyl manufacturing anomolies for the past few days. Tuesday I covered Flexo Records and flexidiscs, and yesterday I wrote about parallel grooves. Today’s bit is about ‘Lock grooves:’ grooves that feed back into themselves so that they repeat indefinately. You should probably read all of these entries because I hear that’s what the ladies are looking for these days: men with EXTENSIVE knowledge of obscure vinyl manufacturing practices.

     Records with lockgrooves are cut like any other record until the beginning of the loop is reached. At this point, instead of spiraling inward, the radius of the groove becomes fixed, producing a perfectly circular loop that ends where it began.

     The most familiar example of this amongst record collecter types is Lou Reed’s infamous ‘Metal Machine Music.’ Recorded as a ‘Fuck You’ to Reed’s record label, the album is often described as ‘Unlistenable.’ The AMG review sums up the sentiment nicely:

“One would be hard-pressed to name a major artist who ever released an album as thoroughly alienating as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.”

MMM!

     The the end of side four is a lock groove that extends the cacaphony to a length only limited by the listener. Reed himself has said of the album: “Well, anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am.”

     Given the Monty Python troupe’s previous history with clever vinyl mastering, it should come as no surprise that
they’ve already covered this territory:

     “…on another Monty Python record, the Pirannha Bros. sketch at the end of one side finished with a lockgroove of “Sorry squire, I scratched the record I scratched the record I scratched the record… ad infinitum (or the next power cut). Hours of fun.”

     The album in question appears to be ‘Another Monty Python Record,’ but I haven’t yet confirmed this.

     A few ‘serious’ artists have used a final lockgroove to include jokes, and in the case of English band Heaven 17, a perpetual pun. The final track on their ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ album – ‘We’re Going
to Live for a Very Long Time’ – builds to a never-ending groove repeating the phrase ‘For a very long time.’ The James Gang’s “Yer Album” features messages in the lockgrooves that end each side. At the end of side one, the lockgroove repeats “turn me over, turn me over, turn
me over…”; and on side two it plays “play me again, play me again, play me
again…”.

A LONG TIME!
Yer Album

     Other artists have used the repetition of a lockgroove loop to exaggerate the duration of certain sounds. At the end of side two of Abba’s ‘Super Trouper,’ after the final song – “Like Old Friends Do” – the audience’s applause continues into a locked groove (From a NG posting on the topic: “Wow, must have been a
great performance, they’re giving them a neverending standing ovation…”). Side two of Pink Floyd’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ ends with ‘Alan’s Psychedelic
Breakfast,’ and the dripping tap continues until you lift the needle.

Abba Old Pink

     Of note to crazy record collector types is
“Loop,” a flexidisc by the Velvet Underground which was included in the December 1966 issue of Aspen Magazine (Edited by Andy Warhol). Details, from a VU discography site:

     “Loop is the B-side. The label says “Guitar and feedback”, “First half of a 15-minute recording made with two monaural tape recorders” and “Final groove purposely left open”. The credits went to John Cale who is supposedly the only person playing on Loop. The flexi has a closed-groove ending so the last groove repeats itself ad infinitum.”

VU

     Moving beyond the novelty of the loop, some artists have creatively used lockgrooves to hide extra tracks, creating a ‘false ending’ to the record before the hidden track’s grooves. The listener could hear the ‘hidden’ music only by manually placing the needle beyond the lock groove. This technique was used on the Pale Saints’ “Half-Life” 12,” which had a lock-groove after the second song on the second side, ‘hiding’ an unlisted third song; and in similar fashion on the split 12″ by Nurse With Wound / Sol Invictus / Current 93.

     The 1968 Moby Grape album ‘WOW’ has a lockgroove that seperates the song “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot,” which unlike the rest of the album, is mastered at 78 RPM. The track is also said to be ‘mixed to sound like an old 78.’

Moby Grape, dude.

     My interest in lockgrooves has led me to do something I NEVER would have guessed I’d ever do: I got into an eBay bidding war over a Lee Ranaldo record. Ranaldo’s 1987 SST release ‘From Here to Infinity’ consists entirely of songs that end in lock grooves. Each song builds to a perpetual 2-second loop which continues until you get up and advance to the next track manually. In the middle of one side is an etching of a flaming serpent chasing its tail around the record. Apparently SST also released this on CD, which seems to defeat the purpose. At any rate, I lost the auction, so if a vinyl copy pops up on eBay again anytime soon you’re not allowed to bid against me, I hereby decree.

Moby Grape, dude.
FLAMING SERPENT

     A legend amongst lockgroove enthusiasts is Boyd Rice, an avant garde electronic experimentalist who is “notable for being one of the first avant-garde rock artists to use turntables in his work,” according to his AMG bio. He records under the name ‘Non,’ and his most influential work appears to be 1978’s ‘Pagan Muzak.’

Pagan Poetry

     Mute Records reissued ‘Pagan Music’ at some point, and they’ve got a great article on the album here:

     “Pagan Muzak is a 7″ vinyl long playing record housed in a 12″ sleeve. It consists of 17 locked/looped grooves, each of them containing a different noise. A second axis hole drilled off-centre doubles the number of tracks; and as it can be played back at up to four speeds – 16, 33, 45 or 78rpm – working out just how many tracks Pagan Muzak effectively offers the listener involves complicated calculations of all the different playback combinations of axis choice, turntable speeds and the grooves themselves. The mind boggles, yet when it was sold as a long playing record, some buyers thought they’d been short-changed by at least five inches. Boyd recalls, “Because it came out as a 7″ record in an album sleeve, people used to go,[in a whining voice] ‘It says LP on here. . .’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘LP means long player, and this is the longest player you are ever going to find’.”

     “Between the record’s peculiar format and the noises contained in its locked grooves, Pagan Muzak clearly anticipated the sound and shape of many music practices to come. Rice’s radicalisation of vinyl reversed the listener’s usual passive relationship with the record as a sound carrier. To listen to it meant first of all making ‘musical’ choices regarding pitch and tempo, dependent on playback axis and turntable speed. In this sense, putting on Pagan Muzak was a kind of rehearsal of a near future, when DJs and turntablists would play records as a musical instrument.”

     “Getting the idea was the relatively easy part. Getting the record manufactured presented a formidable logistical challenge. Boyd continues, “Well, because they always lock off a groove at the end of a record, it seemed reasonable to me that they would be able to do it at any mastering plant. But everyone I spoke to said, ‘No, you can’t do this, it’s impossible, the technology doesn’t exist’. Then these people in Virginia said, ‘Oh yeah, we should be able to do that, I don’t see why not’. But a couple of months later the tapes came back with a letter saying it is not possible. Finally I went to this mastering plant in LA, and talked to its president, and he said, ‘Well, yeah, I think we could do that’. He kind of took it on as a personal challenge and did it himself. . . Always go to the top!”

     Rice has also released the ‘Rangnock Rune’ 12″, with four locked groves
and and etching on orange/reddish vinyl. Other career highlights include 1984’s ‘Easy Listening for the Hard of Hearing,’ an album of percussion sounds produced by everyday objects. Mute maintains a fairly comprehensive Non page with a discography. It’s worth noting that a history of questionable politics has marred his reputation. The AMG bio touches on some of these unflattering associations:

     “His career moved towards a bizarre mix of a cocktail lounge sounds, avant garde noise, and misanthropic folk music as it went along, bringing him a mild cult audience. But anti-Jewish and anti-Christian statements that sprung from his association with a cult and his friendship with Charlie Manson did severe damage to any momentum his career could have had and left him fairly obscure by the mid-90’s.”

     There are several newsgroup threads discussing his various ambiguous political connections. Most of the information is pretty vague, but there are threads here, here, and here.

     The taj mahals of lockgroove ridiculousness are the RRR 100 and RRR 500 compilations, a 7″ and 12″ consisting of nothing but lock grooves by various artists. RRR 100 was released first and contains, as the title suggests, 100 lock grooves – 50 to a side. The RRR 500 LP features a ridiculous 250 lock grooves per side, each running 1 to 2 seconds. A good thread on the staggering impracticality of the LP is here:

RRR!

Sean Casey: “quick question about these locked groove records:
i assume you have to pick up the needle to get to
the next groove, right? but with 500 people, how
do you tell one groove from the next? are the
grooves spaced out more than on a normal record?”

‘Skincrime': “Let’s see, we’ve got 33 1/3 RPM multiplied by 20 Minutes (say for an average LP
side, could be alot more, or less……) and we get 666 grooves, so, the
grooves are a SLIGHT bit further apart then on a Normal record……
As far as FINDING a particular groove that you want to listen to…….well,
have fun………”

Erik Hoffman: “I have a Technics 1200 turntable and it just so happens that when I lift
the stylus arm and then put it back down it advances one groove. Of
course if I wanted to listen to lock groove # 224 I would have to do
this 223 times!! This was not a problem with the 100 lock groove 7″. I
can’t imagine doing this witht the LP.”

‘Voice & Salt': “A nice side effect of the fact it’s difficult to find a particular groove
is that they’re anonymous — oh well, I guess we’ll just have to listen
(over and over and over again….)

     A second pressing of RRR 500 is available here from forced exposure.

     Blake Edwards, the man behind recording project Vertonen released a 7″ called ‘Lock Up‘ in the early 90’s. The A-side consists of 15 lock grooves. Blake has posted the story of his experience getting the 7″ pressed on his own, and it’s an interesting read if you’re into that end of music production / label business. There are few bits about the nature of manufacturing lock grooves within the epic tale:

Vert

     “…when the lock groove locks, you usually get a click. However, some of the loops I recorded were single pitch loops, so when the groove locked there was a fuzzy pitch shift. Not heinous, but somewhat annoying nonetheless. There was nothing I could do about it anyway, since apparently that’s just the nature of the beast of lock grooves.”

     Also: ‘The Lock Grooves’ is a good name for a funk band.

Fate as the DJ: Parallel Grooves

     Some of the more interesting variations that can occur during vinyl manufacturing occur while the master plates are being cut. While a normal record’s grooves consist of one continuous spiral, the only strict limitations on how the grooves can be cut lie in the standards imposed by the turntable. One innovation that I’ve discovered in researching unique records is the practice of cutting two or more parallel grooves into the same side of a record. In the case of a two-grooved record, when the needle is dropped you may hear one of two entirely different ‘sides.’

woo!

     This practice cuts the time available per side down by a facter of n (n being the number of parallel grooves). For example, suppose a one grooved record can hold 20 minutes of music. A two-grooved record can in turn hold 10 minutes of music in each groove, which adds up to 20 minutes for the side. Sticklers who want to know exactly how much an LP can hold per side might be interested to learn that it’s variable:

     “Generally speaking, each side of an LP should not exceed around 20 to 25
minutes to maintain an ideal signal to noise ratio. To manufacture longer play times, more grooves must be put on the vinyl, and the overall volume has to be lowered and the dynamics compressed. This allows the groove to be physically smaller, but also lowers the signal to noise ratio.”

     I’ve done a bit of research on this variety of record and have thus far been unable to track down a definitive ‘first’ record to employ the technique. Collectors of 78 RPM records in the newgroups maintain that this was done ‘a lot’ in the 30’s and 40’s. In the limited reading I’ve done on the topic, the most cited example (by far) is Monty Python’s ‘Matching Tie and Handkerchief‘ album.

     I went to Ann Arbor’s vinyl repository, Encore Records to see if I could pick up a copy so I could experience the double groove in question. Sure enough, there amongst the comedy section in the back, I found a copy (Albeit sans ‘Tie and Handkerchief’). I brought the record home and experienced the parallel groove in all its glory. I showed it to friends, sometimes taking up to seven tries to hit the alternate groove. Patience was tried, glory was had.

Tie & Hanky

     In every newsgroup post on the topic, someone mentions this record:

     “I had this album for months before I heard the third side. I never could figure out why the second side seemed so much shorter than the first. Also, the original cover actually came with a tie stuffed into the cover so you could see it on the outside. Unfortunately, due to costs it was cut early on. even worse, at about the same time, they put it into a regular jacket and used only two sides. i have an original though, i NEVER found this out until i bought the Monty Python autobiography, very funny!!!”

     I’ve been unable to confirm the ‘Real tie’ part of the story. Also unconfirmed thus far:

     “This phenomenom appeared on a free Monty Python flexi 7″, which was given away on the cover of NME (if memory serves). On one groove was The lumber jack song, and I think the other was the election results sketch. Forgive me if the facts aren’t entirely accurate but it was a hell of a long time ago.”

     It appears comedy records were the ‘early adopters’ of this technology, as I’ve also found mention of a Henny Youngman record of one-liners that has four seperate grooves (Though I’m not sure which Henny Youngman record…), and a National Lampoon LP, “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick!” which had parallel grooves on both sides. I’ve also found a few postings mentioning a Cheech and Chong album that used the groove for more then just hidden storage – it was part of the joke:

     “Cheech & Chong did something similar with the “Rip-Off Album”. Each side had two grooves. One groove contained the album, and the other was a groove that went the entire length and simply said “You’ve been ripped off” over and over. This made it entirely possible that no matter where you put the needle, on either side, you could get the second [“You’ve been ripped off”] groove.”

     “If memory serves me right, this was accompanied by a huge advertising and marketing campaign for the album, which consisted mostly of C&C saying not to buy the album, it’s a rip off, etc.”

     …which sounds great in theory, but everyone who mentions this links back to the article quoted above, and I haven’t been able to independently verify its existence.

     Perhaps the ultimate in parallel groove technology was Mad Magazine’s ‘It’s a Super Spectacular Day,’ a flexi-disc included in the 1980 Super Special which featured eight possible parallel-groove endings:

     “Halfway through the disc, after the cheerful intro, the extra grooves took over and the record played a gloomy/funny description of possible disastrous events that totally ruin your day. There were 8 scenarios total and whichever one played depended on which groove the stylus happened to make contact with – totally random! I had to play the thing 25-30 times before I could hear all 8 of ‘em! You can hear all eight endings on the Totally MAD CD 4, ‘Somewhere in the Middle Years’.”

Cheap!

     You can view the lyrics to all the alternate conclusions here, if you’re so inclined.

‘Real’ Music

     The parallel groove technique has also made several appearances in the world of ‘serious’ music, with some using it more creatively than others. I’ve compiled a list of all that I was able to find mention of on the web:

  • LL Cool J – Goin’ Back To Cali / Radio / Jack The Ripper ‘Three sided’ 10″ single.
  • Soft Verdict – 7″ on Belgium’s Collectible Crepuscule label (early 1980s): three parallel groove tracks on the b-side.
  • Kate Bush – “Sensual World” 12″ single. One track contains the standard vocal version and the other an instrumental version.
  • Fine Young Cannibals – “Good Thing” 12″ single (1989). Two different mixes of the same song in parallel grooves.
  • M – “Pop Muzik” European 12″ single. Double grooved with two mixes. “It was highly irritating
    back then in the late 1970’s but now I actually enjoy the randomness…”
  • Sonic Youth – “100%” and “Youth against Fascism”, both 10″ singles from 1992-ish on Geffen. Each side has 2 songs, one in each groove. “Maddingly frustrating if you want to hear a specific song.”
  • I am Spoonbender – Teletwin 12″.
  • Various Artists – The “Music Maniac Gimmick Compilation” (Germany, late 1980’s). A two record set with two or three grooves on every side. “A tribute to the phonograph record and the weirdest LP ever. Cut ‘trick-track’ with 3 parallel grooves on each side, clear vinyl, no labels, spoken introductions, free boardgame and a cover with optical illusions.”
  • “The book “Rare Rock” by Tony Rees mentions a Rush promo from the Seventies that featured six different grooves with six different songs. The name of the record: ‘Rush’n Roulette.'”
  • “You’re the Guy I Want to Share my Money With”, on Giorno Poetry Systems Records. Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, and John Giorno each take Sides 1 to 3, and on Side 4 there are three tracks (one by each artist) that run as parallel grooves.

Good & Evil / Happy & Sad

     I found two interesting records that use the inherent duality of the parallel grooves in the themes of the recordings contained within them. One is a single by Psychic TV (It looks to be ‘Je T’aime,’ though I’m not positive). Dropping the needle on this parallel groove, one can hear either the Pope or Anton Le Vey reciting their respective credos.

INHERENT DUALITY!

     The other is ‘Brave,’ a 1994 album by prog-rockers Marillion:

     “I don’t know how common it is, but Marillion’s last album ‘Brave’ was released as a double vinyl LP with the final side existing as two grooves – one with a ‘happy’ ending and one with an ‘unhappy’ ending (its a concept album…)”

     Further Details on ‘Brave’ Straight from the band:

     “The 2LP vinyl release of Brave features a double groove on the second side of disc 2. The first groove plays ‘The Great Escape’ as heard on the CD, followed by ‘Made Again'; the second groove plays ‘The Great Escape (Spiral Remake)’ and 20 minutes of water noise. This provides 2 different endings to the album story, depending on where you drop the needle.”

     A bit of research reveals that a full-length movie version of Brave, directed by Richard Stanley, was released in Europe in conjunction with the album. The VHS is currently out of print, but EMI are planning to release a DVD version in the summer of 2004. The only review on the imdb entry for the movie reveals the plot:

     “Brave was Marillion’s seventh studio album, their third with Steve Hogarth. It was that most unfashionable of products, a concept album from a prog-rock outfit in the early 90’s.”

     “The story was complete invention, starting from a real event; the police found a young woman wandering on a motorway bridge. She couldn’t or wouldn’t tell them anything. From this starting point, the group wove a story which covered abuse by her father as a child, moving on into drug abuse and a few other events leading to her being on the bridge, contemplating suicide.”

     “The film is an interpretation of the story, with the co-operation of the band – although they feature only in passing on screen. This film is about as far from MTV video as it’s possible to get!”

     “The story is mostly told via the images and Marillion’s music – there is little dialogue. As such, I feel the film is something of a curate’s egg; some of it works really well, while others need more explanation. The scenes with the Hollow Man (the man in the mask) could do with something extra, since it’s not really clear if this is simply a barrier the girl erects to protect her from people who hurt her, a cipher that means these people are interchangeable, or something else entirely.”

     “Not a bad effort, but not brilliant, either. If you’re unfamiliar with the original album, be prepared to be baffled the first couple of times through.”

Fun & Games

     The novelty of the parallel groove technique seems ideal for use on children’s records, but I found information on only a few. What I did find was vague at best. One poster in the rec.music.collecting.vinyl newsgroup remembers a ‘changing story’ 78, with multiple ‘switching points’ where new parallel grooves would begin:

     “When I was a child in the early ’50s I had a Bugs Bunny 78 that had two grooves per side, with two track regions per side, with a break between them. When the tone arm was put down the needle would fall into one of the two tracks; then at the break in the middle it would again select one of the two tracks of the second region. So the choices at each of the four sections on both sides were 2-2-2-2, for a total of 16 possible
variations in the story being told. It was great fun to keep changing the story. But the record quickly wore a prefered path between the first and second track regions in the middle, which reduced the randomness to 2-1-2-1, or only four variations. So we learned to pick up the tone arm at the middle transition and restore it to regain the lost randomness. Alas, the record has been gone since the mid-’50s. This was a phonograph version of stories that had multiple choices within them as they jumped around different pages. My own children loved those when they were young; they were a favorite from the library.”

     A few other children’s records of this sort that I’ve seen mentioned:

     “I have a few 50s kiddie 45s where they did this sort of thing. The two off the top of my head that I have are “Engineer Bill’s Magic Record” on Mark 56 and “The Chariot Race Game” on RCA from the late 50s.”

“I’m not positive, but I even think that Decca put out at least one of these on their yellow/pink 88000 kiddie series in the early 50s.”

     Another application of parallel grooves was in games. I’ve found a few vague mentions of horse racing games using multiple grooved records:

     “At a garage sale years ago, I saw a bizarre “Horseless Horse Racing” family game. It consisted of fake racing forms and, of course, another of those multi-grooved records. Each groove featured a different victorious horse & bets were placed on them all. The rest is obvious…”

     If you can fill in any of the blanks above, or are aware of any other records that have parallel grooves, let me know either via email or in the comments to this post. I plan on editing this post as I receive / discover new parallel groove records.

Also, ‘Parallel Groove’ is a good name for a funk band. So is ‘Concentric Groove.’

Flexo / Flexi

     In addition to the regular procession of
unrelated entries, I’m going to try and do a sort of ‘theme’ every so often. The point of this is to force myself to post bits of larger topics that my brain usually tries to sit on until I’ve followed up every loose thread (Which never happens). There will probably be no rhyme or reason to the the ‘themes,’ and some will be more exhaustive than others. This time around it’s going to be Vinyl Anomolies. Let me know how it all works out for you.

     Over Christmas, I impulsively bought a
book called Vinyl Junkies, without ever
having heard of it. It’s another ‘fast’ book, with each chapter focusing on the record collector theme from a different angle. Some chapters lay on the ‘old guy romance’ a bit heavy, but there are enough really interesting chapters (The ‘professional record hunter’ chapter in particular) to make it worthwhile.

     One of the sections of the book deals
with R. Crumb and his collection. In the quoted interviews, he
mentions the Flexo record company of California, who manufactured
flexible records:

     “Living in the Bay area at the height of
the psychedelic explosion, Crumb let those records and that movement
pass him by. Why go after those records when you can find something as
exotic as records on the Flexo label – a short-lived San Francisco
outfit that made 78’s that actually bent? “Nobody knows what they’re
made of, because they kept the formula a secret. It was a small
company in the 20’s and 30’s who actually made unb reakable, flexible
records, and they’ve held up pretty well over the years. And there’s
some really excellent music on them – San Francisco jazz and dance
bands who have only been on Flexo. Over the years I lived out there, I
only ever found two or three of them. Terry [Zwigoff] beat me on that
one – he looked in the phonebook and found that one of the band leaders
was still alive. And somehow I never thought of using the phonebook.”

     My interest was piqued, so I did a bit of
internet research on Flexo records. A little searching with google
turned up href=”http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Museum/8764/flexo.htm”>this company
profile, written by director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) in
the liner notes for ‘San Francisco Jazz – The Flexo
Recordings 1930-1932:

     “Flexo Records were the brainchild Of
Jesse J. Warner. Originally manufactured in Kansas City starting in
1925, the “flexible” record that Warner designed and unsuccessfully
tried to patent came in a variety of colors. Used originally for
private custom records in sizes ranging from 3″ to 16″, and playable at
speeds of 78RPM or 33 1/3RPM, the “New Flexo” rcords, as they became
known, also included a handful of commercial sides by the Johnnie
Campbell Orchestra, a black band which recorded tunes including “Tin
Roof Blues” and “Jimtown Blues”.

     By 1929, the Kansas City company had
moved to San Francisco with Warner as recording engineer. “The Pacific
Coast Record Company” was located at 1040 Geary Street. Many West Coast
bands recorded for Flexo…including Jack Coakley’s Tait at the Beach
Orchestra, Lew Reynolds Flexo Recording Orchestra, and George Druck’s
Sweet’s Ballroom Orchestra.

     Jack Coakley served as “musical director”
for Flexo until 1932. His band recorded at least a dozen popular tunes
of the day. Flexo continued to specialize in private recordings as
well.

     None of the musicians present at the
various recording sessions remember how or where “Flexos” were sold.
They don’t recall selling or giving them away at band performances.

     One clue to the marketing of Flexos comes
from a four page Pacific Coast Record Catalog that lists Flexos
#100-134. Numbers 100-122 are ten inches in diameter and play from the
inside out @ .75 each. Numbers 123-134 are eight inches in diameter and
play from the outside in @ .40 each. Here’s how the catalog touts
“unbreakable records”:

     “Phonograph manufacturers have been
searching for years and the record buying public has been looking
forward to obtaining a record that is UNBREAKABLE AND EVERLASTING. The
new FLEXO RECORD meets these requirements. It cannot be BROKEN OR
CRACKED; is of light weight for easy mailing and does not mutilate or
mar easily. The new FLEXO RECORD is constructed of a specially
processed material sufficiently delicate to produce the finest and
natural tone qualities. The new FlEXO RECORDS have been put through the
most trying and extraordinary tests, they have been thrown in the
streets, run over by automobiles and trucks for hours at a time, they
have been layed out under the burning rays of the hot summer sun
without materially affecting their rendition qualities. They will wear
almost indefinitely and are a permanent and lasting record. The PACIFIC
COAST RECORD CORPORATION, in the production of the new FLEXO RECORD,
has also developed the recording of sound waves by an entirely new
process of phongraph recording, giving you a true reproduction of all
sounds from the blare of a brass band to the whispered word. Only use
the ordinary, new steel needle for the reproduction of the FLEXO
RECORD.

     It seems Warner was more the inventor
type than a marketing genius, and by 1934, the Pacific Record Company
declared bankruptcy. Another company started up at the same address
called Titan Productions which continued to produce mostly advertising
records and radio transcriptions –and employed J.J. Warner–until
1939.”

     I also found a great site called The Internet
Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records
that includes images
and sound clips form an original flexo record.

     These pictures are a start, but I’m most
interested in the ‘flexible’ properties of these records. I was unable
to find anything else online about the flexo label. I’ve yet to see a
flexo record come up for auction on eBay, and I’m sure if one ever does
the bidding will be way beyond what I’m willing to pay to satisfy my
curiousity.

     The rest of the Flexi / Cardboard /
Oddity Records site, however, is interesting in its own right. Among
the well-remembered cereal box and other food
related
promotional records are some true anomolies. These include
playable
records that were used as POSTAGE in Bhutan
, a Psychedelic Furs 7″
that had the song pressed onto both the 7″ AND the sleeve itself
, and
a Brian
Wilson-penned flexidisc that was included with certain Barbie
dolls
.

     For the technically inclined reader,
there is a discussion of the flexi (not flexo) manufacturing process here.

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