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Session Notes 8 - The Vinyl Frontier (Part 5 Speciality Options)


Hello again folks. This month i want to wrap up the vinyl chapter by looking at the different options available to artists who are looking for something out of the ordinary. This can range from picture discs, coloured vinyl, flexi discs, concentric grooves and a whole lot more besides. There was a prototype audiobook disc that played at 4 RPM with micro grooves to derive 10 hrs listening on one side!!!!!

Coloured Vinyl - has been around since 1910. It was originally used by labels to differentiate different pressings of the same material. Usually red, brown and occasionally orange. Today you can press vinyl in almost any colour you want. There has been much debate as to whether it affects the sound with the results being that single colour produces less artefacts. Multiple colours have slightly different melting points and can therefore produce uneven pressings. Without doubt the worst performer is “Glow-In-The-Dark” vinyl. A few bands have gone down this route but the phosphorous required to make the “glow” has a deleterious effect on the sound. Also, record labels have a habit of releasing certain titles in different colours to lure fans into repurchasing the same material!

Picture Discs - differ from coloured vinyl in that a “kiln-dried” circle of paper with whatever you want printed on it is sandwiched between a very thin clear plastic outer coat. A black vinyl base is pressed with the picture on top and a final clear layer on top. Unfortunately the playable outside layer is so thin that the grooves are very shallow. This results in a truly horrendous amount of surface noise. I remastered the seminal Ruts album “The Crack” for its 40th anniversary. It was cut at Abbey Road and the resulting pressings sounded glorious (even if i say so myself). The picture disc version of exactly the same album is virtually unlistenable. It sounds absolutely atrocious but boy it sure does look good. So you will have to decide whether to feast your eyes or your ears!!!!!

Flexi-disc - This format (as we know it today) was devised in the 1950’s as a way for music publishers to provide playable audio excerpts of sheet music. The flexi-disc was so thin that it could be inserted into magazines. It was square in shape and had a perforated edge that attached it to the publication. You could then tear it out and play it. Many glam bands of the 1970’s made flex-discs available in fanzines with a mixture of music and spoken messages. The format is still available today and obviously sounds like shit.

Specialist Grooves - Probably the most famous “lock groove” appears at the end of Sgt Pepper’s by The Beatles. At the end of “A Day In The Life” the runout groove locks with a loop of cacophonous nonsense that people (to this day) still try to decipher. So, if you want a repeated message at the end of your record @ 33⅓ rpm you have precisely 1.8 seconds to get it in.

Another type of groove is the “concentric” or “Parallel”. RCA Victor in 1950 issued a “magic record” by The Fontane Sisters where two grooves were cut on one side. Two grooves are cut next to each other on the same side. As a result each groove is only about ten minutes long but each will contain totally different material. The most famous British release in this format was Monty Python’s “Matching Tie & Handkerchief”. Depending on which groove the stylus locked into you would get two different sketches.

Strange shapes - You can (if you want) have your record come out using different shapes. Toto released their hit “Africa” on … you guessed it … an African continent shaped 12” record. A Canadian hard core punk band (Left For Dead) had theirs in the shape of a rotary saw blade.

Liquid & Hologram Discs - Yes, it seems Jack White’s obsession with wacky vinyl formats knows no bounds. His single “Sixteen Saltines” was released as a liquid filled disc!!!! Also, viewed under the right lighting conditions his album “”Lazaretto” reveals a holographic angel.

Next month I will start to tackle the unbelievably complex issues regarding STREAMING. That multi-billion dollar industry that sells “thin air”.

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