Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spinning Fast in the Slow Lane

Maybe it was the lure of the old gear, when I heard there were a bunch of ancient turntables set up. Certainly it was the fact that I had not yet missed the set of vintage Turkish music. It probably didn't hurt that I knew a couple of the djs. Well, I just thank the powers that be for whatever serendipitous combination of factors dragged me over to North East Mpls in the wee hours Saturday night to the First Annual 78 RPM Summit.

Featuring "six nonstop hours" of 78s played by "eight different shellac jockeys" the Summit got together people who like old records and old gear. The man behind the Summit is DJ Pepper Patriot. Hopefully we'll have an interview with him in an upcoming blog. The guys behind the gear are the Vintage Music Company team. The djs that I saw were all very much in love with the old time gear.

I must confess I just like antiques. I was raised in the '70s by people who were constantly refinishing old furniture, so I headed right over to the wax cylinder player. ( Another confession, I also really wanted to check out the cylinder player because on the liner notes for Karelia Visa, Hedningarna talked about learning old tunes from wax cylinder recordings.)

Mike from Vintage Music Company in south Minneapolis graciously answered all my questions about the 1904 Edison cylinder player they'd brought over for the event. The guy is the mother load of information about old turntables and music systems and really explains them well. I must confess, I have often walked by the Vintage Music Company shop (it's right there in my neighborhood) and imagined it being run by some seventy year old guy with Einstein hair in a ratty cardigan. Well, Mike is slender 30-something with hipster glasses and short dark hair, so he is certainly not that guy. Maybe the owner is? I never met him...anyway, I hope to do a future post on Vintage Music Company and walk over there and take a few photos. Thousands and thousands of 78s in stock?! One of the "shellac jockeys" Saturday says the Vintage guys are so good with their inventory of disc that they can pretty much just point you to the right section of the right shelf.

KFAI's Greg Carr ("Dig Up the Roots") was pretty much jumping up and down as he showed me his double turntable 78 rig from about 1950. It's even portable (sort of - like a big suitcase), but the best part was the typewritten note from the manufacturer taped inside the cover with yellowing cellophane tape. The unit has three tone arms and with a bit of knob twisting; one can do some primitive mixing on it.

Drew Miller (long ago KFAI alum, now usually thought of in conjunction with his bands Boiled in Lead and Felonious Bosch) whooped and hollered as he put on a 78 of "Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women," then got even more excited as he explained the Pathe' set up there. More on the Pathe' label later.

Between Drew and Mike, I think I got the 78 thing down. It's wider grooves, thus not as many of them on a disc equals one tune per. OK. While the old discs did have a certain percentage of shellac in them, they were mostly a thermoplastic blended with lots of of other ingredients in formulas that were closely guarded, according to the very informational page at the Wolverine Antique Music Society. You had to replace the needle after every play because they were very soft steel and the discs were fairly hard plastic. One or the other had to take the wear, and needles were a lot cheaper, was how Mike explained it to me. He also talked about all the different needles available, from novelty ones made of natural materials to specialized weights that gave you the ability to vary the sound in a primitive way, sort of an eq effect.

The needle moves back and forth within the groove on most 78s, just like it does on 33 lps and 45 singles. The unique thing about the Pathe' discs mentioned earlier is that the needle moves up and down in the groove on their discs. Obviously, you can only play Pathe' discs on a Pathe' player. Perhaps more uniquely, many of their early discs started playing at the center hole and went toward the outside. The Pathe's also used a different type of needle, sapphire tipped, (I think) which could be reused hundreds of times.

I love this kind of nerdy trivia stuff. I love that people came through all evening and were singing along to the wax cylinder recording at 12:30 in the morning. (And they all stopped talking so we could hear the thing!) I think it's totally cool that people are into 78 RPMs all over the internet and all over the world.

It's the anti-MP3.

The anti-instant download.

It's a bit like the Slow Food Movement, only at 78 RPM, everything's spinning faster.

* * * * * * *

I would urge anyone who missed it to check out the link to the New York Times article on Pandora's Music Genome Project in Veronica Fever's post last week. An interesting discussion of that, as well as one of the lyrics vs. music debate made for a great post. Thanks, Fever!

Of course I come down on the side of the music. As I once explained to a younger co-worker who was trying to sell me on some really great emotional lyrics, "I could give a #%&* about some youngster singing about his relationship. Give a grizzled 65 year old who's being playing his instrument since he was twelve any day!"

And on the Pandora thing, while I ordinarily would cheer anything that gave employment to a roomful of musicologists, I do find the system a little creepy.

* * * * * * *

I'm very psyched for Warsaw Village Band Thursday night at the Cedar. Hope I'm not the only one who finds the combination of dark fiddles and close vocal harmonies alluring. Also hope I remember how to say "Dobry wieczor, panstwu!" (good evening, ladies and gentlemen)

They rocked Glastonbury this summer, they made the cover of the August/September issue of Folk Roots and they're opening their first North American tour in four years at our place tomorrow. (OK, I thought my son was a little bitty kid the first time we saw them together...sheesh, four years...)

Anyway, the band says "After almost 4 years of silence at last we will back to Unites States and Canada! Hope that You will support WVB during the tour (Maja and Wojtek will have to leave Lena for so long for this first time...) and this 8 gigs will be great adventure for all of us! Come people come and be a part of this whole!"

No comments: