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ARSCLIST  September 2012

ARSCLIST September 2012

Subject:

Re: early stereophony

From:

Dennis Rooney <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 28 Sep 2012 10:30:15 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (295 lines)

Dear Tom,

Aren't royalty checks wonderful positive reinforcement?

Mono compatibility was always at the forefront of my recording. In the 70s
and 80s I did hundreds of location recordings of concerts for subsequent
broadcast. To ensure compatibility, I almost always used m-s stereo, which
produced superior results and had the added benefit of being easy to set up
and relatively unobtrusive. The Nagra IV-S had a momentary action button to
sum the stereo channels.

When I worked in retail in the mid 60s, double inventory was still the rule
but classical and jazz already sold more in stereo ($3.59) than mono
($2.79) in the outlets in which I worked. Remember the shop in Michigan
that used to advertise in the record mags that only mono was stocked? Talk
about swimming against the current.

DDR

On Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 10:22 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>wrote:

> Hi Dennis:
>
> First of all, this is great historical perspective, thanks so much for
> sharing.
>
> Your mention of the Columbia Record Club jogged my memory. Part of the low
> opinion of Columbia's LP output in Mercury's offices was the bad sound on
> Mercury records sold thru the Club. Columbia insisted on getting 2-track
> tapes and doing their own mastering, at least for part of the "golden era."
> The mastering was deemed timid and weak, and of course that's what Columbia
> was aiming for --  optimal tracking and decent sound on every two-bit
> console player out there. None of these deep and wide Piros cuts that would
> jump the grooves on those POS players or make the cheap speakers rattle, by
> golly. But, despite the grumblings, I don't think a royalty check from the
> Club was ever returned!
>
> By the way, somewhat relevant to this thread -- I just noticed in an old
> Radio & TV New magazine from 1961 a surplus sale on 2-track stereo tapes
> from Mercury, Columbia, RCA and the smaller fry like Livingston and
> StereoTapes. Sold on Radio Row for $2 a tape. By then, all the consumer
> machines were 1/4-track and stereo LPs had taken over the still niche
> market for 2-speaker sound. Fred Plaut was actually correct in a way.
> According to an article John Eargle wrote in the AES Journal in the late
> 60's urging continued mono-stereo compatibility in mixing and mastering,
> the mono LPs outsold stereo until they were taken out of print because
> retailers refused to carry both formats of the same albums, in the
> mid-60's. As late as the 70's, EMI/Capitol/Angel engineer Carson Taylor was
> using classical recording techniques compatible with mono because he knew
> that European classical radio was still mono.
>
> -- Tom Fine
>
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dennis Rooney" <
> [log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2012 5:02 PM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
>
>
>  I never read Mike Gray's account in TAS, but here are some thoughts about
>> Columbia based on what I encountered doing CD reissues for Sony Classical.
>> Let me preface them by noting that my experience focused almost
>> exclusively
>> on Masterworks division source.
>>
>> By the mid fifties, Columbia manufactured an excellent Lp physically and
>> their mono disc mastering was unexceptionable.  However, their focus was
>> on
>> mass sales, especially their Columbia Record Club which enabled them to
>> dominate the U.S. market. They emphasized a quality product and had
>> introduced the "360" phonograph in response to the burgeoning interest in
>> "hi-fi". Nevertheless, engineering was not at the forefront of their
>> image.
>> An unwritten rule governed Columbia's disc mastering: "Make it loud, make
>> it present", and the product reflected it, as it had done since CBS bought
>> the label in 1938.
>>
>>  From that time, when mastering began to be done on 16-1/2" lacquers, the
>>>
>> assumption was always that the master would INVARIABLY be subjected to
>> post-production, and it continued throughout the Lp era. Whereas Mercury
>> pursued a very different ideal, one as close to the master as possible,
>> Columbia never intended the master to be anything but raw material. EQ,
>> reverb, gain riding and compression all contributed to the released
>> Columbia product from 78rpm to stereo. When I began doing CD reissues of
>> Masterworks material, I was encouraged to always use master generation
>> source. Much of it had been stored for years and often resisted discovery.
>> But Columbia had been careful to preserve session tapes, which meant that
>> enough material existed to fix problems due to wear in the edited
>> originals. In the case of pre-tape material, I was successful in locating
>> original lacquer source, a surprisingly large amount of which had survived
>> in storage for four decades and more in excellent condition.
>>
>> Working with master material, I was pleased to discover a level of audio
>> quality that was far more sophisticated than what the commercial releases
>> suggested. Analogue tape was out of the picture by that time and careful
>> a/d transfers could be further improved by digital noise-reduction
>> software
>> and editing. Use of CEDAR to aid in correct stylus selection before
>> transfer yielded a s/n quotient where the lacquers were very often quieter
>> than the original chain. Most tapes survived in very good condition.
>> Blocking was almost never encountered and the mostly 3M type 111 and
>> Audiotape that had been used had survived extremely well. Binder
>> hydrolysis
>> wasn't a factor until Ampex tapes began to be used in the eighties.
>>
>> Goddard Lieberson was immensely influential in the story of Columbia
>> Masterworks but he was a producer who had faith in his engineers and they
>> achieved the results you hear. Producers and engineers were not named on
>> Columbia records for many years. The brand was the focus. Howard Scott was
>> a principal producer of Masterworks recordings throughout the fifties. He
>> recorded in New York with Fred Plaut (they did Glenn Gould, Isaac Stern,
>> the NY Phil., etc.), and in Philadelphia and Cleveland, with a road crew
>> that usually comprised Harold Chapman ("Chappy") and later Buddy Graham as
>> balance engineers. and Ajutor {"Pappy"} Theroux as tape operator. Chappy
>> was probably the only engineer Columbia had who truly understood
>> stereophony. His setups have a cohensiveness that suggests a superior
>> ability to place microphones. Pappy was a veteran who had been around a
>> long time but not, I think, in the acoustic era. He arrived in advance of
>> the sessions to set up and test the lathes and then the tape recorders.
>>
>> If they were not on the cutting edge of stereophony, those men all were
>> careful craftsman and the studio practices they pursued made Columbia a
>> very well run shop. It was easy for me to fix a bad splice in SONIC but
>> knowing how they often had achieved success with limited means gave new
>> respect to their "old-fashioned" ways.
>>
>> The reason Szell went to Epic was only partially to not dilute Ormandy's
>> sales. Epic had been created to release the Philips recordings that were
>> available when Columbia ended its exchange agreement with EMI in 1952.
>> Philips, a relative newcomer, wanted a U.S. presence. But Willem van
>> Otterloo, Eugen Jochum and Eduard van Beinum had little or no U.S.
>> identity. It was decided that the label needed a major orchestra and
>> conductor at the top of the roster and Szell was chosen. When Bernstein
>> began to make headway against Ormandy on Columbia, the wisdom of that
>> decision was plain.
>>
>> As I believe I wrote earlier, Columbia was resistant to stereo. Plaut
>> particularly doubted that stereo discs would be an important part of the
>> label's sales. 1/4-in two track stereo recordings began in the Masterworks
>> Division with Berstein's MESSIAH in Dec. 1956. Columbia finally got a
>> three-channel 1/2-in. Ampex machine, just one at first, in summer 1957.
>> Afterwards, sessions were often recorded in mono (a&b sets), 2-channel
>> stereo (or binaural, c&d sets) and one 3-channel with a different mix than
>> the binaurual. As soon as more three-track machines arrived, the 1/4-in
>> sets were discontinued.
>>
>> This post is longer than I originally intended. Mea culpa.
>>
>> DDR
>>
>>
>>
>> On Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>*
>> *wrote:
>>
>>  What I was always told about Columbia -- and keep in mind this is from
>>> the
>>> perspective of competitors, although my father did have contact here and
>>> there with Columbia over the years, including in the early LP days since
>>> Reeves developed their own microgroove system with Fairchild --  was that
>>> Columbia was very hidebound and conservative in all matters technical.
>>> Their recordings were considered technically "boring" and "dull,"
>>> although
>>> I now thing that was more the fault of their mastering techniques.
>>> Columbia
>>> never embraced 2- or 3- mic stereo, opting for more mics than Mercury or
>>> RCA from the get-go. They also seem to have had some strange procedures
>>> and
>>> techniques, based on what veterans have said and written. And there
>>> seemed
>>> to be technical factions, meaning the product was uniform-sounding or
>>> consistent.
>>>
>>> Mike Gray wrote a really good technical history of Columbia that was
>>> published in The Absolute Sound right after they went to the larger
>>> format.
>>> It was the usual Mike article -- well-researched and vault-verified with
>>> cooperation from the company (Sony by then).
>>>
>>> Columbia's engineers were capable of excellent classical recordings.
>>> Listen to the CD reissues Dennis Rooney did in the 90's, especially the
>>> Szell albums. To think that Szell was consigned to Epic so as not to
>>> ruffle
>>> Ormandy's sales. No disrespect to Ormandy's many fine albums, but Szell
>>> was
>>> a top-league conductor and he had Cleveland in top-league playing
>>> condition
>>> throughout his Epic career.
>>>
>>> One thing both RCA and Columbia had to deal with in the 1950's is that
>>> their technical staffs were led by guys (all men) who came up cutting
>>> 78RPM
>>> disks, sometimes going back to the acoustical-recording era. This was the
>>> same thing as in later years getting guys who came up in the early 60's
>>> to
>>> get into the age of DAWs and digital editing. There's a friction of the
>>> old
>>> against the new. Stereophony was just too new for some of the old hands.
>>> Notice that the smaller companies who jumped into stereophony early and
>>> with both feet tended to have younger technical people involved in the
>>> recording and production, and stereotypically (pun intended), younger
>>> people tend to be more open to new ideas and techniques. This is ironic,
>>> because 2-channel stereophony was proven and tested in the 1930's when
>>> some
>>> of the old guard were still kids.
>>>
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>>
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "David Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:31 AM
>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
>>>
>>>
>>>  In his liner notes to "The Birth of the Third Stream" (Columbia CK
>>> 64829)
>>>
>>>> George Avakian touches on, but does not elaborate,
>>>> that some experimental stereo recording was made during the June 1957
>>>> sessions for the Adventures in Sound LP "Modern
>>>> Jazz Concert" but does not elaborate. Back when the CD was released I
>>>> sent
>>>> a query through the Sony grapevine, and what
>>>> came back was that the stereo equipment had just arrived at Columbia but
>>>> no
>>>> one really knew how to operate it, and that some
>>>> testing was done for the "Modern Jazz Concert" album in stereo, but none
>>>> was usable, and none was saved.
>>>>
>>>> I guess they had figured it out at least by the time of Stravinsky's
>>>> "Agon"
>>>> in 1958. If, as Tom said, Mercury was "late in the game"
>>>> in 1955 in dealing with the stereo phenomenon, then Columbia was almost
>>>> not
>>>> in the game at all. Personal opinion: Once they did
>>>> get it going, stereo did provide for a big boost in their overall
>>>> sound quality, though that opinion may be influenced by shoddy
>>>> mastering/pressing and the tattered condition of some mono Columbia
>>>> tapes
>>>> that have come down to us.
>>>>
>>>> Uncle Dave Lewis
>>>> Lebanon, OH
>>>>
>>>> On Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 11:54 AM, Dennis Rooney <
>>>> [log in to unmask]>
>>>> **wrote:
>>>>
>>>>  I found no reference to the MAR items in my archival research on
>>>> Szell's
>>>>
>>>>> Columbia/Epic recordings. It's entirely possible that RCA recorded
>>>>> them.
>>>>> There was great resistance to stereo from Fred Plaut and others. and I
>>>>> never found any evidence of experimental binaural setups that preceded
>>>>> the*Messiah
>>>>> * of Dec. 1956. However, when inspecting the tapes at IMAR, I came
>>>>> across
>>>>> an Ormandy/PO recording (I no longer remember the repertoire) recorded
>>>>> c1955 in 3-track, 1/4-inch format. The contents were never released.
>>>>>
>>>>> DDR
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>
>>
>> --
>> Dennis D. Rooney
>> 303 W. 66th Street, 9HE
>> New York, NY 10023
>> 212.874.9626
>>
>>


-- 
Dennis D. Rooney
303 W. 66th Street, 9HE
New York, NY 10023
212.874.9626

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