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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:

Thu, 27 Sep 2012 17:02:04 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (197 lines)

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

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