The LP – Side Two

In 1889 two competing recording formats emerged, the all-wax cylinder, used in Edison’s “Perfected Phonograph” and the Gramophone, the world’s first record player, patented by German-born US inventor, Emile Berliner. Both formats were able to reproduce about two minutes’ worth of professionally made pre-recorded songs, instrumentals, and monologues, and while the Phonograph allowed the owner to record their own music too, the Gramophone was louder.

Cylinders played at 120 revolutions per minute (rpm), later increasing to 200 rpm to improve volume and squeeze in more material, whereas Berliner’s hand-cranked seven-inch records made from vulcanised rubber operated at a statelier speed, between sixty and 75 rpm.

Despite its fragility, the introduction of shellac, a resin derived from female lac beetles, which allowed more grooves to be cut into the record, started to swing the pendulum in the gramophone’s favour, cemented by the launch of the Red Seal label in 1903 featuring ten-inch shellac records playing at 78 rpm. It was a format that was to serve music lovers for almost five decades. Cylinders were quietly dropped from around 1912, although Edison supported them until 1929.

Flexible plastic discs made from Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) were sent to radio broadcasters in the 1930s as they were more robust and produced better, more consistent sounds than shellac records, but they were not commercially available, the aftermath of the Great Depression dampening down the appetite amongst companies and consumers alike for technological innovation. However, a combination of a shortage of shellac after the Second World War and the development of the microgroove system in 1947 by Peter Goldmark and his team at Columbia Records set the stage for the next revolution in record production.

In 1948 the engineers at Columbia had developed a twelve-inch long-playing record, spinning at 33 and 1/3 rpm and holding about twenty-three minutes’ worth of music on each side. The first demonstration disc, ML4001, featured Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor played by the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York (now known as the New York Philharmonic) under the baton of Bruno Walter. 

Other early offerings included 12-inch discs featuring Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Greig’s Piano Concerto in A with Oscar Levant at the piano, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, favourites from Bizet’s Carmen, and ballet suites from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Khatchaturian’s Gayane. The collection was completed by two ten-inch records featuring a selection of Strauss waltzes and the music of Stephen Foster. Ten thousand of each of the albums were sent to Columbia’s distributors in readiness for the launch on June 21, 1948. The LP era had begun.

The Columbia Catalogue for 1949 waxed lyrical about its innovation, pointing out that their LP records played approximately six times more music than conventional shellac records allowing the listener to enjoy the world’s greatest music in one sitting, and that they were much more robust. “Each LP record”, it trilled, “consists of scores of microscopically fine grooves, precisely controlled channels capable of capturing the most subtle nuances or most magnificent fortissimi”. 

Columbia Records, though, did not have everything their own way, with RCA Victor introducing their own LP format shortly afterwards, just seven inches in diameter and revolving at 45 rpm. Over the next two years the companies battled it out in what was dubbed “The War of the Speeds”, but eventually the twelve-inch revolving at 33 and 1/3 rpm settled down to become the predominant format for albums and the seven-inch 45 rpm disc for singles and extended play records (EPs).

The advent of stereophonic recordings in the 1960s and the phasing out of mono sound in 1968 heralded the heyday of the vinyl, allowing contemporary musicians, arguably, to push the boundaries of musical creativity.

Vinyl might have been eclipsed by other formats, but its flame has been kept alive by many including Britain’s vinyl collecting community, of whom, a recent Royal Mint survey into collecting habits revealed, 32% live in Glasgow[1]. The format’s renaissance suggests that their faith was justified, and plans are underway, in the year that the vinyl LP celebrates its diamond anniversary, to hold the world’s first festival designed purely for vinyl enthusiasts in Haarlem in the Netherlands[2].

The vinyl revolution is not over.



Lost Word Of The Day (20)

Even in my disreputable youth I managed to avoid the dubious pleasures of molrowing. A term used in the 19th century it was defined in John Camden Hotten’s A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words, published in 1859 as to be “out on the spree” in the company of gay women, a euphemism as the time for sex workers. It was said to have owed its origins to “the amatory serenadings of London’s population of cats”.

Lost Word Of The Day (19)

As medical techniques improve, historic drastic and, probably, ineffective treatments have fallen into disuse, as well as the nouns describing them. Amongst the now lost medical terms from the 17th century are mochlic used to describe a drastic purgative medicine and panchymamogue, medicine which purged all the humours from the body.

From the same era was a rare, archaic and alternative adjective for hepatic, jecorary. Meaning “of the liver” it was derived from Latin jecur (liver) and the French adjective jécoraire. However, I always prefer a Greek root, given the choice.

One of my pet fears is to lose my sight. An archaic term for being blinded that was extant in the 17th century was occaecation, from the Latin noun caecus meaning blind. Let’s hope I do not have to use it.

The Loss Of The “Jane Vosper”

A review of The Loss of the “Jane Vosper” by Freeman Wills Crofts – 230224

One thing you can say about Freeman Wills Crofts is that you know what you are going to get – a logical, well-crafted puzzle which more than makes up for what it might lack in excitement in a satisfying whole. This is the case with the Loss of the “Jane Vosper”, originally published in 1936 and the fourteenth in his Inspector French, a tale of maritime disaster, fraud, and theft.

The highlight of the book is the opening chapter, a low-key but gripping description of a disaster at sea, the eponymous ship hit by four mysterious explosions in its No 2 hold and despite the calm and earnest endeavours of the crew, led by soon to retire captain James Hassell, it has to be abandoned and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The ship was behind schedule – a telling point – and amongst its cargo is a shipment insured by the Land and Sea Insurance Company for £105,000 (about £8 million at today’s values), the loss of which represents a major blow to the insurer’s balance sheet and dividend prospects.

Like all good underwriters, the insurers, whilst acknowledging their moral responsibility to meet the loss, look desperately for reasons to decline the claim. What had caused the explosions and why had this shipment exploded? The send their ace insurance investigator, John Sutton, to dig into the circumstances of the loss, but he mysteriously disappears without trace. It is at this point that Chief Inspector French of the Yard, who knew Sutton, is called in to find out what had happened to him.

What might have been a routine case of possible insurance fraud turns into a man hunt and French’s premonitions that Sutton had stumbled upon something for which he paid with his life prove well-founded. French is nothing if not diligent and thorough, no avenue too obscure to go down, no supposition too fanciful to ignore. It results in a lot of mind-numbingly tedious checking, double-checking, rifling through directories, visits, fruitless inquiries and much more, all of which Wills Crofts lovingly records in detail. It reads at times like a literary version of French’s investigative notes.

If there is one accusation that can be levied against French it is that he immerses himself so much in the detail that he occasionally cannot see the wood for the trees. He is full of enthusiasm over a new lead. One such, drawing inspiration from Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League, is that a workshop and a large quantity of timber was used to dig a tunnel over the Royal Mint. He obtains authority to excavate the workshop and while there is no tunnel, he does find the body of the unfortunate Sutton whose head had been bludgeoned in. As the investigation nears its conclusion French often has cause to castigate himself for missing a vital piece of information that was staring him in the face. There is no attempt on Wills Croft’s behalf to paint his detective as an infallible genius.

The case ultimately falls into two parts – the murder of Sutton and the interception of the cargo to be sold to another party, a remarkably accommodating Russian government, while the substitute cargo is fitted with explosives to ensure that the deception is not detected. It all hangs together and makes for a satisfyingly logical puzzle.

The pace of the book marginally increases as the case reaches it denouement, including a car chase conducted at a speed of between twenty-five and 29 mph. It rather fits the tone of the book, some thrills and spills but conducted at a pace that will not scare the horses. Look out for some fascinating glimpses of post-Depression Britain and Crofts’ love of all things maritime shines through in a book that is worth persevering with.

Discovery Of The Week (11)

To the consternation of pub quizzers the world over Japan has just announced that it has discovered it has 7,000 more islands than it had previously thought. The digital mapping exercise conducted by the Geospatial Information Agency of Japan revealed that there are 14,125 islands in Japanese territory, and not the figure of 6,852 that it has used since 1987.

The reason for the discrepancy is that the earlier technology used “was not able to distinguish between small clusters of islands and larger ones”, a spokesperson said, resulting in thousands of islands were counted as one, and not because they were hiding in the water waiting to discover that the war was over.

Books, words, gin and much more