Music is a versatile art form, available in many different recording formats. Technology is evolving these processes indefinitely. Some formats were left behind pretty quickly, whilst others have prevailed for decades.
A quick browse through music marketplace giant, Discogs, gives an immediate insight into some of the rarer historic examples in existence – some of which we have chosen to look into a bit more for your pleasure...
Cylinder, Edison Disc, Shellac and Pathé disc
Still available today, the ‘Phonograph Cylinder’ was the first ever commercial format that could record and reproduce sound. Invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 it became the first format to be known informally as a ‘record’.
There are a few for sale on Discogs and Ebay, ranging from £4 for some Russian rock n roll or classic Eddison pieces to the very rare ‘Michael Esposito and Carl Michael Von Hausswolff [Phantom Airways] – The Ghosts of Effingham’, with only one copy on Discogs going for £733.95. The latter release is a modern take on the cylinder format from 2010, containing recordings dating back to 1927. It was the first ever ‘glow in the dark’ phonograph- produced just down t’road in Sheffield by Vulcan Records.
To play cylinders you need a phonograph player which are about on ebay but not cheap!
Test Press / Acetate / Lathe cut / Dubplate
Funnily enough, whilst Discogs covers many very obscure and limited formats, it does not acknowledge the ‘dubplate’. Let’s clear that up for any heads who might want to know…
The definitions for ‘Acetate’ and ‘Lathe cut’ records are described by Discogs as, ‘only to be used for production runs, not for one offs.’. This means they are referring solely to ‘master lacquers’ – discs that are cut and made into stampers for commercial releases.
These blank discs are aluminium, coated in nitrocellulose, into which the music is cut. They sound slightly different to a pressed record and in many people’s opinion, better. The term ‘Dubplate’ is simply an offcut blank master lacquer produced on a record cutting lathe, often used to play unreleased material which never saw official release. They were a formative part of DJ and soundsystem culture with crews competing to have the rarest and best one off cuts, and are still used in this way today.
There are many listings on Discogs under ‘acetate’ or ‘lathe cut’ which are dubplates, yet it is not acknowledged. Perhaps it is simply another part of the elusive nature of dubs, an ambiguity to their existence. As each disc runs, the musically inscribed lacquer coating wears, until eventually there will be nothing left but the aluminium core…
Lathe cutting is still the integral first stage of the record making process and hasn’t changed in about 60 years! We are new to the game but will soon be offering dub cutting services using the legendary ‘Scully’ cutting lathe.
Finally, a ‘Test Press’ most commonly refers to an advanced copy of a pressed vinyl record, for sound test purposes before going ahead with pressing. Again – some people call a dubplate a ‘test press’ in the sense that it offers a way of “testing” what a tune will sound like before getting it pressed.
Laser Discs and honourable mentions!
I first came across the intriguing ‘laser disc’ format whilst digging in Rob’s Records last year [where else?] Thinking I had stumbled across an LP of the ‘Mortal Combat’ theme music, I excitedly pulled the record out from the 12” sleeve but what I got instead was an oversized 12” CD.
I didn’t buy that laser disc of Mortal Combat in the end, but I did look into laser discs a bit and found out that it was a fad that notoriously died on its arse and was forgotten.
A month later and by complete coincidence, I found myself sitting at a sold out evening screening of Laser Discs at the Broadway cinema put on by local lovely dude Rich Dundas, founder of I Own You’ Records. The quality of laserdisc is like VHS which is kind of cool, and there is also a strange novelty of having to flip the disc and play side two.
Since then I’ve come across several cheesy looking karaoke picture discs through buying record collections for the shop. I haven’t checked out any of these….yet!
Well, that’s it for now. Feeling pretty spun out after all that… until next time!
Peace to the minidisc.