September 18, 2012

20,000 Vinyl LPs 10: Jack Scott and the birth of Stereo Pt. 2

I started the Vinyl LP series because I have over 20,000 albums I am selling; each blog entry of the series is about an album from my collection. Inquire for more info.

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(This is a continuation from 20,000 Vinyl LPs 10: Jack Scott and the birth of Stereo Pt 1)
(There is also an update in 20,000 Vinyl LPs 19: Jack Scott and the birth of Stereo Pt. 3 )

The Stereophonic Sound process was a new and revolutionary concept in recorded music in 1958. It was highly touted and the album I have by Jack Scott is a good example. It has the word "Stereo" prominently displayed in BIG, black flocked letters to emphasize this. It was my first stereo album.

(click on any image to see larger size)
photo of flocked 'Stereo' lettering by Styrous®

photo of flocked 'Stereo' lettering by Styrous®

Stereo WAS something special!

The word stereophonic derives from the Greek "στερεός" (stereos), "firm, solid"[2] + "φωνή" (phōnē), "sound, tone, voice"[3] and it was coined in 1927 by Western Electric, by analogy with the word "stereoscopic".

Clément Ader demonstrated the first two-channel audio system in Paris in 1881, with a series of telephone transmitters connected from the stage of the Paris Opera to a suite of rooms at the Paris Electrical Exhibition, where listeners could hear a live transmission of performances through receivers for each ear.

In 1931, Alan Blumlein (considered one of the most significant engineers and inventors of his time) developed at EMI (Electric and Musical Industries, Ltd.) and, in 1933, patented stereo records, stereo films, and also surround sound. EMI was formed in March 1931 by the merger of the Columbia Graphophone Company and the Gramophone Company, with its "His Master's Voice" record label. Both firms had a history extending back to the origins of recorded sound.

Harvey Fletcher of Bell Laboratories investigated techniques for stereophonic recording and reproduction. One of the techniques investigated was the "wall of sound", which used an enormous array of microphones hung in a line across the front of an orchestra. Up to 80 microphones were used, and each fed a corresponding loudspeaker, placed in an identical position, in a separate listening room. Several stereophonic test recordings, using two microphones connected to two styli cutting two separate grooves on the same wax disc, were made with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Philadelphia's Academy of Music in March 1932. The first (made on March 12, 1932), of Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus: Poem of Fire, is the earliest known surviving "intentional" stereo recording.

"Accidental" stereophonic recordings from these years also exist. On some occasions, RCA Victor used two microphones, two amplifiers and two recording lathes to make two simultaneous but completely separate recordings of a performance. Although this may have been done to compare the results obtained with different microphones or other technical variations, the reasons for this procedure have not been definitely established. Normally, only one of the resulting pair of recordings was released, but the other-channel recording was sometimes used for a foreign issue or survived in the form of a test pressing. When such pairs of recordings have been located and matched up, authentic stereophonic sound has been recovered, its character and degree of spatial accuracy dependent on the fortuitous placement of the two microphones and the accurate synchronization of the two recordings.

Recovered stereophonic versions of two recordings made in February 1932 by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra have been issued on LP and CD under the title Stereo Reflections in Ellington and are also included in the 22-CD set The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition.

There were Carnegie Hall demonstrations by Bell Laboratories on April 9 and 10, 1940, with recordings that had been made by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, who was always interested in sound reproduction technology. Stokowski personally participated in the "enhancement" of the sound. The demonstration held the audience "spellbound, and at times not a little terrified", according to one report. Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was present at the demonstration, commented that it was "marvellous" but "somehow unmusical because of the loudness." "Take that Pictures at an Exhibition", he said. "I didn't know what it was until they got well into the piece. Too much 'enhancing', too much Stokowski." (I love that!!) An aside, Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded an album entitled, Pictures At an Exhibition, in 1971. It was a live recording of a rock version of the music suite by Modest Mussorgsky. (I see the potential for another blog entry.)

In 1952, Emory Cook (1913–2002), who already had become famous by designing new feedback disk-cutter heads to improve sound from tape to vinyl, developed a "binaural" record. This record consisted of two separate channels, cut into two separate grooves running next to each other. Each groove needed a needle, and each needle was connected to a separate amplifier and speaker. This setup was intended to give a demonstration at a New York audio fair of Cook's cutter heads rather than to sell the record; but soon afterward, the demand for such recordings and the equipment to play it grew, and Cook Records began to produce such records commercially. Cook recorded a vast array of sounds, ranging from railroad sounds to thunderstorms. By 1953, Cook had a catalog of about 25 stereo records for sale to audiophiles. (I have several of these recordings so I see an article on these in the offing.)

In 1954, Concertapes and RCA Victor, among others, began releasing stereophonic recordings on two-track prerecorded reel-to-reel magnetic tape. Audiophiles bought them, and stereophonic sound came to at least some living rooms. Stereo recording became widespread in the music business by the 3rd quarter of 1957. (I have many of these reel-to-reel tapes so perhaps that is another new blog article on the horizon.)

Audio Fidelity Records released the first mass-produced stereophonic disc in November 1957. They introduced them to the public on December 13, 1957 at the Times Auditorium in New York City. (I have many of their records as well. Lordy, I'm going to be busy for quite a while.)

After the introduction, the other spur to the popularity of stereo discs was the reduction in price of a stereo magnetic cartridge, for playing the disks, from $250 to $29.95 in June 1958. (Still pricey by 1950's standards; to give some kind of reference point, $29.95 was more than my portion of the monthly rent I split with two other guys with whom I shared a five-room apartment on Nob Hill. Yep, we paid $75 a month; $25 went a LONG way back then. You can't even think about renting a one-room studio on Nob Hill these days for under $2,000.)

The first four mass-produced stereophonic discs available to the buying public were released in March, 1958:

 – Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (AFSD 5849) and 
 – Marching Along with the Dukes of Dixieland Volume 3 (AFSD 5851). 

By the end of March, the company had four more stereo LPs available (with the exception of the Lionel Hampton album, I have them all; ok, one more blog entry).

By 1968, the major record labels stopped making monaural discs.

also see:
20,000 Vinyl LPs 10: Jack Scott and the birth of Stereo Pt 1

There is an update on this subject in
20,000 Vinyl LPs 19: Jack Scott and the birth of Stereo Pt. 3

Jack Scott website

The entire collection is for sale. Interested? Contact Styrous®

Styrous® ~ September 18, 2012


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