If we look back over the last 140 years of sound recording, it seems that formats come and formats...come back. I've written many times in these newsletters about nearly dead technologies that seemingly get resurrected out of nowhere, such as the vinyl record, the cassette, and AM radio. The younger generations are partly responsible for breathing new life into these old formats, but most stand on their own merits.
Vinyl records have an aesthetic appeal. It can be held in your hand. If you look closely at the grooves, you can literally see the sound. Loud, busy sections are very compact, while slow, legato passages are spaced far apart. It's like stepping in close to a Rembrandt painting to see the brush marks. When you play a record, you take an active part in listening. You must clean the surface, place the needle in the groove, and turn the record over to hear the other side. The sound of a record played on a good audio system has a distinct purity to it. Apart from the scratches (which sometimes add character and flavor), the sound can be less harsh than a digital version. The continuous sound of the stylus' friction in the bottom of the groove brings warmth. Plus, records are like animals presumed to be extinct, roaming the earth until someone rediscovers their existence. There are thousands and thousands of recordings that never made the transition to a digital format. They're hiding in some basement, yard sale, or record bin just waiting to be found.
The new fascination with cassettes is a bit curious to me. This was a format born for convenience, not quality. As reel-to-reel recorders shrunk in the 1950s and 60s, the play time of an audio reel did too. For the home user, 5- and 7-inch reels became popular over the larger 10-inch reels. The diminutive 5-inch reel usually held 30-45 minutes per side (or 60-90 minutes if an ultra-slow speed was available), but most of these consumer-oriented units only recorded mono sound. They were great for documenting family events or to send "audio letters" across the country (see my article "Audio Letters to Home" about families and GIs during the Vietnam War). But having to thread a fidgety tape onto a plastic reel just to listen to music was cumbersome.
The small compact cassette was the ideal replacement for open reels when it came along in the mid-1960s. It could be quickly loaded in a player and started. It held up to 90-minutes of stereo music (later 120-minutes with thinner tape), but the sound quality was inferior to reel-to-reel. No matter, consumers loved the portability and economics of cassettes. By the time cassette technology matured and the quality of recordings got better, they couldn't compete with the new kid on the block: the audio CD. This newfound interest in cassettes, especially by bands that release their music on them, has me flummoxed. There is only one manufacturer of cassette tape in the world, which leads enthusiasts on the hunt for NOS (new old stock), there are no high-quality recorders being made anymore, and nobody really loved the sound of cassettes when they were ubiquitous. We just accepted them as a convenient shuttle format to get from point A to point B. The only reasons I can come up with for their renewed popularity are: It can be held in the hand; It's a unique calling card; The "mixtape" is a hands-on love letter to music; And the discovery of NOS is intoxicating. If those are the only reasons, then I get it. But if it's for the sound...
More recent formats that may or may not be poised for a comeback someday are the audio CD and the mp3. Invented in the 1960s and brought to market in the 80s, the CD is currently on life support. I'm not sure it will have as large of a comeback as the LP, but it is a physical format that can be held in the hand. The mp3 file is a stubborn format that won't go away despite many superior alternatives. They are to a CD what cassettes were to reel-to-reels: convenient, compact, but woefully inferior. Maybe twenty-years from now it will be "cool" to "email" an mp3 to friends that have a "desktop" computer with Windows 95 and "speakers" to hear it on.
As if we are downgrading our expectations even more, the latest format that is getting some new attention is the wax cylinder. Are you cringing at the thought of having to go find an Edison Gem phonograph player to hear the latest Billie Eilish single? Don't worry, most of the effort at raising the dead is for preservation, although there is one band that has released new music on wax cylinder. Nameless Dreamers is a collaboration between Equip and R23X. Their music is reminiscent of a video game, maybe because they're both game music composers. Even their website is an homage to retro games. In 2021, they released two songs on 4-minute wax cylinders. YouTube vintage audio guru Matt Taylor (Techmoan) recently demonstrated an Edison Gem phonograph player by playing one of the songs.
But Nameless Dreamers' tunes aren't the first to be released since the early 20th century. In 2013, Justin Martell and Benjamin Canady released 50 cylinders of Tiny Tim‘s 1979 performance of “Nobody Else Can Love Me (Like My Old Tomato Can).” The release fit right in with Tiny Tim's style of performing tunes from the early days of the phonograph. Others have been trying it as well, like this heavy metal band recording in 2018 (shouldn't that be heavy wax?). If you want to release a new tune on wax, or buy century-old tunes re-recorded onto new wax cylinders, there are still a few companies providing this service. The Vulcan Cylinder Record Company in Sheffield, England is one, and has a catalog of old recordings that you can impress your friends with on your renovated player.
Early phonograph recordings are the target for digital restoration by the New York Public Library. It had digitized only 6% of its 2,700 cylinder collection before it recently received the Endpoint Audio Labs cylinder playback machine. Designed by Nicholas Bergh, the machine reads and digitizes the grooves on the outside of the cylinder with a laser, rather than a traditional needle and modulator. Its software smooths out the imperfections of the cylinder rotation that cause "wow," and cleans up surface noise and scratches. The usual erosion of the groove is avoided since no mechanical device actually touches the surface. You can hear a restored recording on this SoundCloud link. Another option for historians is a modern phonograph player from Mechanical Concepts. With an electric motor (instead of a hand-cranked spring motor on the original), it allows the use of a modern cartridge and stylus.
Why preserve these old recordings? Why not! These first recordings are a part of human history. We will be able to hear the voices of important people, long-forgotten musical styles, and incredible performances. We can study the material to better understand how this new media influenced society, and how it helped shape future recordings. And you never know, we might discover a new recording star, a hundred years in the making!
Dynamix Productions, Inc. is an audio production facility in the heart of thoroughbred horse country, Lexington, Kentucky. Some of the many audio services we provide are: sound-for-picture, corporate communications, advertising, narrations, audiobooks, podcasts, live broadcast, ISDN, location and remote recording, restoration, and tape/LP to digital transfers.
Since our opening 19 years ago in 2003, we have won or been a part of nearly 100 awards; including more than 75 ADDY’s (American Advertising Federation), 10 Telly's, 2 Silver Microphones, 1 PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), an Eclipse Award, and an Emmy nomination.
Why do professionals from desktop producers to Fortune 50 companies choose Dynamix for the highest level of production? We Listen.
RECENT NOTABLE PROJECTS
Audio post-production for HGTV's "Vacation House Rules" Watch Fridays at 9e/10c on HGTV. (Wrigley Media Group, Lexington, KY)
"The Hurting Kind" audiobook, read by the author Ada Limón. (Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN)
"The Dragon Knight" audiobook from the Frostborn series by Jonathan Moeller, read by Brad Wills
"AgFuture" podcasts for Alltech (Alltech, Nicholasville, KY)
"Weather and Climate in the Civil War with Dr. Kenneth Noe" podcast for Tales of American History (Witness History Education Foundation, Lexington, KY)
TV campaigns for Fasig-Tipton and Claiborne Farm (Studio 34, Lexington, KY)
"Esa" an audiobook by Suzan Tisdale, read by Brad Wills
UK HealthCare "Family and Community Medicine" radio campaign (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)
Keeneland "Spring Race Meet" radio campaign (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)
"Block Talk" podcast for Ridley Block (Alltech, Nicholasville, KY)
"UpHome" web series with Chef Ouita (Pony Boat Films/Harrison Witt, Lexington, KY)
Soundtrack for "75th Anniversary" documentary for Elliot Electric (Studio 46, Lexington, KY)
Fall radio/TV campaign for A&W Restaurants (Team Cornett, Lexington, KY)
We are taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously here at Dynamix Productions. We're taking safety measures recommended by health officials. We're currently allowing fully vaccinated people to work mask-free in our building as long as ALL people are fully vaccinated. Our producer desk and engineer seat is more than 6 feet away in each studio, and there is glass between the engineer and voice talent. We're still encouraging smaller groups here, but if all parties are fully vaccinated and agree, we can record up to two people at a time in our VO room A. For recording three people, we can put another person in our second VO booth and link them together via Zoom or Skype. We can also have two producers in our Control Room A as long as all parties are fully vaccinated and agree. We sincerely wish that you and your families will stay safe and secure during these unusual times. For more on our new procedures and options for you, read this special statement.
Dynamix Productions, and WEKU-FM, Eastern Kentucky University’s public radio station in Richmond, KY, partnered in 2018 to move primary production of the popular long-running radio program EASTERN STANDARD to the studios of Dynamix. The first program produced at Dynamix aired on July 19, 2018. By bringing the production to Lexington, producers have easier access to Central Kentucky business, healthcare, and education leaders, as well as local artists, entertainers, and other newsmakers. The move underlines WEKU’s commitment to providing the area’s most concise and in-depth coverage of news, issues, and ideas that directly affect Central Kentuckians.
Hosted by network news veteran Tom Martin, EASTERN STANDARD is a public affairs program that covers a broad range of topics of interest to Kentuckians. Resources for topics include WEKU’s reporting partner, the Ohio Valley ReSource, a partnership with seven public media outlets across three states; the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting; and National Public Radio. EASTERN STANDARD can be heard Thursdays at 11:00 AM / 8:00 PM and Sundays at 6:00 PM on 88.9 WEKU-FM, and online at www.esweku.org.
Scott turns problem properties into profit in his new series, Scott’s Vacation House Rules. With years of smart real estate investing and renovation experience, Scott and his secret design weapon, Debra Salmoni, unlock the rental potential of even the most uninspired properties. Finding and transforming tired, dated, and rundown spaces into unique and buzz-worthy Canadian cottage hotspots, the series proves that any dream property is always within reach if you follow Scott’s Vacation House Rules.
THE WHITE LOTUS on HBO
A social satire set at an exclusive Hawaiian resort, the series follows the vacations of various hotel guests over the span of a week as they relax and rejuvenate in paradise. But with each passing day, a darker complexity emerges in these picture-perfect travelers, the hotel’s cheerful employees, and the idyllic locale itself.
SECRET CELEBRITY RENOVATION on CBS
A new one-hour series that gives celebrities in sports, music and entertainment the chance to gift a surprise home renovation to a meaningful person who helped guide them to success. Hosted by Nischelle Turner (ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT), SECRET CELEBRITY RENOVATION provides stars with a hands-on opportunity to show their gratitude to someone who has had a significant impact on their life’s journey by helping to realize the renovation of their dreams. Those participating in making these heartfelt gifts include Emmy® and GRAMMY® Award-winning singer and choreographer Paula Abdul; award-winning singer-songwriter Lauren Alaina; Emmy®-winning actor and comedian Wayne Brady (LET’S MAKE A DEAL); NFL MVP and CBS sports analyst Boomer Esiason; GRAMMY®-winning artist Eve; Emmy®-nominated actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson; SURVIVOR winner “Boston” Rob Mariano; NBA All-Star Chris Paul; GRAMMY®-winning singer, songwriter and actor Anthony Ramos; and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. The series also features the design team of home improvement contractor and television personality Jason Cameron (“Man Cave,” “While You Were Out”) and interior designer Sabrina Soto (“Design Star,” “Trading Spaces”).
ESCAPE TO THE CHATEAU on HGTV
Lieutenant colonel Dick Strawbridge and his partner Angel Adoree trade their English apartment for a dilapidated, 19th-century French chateau. The pair work to restore, renovate and redecorate the estate into a fairytale castle for their upcoming wedding.
YOU LIVE IN WHAT? INTERNATIONAL on HGTV
Architect George Clarke is on a mission to find inspiration for his outrageous, space-age concept house. His journey takes him around the world to meet the visionary people who build and live in some of the most unusual homes ever seen.