A tour of the Optimal Vinyl pressing plant in Germany

“We thought it would slow down, but it keeps growing”: Inside one of Europe’s biggest record pressing plants

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Erased Tapes’ Sofia Ilyas went to Optimal vinyl factory in Germany to find out about pressing records in today’s climate.


Words: Sofia Ilyas


Erased Tapes and Optimal have a few parallels. Both were founded by Germans; both started at times when vinyl sales were at a low, with CDs leading the market and downloads on the up; and yet both companies went against the grain, turning their focus and care towards this hard-wearing format.

Earlier this year we made the trip out to an industrial estate in Röbel to witness the setup that presses our records. The plant employs 650 staff spread across a 375,000 square foot building that is surprisingly futurist. From the robotic lawn mower gliding across the green to the space-suited humans toying with machinery and chemicals, our experience at Optimal felt a bit sci-fi.

After the tour, I sat down with Optimal’s sales manager Jule, who joined Optimal when she was just 18 years old, for a chat.

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Where does the Optimal story begin? When did you start pressing vinyl?

The company was founded in 1991 by Jörg Hahn and Michael Haentjes. They set up the headquarters between Hamburg and Berlin, an advantageous location for trade but also for access to government funds as it was formerly a GDR area.

When the founders decided to make vinyl, other people were saying ‘that’s not a good idea’. But their idea has always been to make a company that would serve all parts of the media business and that includes vinyl. We started vinyl manufacturing in 1995 but it wasn’t until 2006 that vinyl started picking up again. At that point we took over a plant in London and we had an office there for two to three years.

Unfortunately the plant in London eventually had to close. It was at a time when a lot of other plants also closed down, which is strange as the UK is such a big market for vinyl. Being in London had a very positive impact on Optimal and we learned a lot from UK engineers who’ve been in the business for more than thirty years. We also learned a lot about the UK market and picked up some of the larger independent labels as clients.

It’s easy to have a romantic idea about the process behind making records. But the reality is a working factory, full of chemicals and littered with large chunks of unrecyclable plastic. How do you stay as green as possible?

I always say that vinyl is a non-eco media as the nature of the product is not green. It’s big, there’s a lot of PVC and there is wastage. And because people want ‘clean records’, there are rejects. It’s really not green, but for us at the company we have a lot of rules on how we recycle chemicals. And as for the site itself, we are keen to make it as green as possible. For example, take energy – the heat that we have from our pressing halls is re-used for the underfloor heating in our warehouse and inside the site. We try to be as green and as efficient as possible. That was in the thinking when the building was created.

Roebel, DEU, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 in 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Das erfolgreiche Unternehmen ist CD-Presswerk und Druckerei; eine Produktion von Vinyl-Tontraegern ist angeschlossen. | Roebel, GER, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Optimal successfully produces CDs, Vinyls and print objects. [ © Stefan Malzkorn, Am Landpflegeheim 40, 22549 H a m b u r g, Tel.: +49-40-345402; www.malzkornfoto.de  malzkorn@malzkornfoto.de , Konto | Banking Link: P o s t b a n k H a m b u r g, Kto-Nr. 114413205 BLZ:20010020 IBAN: DE2620010020114413205 BIC: PBNKDEFF www.freelens.com/clearing, Steuer-Nr:  42/152/02106 Finanzamt Hamburg am Tierpark, KSK-Nr. 39040963M007. Verwendung nur gegen Namensnennung, Honorar und Beleg - Presseveroeffentlichungen in DEU zzgl. 7% Mwst ; bei Verwendung des Fotos ausserhalb journalistischer Zwecke bitte Ruecksprache mit dem Fotografen halten. Soweit nicht ausdruecklich vermerkt werden keine Modellfreigabe-, Eigentums-, Kunst- oder Markenrechte eingeraeumt. Die Nutzungen erfolgt ausschliesslich auf Grundlage meiner unter  www.malzkornfoto.de/webseite_neu/agbs/agb_dt.pdf einsehbaren Allgemeinen Geschaftsbedingungen (AGB) I  publication only with royalty payment, credit line, and print sample. Unless especially stated: no model release, property release or other third party rigths available. No distribution without our written permission.] [#0,26,121#]

We met some of your longest serving team members earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about Thorsten from the quality control team?

Usually Thorsten introduces himself as ‘Number 5′ as he was the fifth employee at Optimal. Over the years he’s become an absolute expert. Whenever there’s an issue with vinyl that no one else can resolve, Thorsten will solve it. With vinyl it’s not always easy to know what the issue is but Thorsten will happily spend days working out which aspect of the pressing process is causing the problem. Like Thorsten says, “with vinyl manufacturing you learn something new every day.”

Have you ever experienced someone sending you an audio file which you’ve thought really shouldn’t be pressed to vinyl?

Sometimes people send us audio files that are a copy of the CD masters, made in a completely different range of highs and dynamics and not optimised for a vinyl cut. Of course we will go back to them and advise accordingly. Our cutting house tries to replicate what the audio sounds like when we get it, but if we get audio material we know won’t work on a record or will be distorted, we go straight back to the client.

Many artists prefer a lacquer cut to Direct Metal Mastering (DMM). Is one process better than the other?

If you ask our engineers, they’ll tell you that it depends. It depends on the content of the music, on highs, dynamics, if you have very quiet sections, the length of the record – lots of factors would lead them to conclude that this piece of audio would sound better as a DMM or a lacquer. There are a lot of people that order the cut and let our engineers decide, or they might enquire beforehand. Some customers have a preference and if that’s the case we do as we’re told!

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You mentioned that you can have up to sixty boxes of lacquers delivered to you in one day. Is it hard to maintain quality with demand surging?

In the last three years the biggest challenge we’ve faced is demand outstripping capacity. In 2012 things were on the up and so in 2013 we launched a new pressing hall. But even then, orders still increased over capacity. We thought it would slow down, but it keeps growing.

People are complaining about vinyl delays, but they must understand that a huge and sudden wave of orders have come in, in a way no pressing plant could have foreseen. So after increasing our capacity and deciding to operate 360 days a year, we have also decided to not take on any more new clients as we have to manage the orders from our existing client base.

There are now two peak seasons in the year – August to November (followed by planning for the next year in December). Then from January onwards, it’s all about Record Store Day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time during the year when it isn’t peak season. Planning is a huge thing for us.

The truth is that factories around the world are not able to fulfil the world’s demand, so for example in the US you see lead times of two months and those orders are now coming here.

Are you confident that the growth in demand will continue?

I’m confident demand will stay at this level for some time and will remain strong following the big hype.

Has Optimal considered building its own machinery?

In the short time that figures have gone up, there have been people looking into new machines. But the bottom line is that building new machinery is very, very expensive and it takes a long time. And you can’t predict if that investment will be worth it, as you just can’t predict the future in this market.

Roebel, DEU, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 in 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Das erfolgreiche Unternehmen ist CD-Presswerk und Druckerei; eine Produktion von Vinyl-Tontraegern ist angeschlossen. | Roebel, GER, 19.04.2011: optimal media production GmbH; Glienholzweg 7 17207 Roebel, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Optimal successfully produces CDs, Vinyls and print objects. [ © Stefan Malzkorn, Am Landpflegeheim 40, 22549 H a m b u r g, Tel.: +49-40-345402; www.malzkornfoto.de  malzkorn@malzkornfoto.de , Konto | Banking Link: P o s t b a n k H a m b u r g, Kto-Nr. 114413205 BLZ:20010020 IBAN: DE2620010020114413205 BIC: PBNKDEFF www.freelens.com/clearing, Steuer-Nr:  42/152/02106 Finanzamt Hamburg am Tierpark, KSK-Nr. 39040963M007. Verwendung nur gegen Namensnennung, Honorar und Beleg - Presseveroeffentlichungen in DEU zzgl. 7% Mwst ; bei Verwendung des Fotos ausserhalb journalistischer Zwecke bitte Ruecksprache mit dem Fotografen halten. Soweit nicht ausdruecklich vermerkt werden keine Modellfreigabe-, Eigentums-, Kunst- oder Markenrechte eingeraeumt. Die Nutzungen erfolgt ausschliesslich auf Grundlage meiner unter  www.malzkornfoto.de/webseite_neu/agbs/agb_dt.pdf einsehbaren Allgemeinen Geschaftsbedingungen (AGB) I  publication only with royalty payment, credit line, and print sample. Unless especially stated: no model release, property release or other third party rigths available. No distribution without our written permission.] [#0,26,121#]

If someone were to invest, is there room to improve the existing machinery? Are any of the guys sitting at Optimal thinking, ‘damn, if only this machine was capable of this’?

That’s probably the main reason people step away from building more machinery. If you build something new now, then I’m sure you can get the number of rejects down, and you can probably reduce the time of how long it takes to make a vinyl by a few seconds but the overall process won’t change.  Existing machinery is old and needs some more down time, so new machinery is more of an advantage in that sense but the process will remain the same.

What does the future hold for Optimal?

I’m confident we’ll be doing well as there’s a core audience that will always want to press on vinyl and there’s also a new and growing audience. We’ll always be into physical products whether that’s vinyl, CDs or books.

Record Store Day (RSD) 2015

Record Store Day

 

So Record Store Day is nearly upon us, Saturday 18th April. There appear to be over 650 RSD related issues this year. Mainly reissues, most on coloured vinyl.

Our local Tower Records said they won’t be getting the US releases this year and only the UK ones. If this hold true both ways it may be more difficult to get all  the records you want without resorting to ebay.

Anyway first up, a video from Bull Moose Records.

 

US RELEASES

UK RELEASES

Stuff already up on ebay!

Some of the releases or re-releases we are looking forward to at Vinylfanatics.com are as follows

 

First commercial vinyl release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind me Satan on double coloured vinyl with Lenticular cover.

The 4AD output by Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters in a vinyl box set. Copper coloured vinyl.

Goldfrapp are re-releasing their fine debut, Felt Mountain on coloured vinyl, but only in the States.

Placebo are likewise releasing their debut.

Don’t Stand me down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners is being reissued although an original 2nd hand copy might be preferable.

Strange Doors MONO by the Doors.

The latest in a series of picture 7″ discs by David Bowie.

Sly and the Family Stone – live at Fillmore east

 

Have a great day and let us know what you pick up!! 

 

 

 

Brazilian Bus Magnate wants to buy all the world’s vinyl

 

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/magazine/the-brazilian-bus-magnate-whos-buying-up-all-the-worlds-vinyl-records.html?_r=0

 

The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Records

Zero Freitas, on the records.
SEBASTIÁN LISTE / NOOR, FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Paul Mawhinney, a former music-store owner in Pittsburgh, spent more than 40 years amassing a collection of some three million LPs and 45s, many of them bargain-bin rejects that had been thoroughly forgotten. The world’s indifference, he believed, made even the most neglected records precious: music that hadn’t been transferred to digital files would vanish forever unless someone bought his collection and preserved it.

Mawhinney spent about two decades trying to find someone who agreed. He struck a deal for $28.5 million in the late 1990s with the Internet retailer CDNow, he says, but the sale of his collection fell through when the dot-com bubble started to quiver. He contacted the Library of Congress, but negotiations fizzled. In 2008 he auctioned the collection on eBay for $3,002,150, but the winning bidder turned out to be an unsuspecting Irishman who said his account had been hacked.

Then last year, a friend of Mawhinney’s pointed him toward a classified ad in the back of Billboard magazine:

RECORD COLLECTIONS. We BUY any record collection. Any style of music. We pay HIGHER prices than anyone else.

To help him locate records in his personal collection, Freitas uses objects like “Star Wars” cards (Disney LPs) and a Heineken bottle (soccer LPs).

SEBASTIÁN LISTE / NOOR, FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

That fall, eight empty semitrailers, each 53 feet long, arrived outside Mawhinney’s warehouse in Pittsburgh. The convoy left, heavy with vinyl. Mawhinney never met the buyer.

“I don’t know a thing about him — nothing,” Mawhinney told me. “I just know all the records were shipped to Brazil.”

Just weeks before, Murray Gershenz, one of the most celebrated collectors on the West Coast and owner of the Music Man Murray record store in Los Angeles, died at 91. For years, he, too, had been shopping his collection around, hoping it might end up in a museum or a public library. “That hasn’t worked out,” The Los Angeles Times reported in 2010, “so his next stop could be the Dumpster.” But in his final months, Gershenz agreed to sell his entire collection to an anonymous buyer. “A man came in with money, enough money,” his son, Irving, told The New York Times. “And it seemed like he was going to give it a good home.”

Those records, too, were shipped to Brazil. So were the inventories of several iconic music stores, including Colony Records, that glorious mess of LP bins and sheet-music racks that was a Times Square landmark for 64 years. The store closed its doors for good in the fall of 2012, but every single record left in the building — about 200,000 in all — ended up with a single collector, a man driven to get his hands on all the records in the world.

In an office near the back of his 25,000-square-foot warehouse in São Paulo, Zero Freitas, 62, slipped into a chair, grabbed one of the LPs stacked on a table and examined its track list. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, khaki shorts and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt; his gray hair was thin on top but curled along his collar in the back. Studying the song list, he appeared vaguely professorial. In truth, Freitas is a wealthy businessman who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. “I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself,” he said.

His compulsion to buy records, he says, is tied up in childhood memories: a hi-fi stereo his father bought when Freitas was 5 and the 200 albums the seller threw in as part of the deal. Freitas was an adolescent in December 1964 when he bought his first record, a new release: “Roberto Carlos Sings to the Children,” by a singer who would go on to become one of Brazil’s most popular recording stars. By the time he finished high school, Freitas owned roughly 3,000 records.

After studying music composition in college, he took over the family business, a private bus line that serves the São Paulo suburbs. By age 30, he had about 30,000 records. About 10 years later, his bus company expanded, making him rich. Not long after that, he split up with his wife, and the pace of his buying exploded. “Maybe it’s because I was alone,” Freitas said. “I don’t know.” He soon had a collection in the six figures; his best guess at a current total is several million albums.

Recently, Freitas hired a dozen college interns to help him bring some logic to his obsession. In the warehouse office, seven of them were busy at individual workstations; one reached into a crate of LPs marked “PW #1,425” and fished out a record. She removed the disc from its sleeve and cleaned the vinyl with a soft cloth before handing the album to the young man next to her. He ducked into a black-curtained booth and snapped a picture of the cover. Eventually the record made its way through the assembly line of interns, and its information was logged into a computer database. An intern typed the name of the artist (the Animals), the title (“Animalism”), year of release (1966), record label (MGM) and — referencing the tag on the crate the record was pulled from — noted that it once belonged to Paulette Weiss, a New York music critic whose collection of 4,000 albums Freitas recently purchased.

The interns can collectively catalog about 500 records per day — a Sisyphean rate, as it happens, because Freitas has been burying them with new acquisitions. Between June and November of last year, more than a dozen 40-foot-long shipping containers arrived, each holding more than 100,000 newly purchased records. Though the warehouse was originally the home of his second business — a company that provides sound and lighting systems for rock concerts and other big events — these days the sound boards and light booms are far outnumbered by the vinyl.

Many of the records come from a team of international scouts Freitas employs to negotiate his deals. They’re scattered across the globe — New York, Mexico City, South Africa, Nigeria, Cairo. The brassy jazz the interns were listening to on the office turntable was from his man in Havana, who so far has shipped him about 100,000 Cuban albums — close to everything ever recorded there, Freitas estimated. He and the interns joke that the island is rising in the Caribbean because of all the weight Freitas has hauled away.

Allan Bastos, who for years has served as Freitas’s New York buyer, was visiting São Paulo and joined us that afternoon in the warehouse office. Bastos, a Brazilian who studied business at the University of Michigan, used to collect records himself, often posting them for sale on eBay. In 2006, he noticed that a single buyer — Freitas — was snapping up virtually every record he listed. He has been buying records for him ever since, focusing on U.S. collections. He has purchased stockpiles from aging record executives and retired music critics, as well as from the occasional celebrity (he bought the record collection of Bob Hope from his daughter about 10 years after Hope died). This summer Bastos moved to Paris, where he’ll buy European records for Freitas.

Bastos looked over the shoulder of an intern, who was entering the information from another album into the computer.

“This will take years and years,” Bastos said of the cataloging effort. “Probably 20 years, I guess.”

Twenty years — if Freitas stops buying records.

Collecting has always been a solitary pursuit for Freitas, and one he keeps to himself. When he bought the remaining stock of the legendary Modern Sound record store in Rio de Janeiro a couple of years ago, a Brazilian newspaper reported that the buyer was a Japanese collector — an identity Bastos invented to protect Freitas’s anonymity. His collection hasn’t been publicized, even within Brazil. Few of his fellow vinyl enthusiasts are aware of the extent of his holdings, partly because Freitas never listed any of his records for sale.

But in 2012, Bob George, a music archivist in New York, traveled with Bastos to São Paulo to prepare for Brazilian World Music Day, a celebration that George organized, and together they visited Freitas’s home and warehouse; the breadth of the collection astonished George. He was reminded of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who lusted after seemingly every piece of art on the world market and then kept expanding his private castle to house all of it.

“What’s the good of having it,” George remembers telling Freitas, “if you can’t do something with it or share it?”

The question nagged at Freitas. For the truly compulsive hobbyist, there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential weight. It becomes as much a source of anxiety as of joy. Freitas in recent years had become increasingly attracted to mystic traditions — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. In his house, he and his second wife created a meditation room, and they began taking spiritual vacations to India and Egypt. But the teachings he admired didn’t always jibe with his life as a collector — acquiring, possessing, never letting go. Every new record he bought seemed to whisper in his ear: What, ultimately, do you want to do with all this stuff?

He found a possible model in George, who in 1985 converted his private collection of some 47,000 records into a publicly accessible resource called the ARChive of Contemporary Music. That collection has grown to include roughly 2.2 million tapes, records and compact discs. Musicologists, record companies and filmmakers regularly consult the nonprofit archive seeking hard-to-find songs. In 2009 George entered into a partnership with Columbia University, and his archive has attracted support from many musicians, who donate recordings, money or both. The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has provided funding for the archive’s collection of early blues recordings. David Bowie, Paul Simon, Nile Rodgers, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme all sit on its board.

Freitas has recently begun preparing his warehouse for his own venture, which he has dubbed Emporium Musical. Last year, he got federal authorization to import used records — an activity that hadn’t been explicitly allowed by Brazilian trade officials until now. Once the archive is registered as a nonprofit, Freitas will shift his collection over to the Emporium. Eventually he envisions it as a sort of library, with listening stations set up among the thousands of shelves. If he has duplicate copies of records, patrons will be able to check out copies to take home.

Some of those records are highly valuable. In Freitas’s living room, a coffee table was covered with recently acquired rarities. On top of a stack of 45s sat “Barbie,” a 1962 single by Kenny and the Cadets, a short-lived group featuring the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on lead vocals and, as backup singers, Wilson’s brother Carl and their mother, Audree. In the same stack was another single — “Heartache Souvenirs”/”Chicken Shack,” by William Powell — that has fetched as much as $5,000 on eBay. Nearby sat a Cuban album by Ivette Hernandez, a pianist who left Cuba after Fidel Castro took power; Hernandez’s likeness on the cover was emblazoned with a bold black stamp that read, in Spanish, “Traitor to the Cuban Revolution.”

While Freitas thumbed through those records, Bastos was warning of a future in which some music might disappear unnoticed. Most of the American and British records Freitas has collected have already been digitally preserved. But in countries like Brazil, Cuba and Nigeria, Bastos estimated, up to 80 percent of recorded music from the mid-20th century has never been transferred. In many places, he said, vinyl is it, and it’s increasingly hard to find. Freitas slumped, then covered his face with his hands and emitted a low, rumbling groan. “It’s very important to save this,” he said. “Very important.”

Freitas is negotiating a deal to purchase and digitize thousands of Brazilian 78 r.p.m. recordings, many of which date to the early 1900s, and he expects to digitize some of the rarest records in his collection shortly thereafter. But he said he could more effectively save the music by protecting the existing vinyl originals in a secure, fireproof facility. “Vinyl is very durable,” he said. “If you store them vertically, out of the sun, in a temperature-controlled environment, they can pretty much last forever. They aren’t like compact discs, which are actually very fragile.”

In his quest to save obscure music, Bastos told me, Freitas sometimes buys records he doesn’t realize he already owns. This spring he finally acquiesced to Bastos’s pleas to sell some of his duplicate records, which make up as much as 30 percent of his total collection, online.

“I said, ‘Come on, you have 10 copies of the same album — let’s sell four or five!’ ” Bastos said.

Freitas smiled and shrugged. “Yes, but all of those 10 copies are different,” he countered. Then he chuckled, as if recognizing how illogical his position might sound.

In March, he began boxing up 10,000 copies of Brazilian LPs to send to George in an exchange between the emerging public archive and its inspirational model. It was a modest first step, but significant. Freitas had begun to let go.

Earlier this year, Freitas and Bastos stopped into Eric Discos, a used-record store in São Paulo that Freitas frequents. “I put some things aside for you,” the owner, Eric Crauford, told him. The men walked next door, where Crauford lives. Hundreds of records and dozens of CDs teetered in precarious stacks — jazz, heavy metal, pop, easy listening — all for Freitas.

Sometimes Freitas seems ashamed of his own eclecticism. “A real collector,” he told me, is someone who targets specific records, or sticks to a particular genre. But Freitas hates to filter his purchases. Bastos once stumbled upon an appealing collection that came with 15,000 polka albums. He called Freitas to see if it was a deal breaker. “Zero was asking me about specific polka artists, whether they were in the collection or not,” Bastos remembered. “He has this amazing knowledge of every kind of music.”

That afternoon, Freitas purchased Crauford’s selections without inspecting them, as he always does. He told Crauford he’d send someone later in the week to pick them up and deliver them to his house. Bastos listened to the exchange without comment but noted the destination of the records — Freitas’s residence, not the archive’s warehouse. He was worried that the collector’s compulsions might be getting in the way of the archiving efforts. “Zero isn’t taking too many of the records to his house, is he?” Bastos had asked a woman who helps Freitas manage his cataloging operation.

No, she told him. But almost every time Freitas picked up a record at the archive, he’d tell a whole story about it. Often, she said, he’d become overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s like he almost cries with every record he sees,” she told him.

Freitas’s desire to own all the music in the world is clearly tangled up in something that, even after all these years, remains tender and raw. Maybe it’s the nostalgia triggered by the songs on that first Roberto Carlos album he bought, or perhaps it stretches back to the 200 albums his parents kept when he was small — a microcollection that was damaged in a flood long ago but that, as an adult, he painstakingly recreated, album by album.

After the trip to Eric Discos, I descended into Freitas’s basement, where he keeps a few thousand cherry-picked records, a private stash he doesn’t share with the archive. Aside from a little area reserved for a half-assembled drum kit, a couple of guitars, keyboards and amps, the room was a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with records.

He walked deep into an aisle in search of the first LP he ever bought, the 1964 Roberto Carlos record. He pulled it from the shelf, turning it slowly in his hands, staring at the cover as if it were an irreplaceable artifact — as if he did not, in fact, own 1,793 additional copies of albums by Roberto Carlos, the artist who always has, and always will, occupy more space in his collection than anyone else.

Nearby sat a box of records he hadn’t shelved yet. They came from the collection of a man named Paulo Santos, a Brazilian jazz critic and D.J. who lived in Washington during the 1950s and who was friendly with some of the giants of jazz and modern classical music. Freitas thumbed through one album after another — Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck. The records were signed, and not with simple autographs; the artists had written affectionate messages to Santos, a man they obviously respected.

“These dedications are so personal,” Freitas said, almost whispering.

He held the Ellington record for an extended moment, reading the inscription, then scanning the liner notes. Behind his glasses, his eyes looked slightly red and watery, as if something was irritating them. Dust, maybe. But the record was perfectly clean.

 

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/magazine/the-brazilian-bus-magnate-whos-buying-up-all-the-worlds-vinyl-records.html?_r=0

The coolest record stores in the UK

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopmusic/10954342/The-coolest-record-stores-in-Britain.html

 

The coolest record stores in Britain

Spotify and Pandora may be booming, but you can’t beat the atmosphere of an independent music store. Ben Travis picks Britain’s best

Sound It Out, Stockton upon Tees Photo: Tom Butchart

Despite Spotify, Deezer and the like offering free streamed music, vinyl is back in fashion, with sales in 2013 reaching a fifteen-year high. Where better to buy old-style records than one of these community-driven cultural institutions?

1. Rough Trade East – London
Dray Walk, Brick Lane, E1; roughtrade.com


Photo: Kathy deWitt / Alamy
The daddy of UK record shops. London’s Rough Trade East, which opened in 2007, may be the younger brother of Rough Trade West, but is also one of the biggest independents in the country. The store sells predominantly new stock of vinyl and CDs, racked up across a huge 5,000 square-feet, and has a handy cafe at the front. Rough Trade is more than just a shop – it’s also one of the most influential labels in the UK, and has put out influential records by The Smiths, The Fall, The Strokes, Arcade FireBelle & Sebastian and more. Rough Trade East also plays host to in-store gigs, film screenings, and talks on film, music and literature.

2. The Music Exchange – Nottingham
Stoney Street, Hockley; themusicexchange.org.uk


Photo: Mark Richardson / Alamy
The Music Exchange is more than just a music store – it’s also a social enterprise, and works with homelessness charity Framework to offer vulnerable people the opportunity to gain retail experience by volunteering behind the counter. Since opening in 2009, The Music Exchange has evolved from a tiny second-hand music shop in Nottingham’s West End Arcade to a bustling outlet in the trendy area of Hockley. The shop has gone some way to filling the void left when Nottingham’s legendary Selectadisc closed.

 

3. Probe Records – Liverpool
The Bluecoat, School Lane; probe-records.com


Photo: The Bluecoat

In a city with such a fine musical pedigree as Liverpool, it takes a lot to stand out. Though it’s moved premises through the years, Liverpool’s Probe Records has been going strong since 1971. Pete Burns and Paul Rutherford of Frankie Goes to Hollywood have worked there, and in the wake of punk, Probe became Liverpool’s go-to record shop, attracting clientele from Echo and the Bunnymen and OMD. The shop launched its own record label Probe Plus in 1981, which has released work by cult Merseyside act Half Man Half Biscuit.

4. Sound It Out Records – Teesside
Yarm Street, Stockton-on-Tees; sounditoutrecords.co.uk


Photo: Tom Butchart
The last remaining record shop in the Stockton-on-Tees area is a focal point for the community, welcoming everyone from teenage metal fans to wannabe rappers and stragglers from local pubs through its doors. Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Sound It Out perfectly encapsulates what the store means to locals, while owner Tom Butchart has the last word on the enduring appeal of vinyl: “records hold memories”.

 

 

5. Pop Recs Ltd – Sunderland
Fawcett Street; poprecsltd.com


Photo: Paul Alexander Knox
Sunderland band Frankie & The Heartstrings had a novel idea when it came to the release of their second LP, The Days Run Away – they set up a pop-up record shop for two weeks to promote it. Over a year later the shop still stands, and has made more of an impact than the album that inspired it. Pop Recs Ltd has been a major boost for Sunderland, galvanising local music fans, and promoting inclusiveness and enterprise by selling locally produced coffee and hosting art exhibitions. Maxïmo Park and The Ordinary Boys have already played there for free, while Franz Ferdinand did a gig for a fiver (or £2.50 for those receiving benefits).

6. Rise Music – Bristol
Queens Road, Clifton; rise-music.co.uk


Photo: James Hankins

After growing Fopp from a market stall into a chain of over 100 stores over 25 years, Gordon Montgomery founded Rise in Bristol. The store is impressively diverse, selling a carefully curated selection of books and DVDs alongside CDs and LPs. Now with two more stores in Cheltenham and Worcester, this regional chain continues to grow, and has hosted live shows from acts like Peace and Slow Club as well as film nights and DJ sets. The Bristol store includes a Friska cafe, while the shop even has a vintage clothing arm called Rise Revival.

7. Good Vibrations – Belfast
North Street; Good Vibrations Record Shop – Facebook


Good Vibrations, as depicted in the film, with Richard Dormer as Terri Hooley. Photo: Steffan Hill

The film Good Vibrations, named after the legendary Belfast record store of the same name and released last year, was brilliant. It told the story of local music lover Terri Hooley’s attempt to expand his store into a label that would go on to release Teenage Kicks by The Undertones in 1979. But the film’s popularity also sparked the store back into life. Now in its 13th incarnation, and proclaiming itself as “Belfast’s poorest record shop”, shoppers can still bump into Hooley, now 65, working behind the till.

 

8. Spillers Records – Cardiff
The Morgan Arcade; spillersrecords.co.uk


Photo: Polly Thomas
Lots of record shops claim considerable heritage, but Spillers Records in Cardiff takes longevity to the next level – established 120 years ago, it’s the oldest record shop in the world. Opening in 1894, “H Spiller” originally dealt in phonographs, wax cylinders and shellac discs. As the decades passed, the shop evolved along with the music formats, and it now stocks a selection of CDs and LPs, and hosts in-store gigs.

9. Banquet Records – Kingston upon Thames
Eden Street; banquetrecords.com


Photo: Banquet Records
Some record labels have emerged from record shops. Banquet Records is a shop that emerged from a label that itself emerged from a shop. In 1973, record shop Beggars Banquet opened in Earls Court, with an accompanying label launching in 1977. The label has since grown into the Beggars Group, which owns or distributes some of the most respected independent record labels around, including 4AD (Bon Iver), Matador (Queens of the Stone Age), Rough Trade (Jarvis Cocker) and XL Recordings (Adele). A second store, Banquet Records, opened in 2002, but became independent of the Beggars Banquet shop in 2005. It runs successful club night New Slang and has hosted in-store performances and signings from FoalsLaura Marling and The Vamps.

10. Jumbo Records – Leeds
St Johns Centre; jumborecords.co.uk

Jumbo is appropriately named, given its history of upscaling. The shop took its first proper residence in Leeds’s Queens Arcade in 1972, before moving to the Merrion Centre shopping complex partly due to a lack of space. In the late Eighties even more space was required, prompting a move to the St Johns shopping centre where the shop remains today. In recent years the shop has held gigs from Hot Chip, We Are Scientists and Lily Allen. Last month Jumbo’s founder Hunter Smith and his wife Lornette stepped down from running the store.

 

Further recommendations:

11. Sister Ray Records – London
Berwick Street, W1; Sister Ray Records – Facebook

An excellent store in central London, just off Oxford Street, Sister Ray was originally an offshoot of the London branch of the sadly defunctSelectadisc. A new vinyl-only branch will launch in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel on July 29.

 

12. Piccadilly Records – Manchester
Oldham Street, Northern Quarter; piccadillyrecords.com

Piccadilly Records is one of many record shops in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The stock is nicely varied across several genres, though their rock / pop / indie selection is particularly strong.

 

13. Love Music, Glasgow
Dundas Street; lovemusicglasgow.com

Formerly the Glasgow branch of Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records, Love Music specialises in rock but caters for a wide range of tastes. The shop stocks a mix of LPs and CDs, with a particular focus on Scottish artists.

 

14. RPM Records, Newcastle
Old George Yard; RPM Records – Facebook

Down one of Newcastle’s artsy back alleys is RPM Records, a true treasure trove and stalwart of the local music scene. It holds a great selection of old and new records, has extremely friendly staff and also sells an array of classic record players.

 

15. BM Soho, London
D’arblay Street; bm-soho.com

If dance music is your thing, you can’t go wrong at BM Soho. Covering every sub-genre you could ever wish for – funky house, liquid drum and bass, dubstep, you name it – it’s the place to go for new 12″s.

 

16. Groucho’s Record Store, Dundee
Nethergate; grouchos.co.uk

Groucho’s in Dundee has been running for 38 years and is well-loved by the locals – it has been a frequent winner of the city’s Independent Retailer of the Year award. Be careful what you say in the shop though – the hilarious ‘Dinna ask’ page on the website highlights “choice words from people ‘two tracks short of a single'”.

18 signs of Vinyl Addiction

http://www.buzzfeed.com/perpetua/vinyl-addiction

 

1. Music just sounds sorta weird to you if it’s not preceded by a bit of surface noise.

2. You’re willing to spend hours of your time making sure your collection is perfectly alphabetized.

Lee Meredith / Via Flickr: -leethal-

3. Your record collection is the focus of your home decor.

H. Michael Karshis / Via Flickr: hmk

4. Some of your walls look just like this, or you want them to.

Brian Lamb / Via Flickr: harry

5. Your dream house looks something like this.

Carl Collins / Via Flickr: carlcollins

6. You’re ready to drop whatever you’re doing wherever you are to check out a record store, flea market, or garage sale.

7. You thumb through every single record bin in every shop because you never know what you might find.

8. You look at a photo like this and think “vacation destination.”

Abi Skipp / Via Flickr: 9557815@N05

9. You are constantly worried about being outbid on eBay.

10. This is more beautiful than an actual flower.

Marcin Wichary / Via Flickr: mwichary

11. Looking at a photo like this makes you quietly freak out – THAT’S NOT HOW YOU STORE A RECORD! YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN IT!!!

Steven Snodgrass / Via Flickr: stevensnodgrass

12. You have strong opinions about digital audio.

Acid Pix / Via Flickr: acidpix

13. You also have some very intense feelings about colored vinyl.

Yonolatengo / Via Flickr: yonolatengo

14. You roll your eyes at expensive, inferior new pressings of albums that you can find in used bins all over.

They’re always sourced from digital and sound like garbage!

15. You’re always wondering, “is it time to replace my needle yet?”

Jemimus / Via Flickr: jemimus

16. You hope and pray that every new album you like comes out on vinyl.

Hey Kayne, why isn’t Yeezus on vinyl yet???

17. There’s at least one record that you can never find or can’t afford, and knowing it’s out there and you can’t have it slowly drives you insane.

18. You are ready and willing to argue about the superiority of vinyl over CDs at any given moment.

You are ready and willing to argue about the superiority of vinyl over CDs at any given moment.

“Hoarder House” Full of Records

 

http://www.audiophilerecords.ca/hoarder-house-full-of-records/

“Hoarder House” Full of Records  27


Many customers had asked us about the “hoarder house” full of 250,000 records that Apollo purchased last year, and what it looked like. Here are some pictures that were taken part way through the clean out (when we first got there we couldn’t even get through the doorways!)

It took us 6 months to pack and remove all the records from the house.

Don’t Worry Folks, Most of you don’t have anything to worry about!

MORE INFO:

The 2 Story House was filled to the brim by a 68 year old collector who had lived in the house since his childhood. He passed away in 2011 and the family was shocked at what they discovered. They soon realized why they had never been invited over and why he had been so reclusive. His Car was filled to the brim with records and the family suspected that he had been sleeping there over the last few years, as it was impossible to enter the house. The Bathroom and shower were also full of Records. We didn’t know it was the bathroom until we came upon a toilet.

The Family Tried to sell the house as is, but found it difficult and general word of mouth led them to call Apollo (he had previously been a customer). At first glance, we wanted to “Pass on it” as it looked like a nightmare, but we knew the collector well and figured there could be something worthwhile under all that.

It was actually fairly clean, overall, other than the piles of dust from over the years.

What Kind of records are they?

ALL Kinds. While he combed thrift shops and bought anything interesting to him over the last 10 years, the older stuff showed he also bought a variety of Rock and Rockabilly & Elvis records (His favorite) back in the 50s and 60s and kept them on shelves in pristine condition.

The best thing there? The 45′s, about 20,000 on shelves, mostly all original ‘as new’ store stock Rock & roll & Rockabilly, and oddball stuff, plus hundreds of Pristine EPs ranging from Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Country Artists, to the Rare Carl Perkins Columbia EP.

We Spent just over 6 months boxing and transporting truck loads to our warehouse, where they sit today. (We’ve sorted only approx 25% in the last year)

At the same time, CBC Radio Vancouver Contacted us about purchasing their 60,000+ Collection so we really had our hands full for several months.

Are they for sale? Yes, but they are still being sorted, some are garbage and some are great (pulled out a nice Slim Harpo LP on Excello in between two Jim Reeves LPs). Thousands of records go into our massive “dollar room”, (see our blog for pictures) good priceable records go into our shop, and some go online (mainly the 45′s that are being listed regularly in our online eBay store, along with our othermassive collection from CBC Radio).

 

This Picture Was taken after we had already cleared part of the room! Downstairs Media Room.

This Picture Was taken after we had already cleared part of the room! Downstairs Media Room.

 

Downstairs Basement, We had alreay partially emptied the room before the picture was taken!

Downstairs Basement, We had alreay partially emptied the room before the picture was taken!

Downstairs Basement, We had alreay partially emptied the room before the picture was taken!

Downstairs Basement, We had alreay partially emptied the room before the picture was taken!

Downstairs Basement, We had alreay partially emptied the room before the picture was taken!

Downstairs Basement, We had alreay partially emptied the room before the picture was taken!

 

THE KITCHEN !

THE KITCHEN !

HOUSE6HOUSE7HOUSE8HOUSE9

John Coltrane: The Complete Sun Ship Session – Mosaic Records (3 vinyl discs)

http://audaud.com/2013/08/john-coltrane-the-complete-sun-ship-session-mosaic-records-3-vinyl-discs/

 

John Coltrane: The Complete Sun Ship Session – Mosaic Records (3 vinyl discs)

Coltrane completists, rejoice…..
Harmonia mundi - Tokyo Quartet


Nordic Cello Concertos

Published on August 13, 2013

John Coltrane: The Complete Sun Ship Session – Mosaic Records (3) 180gm stereo LP Box set MRLP 3005 –  [Recorded 8/26/65] – (Single LP issued on Impulse AS-9211, Aug. 1971) – Remixed from the original three-track masters ***½:

(John Coltrane-tenor sax; McCoy Tyner- piano; Jimmy Garrison- bass; Elvin Jones-drums)

Mosaic Records has always been the label that jazz completists seek out to obtain the definitive work of both legendary and lesser known (to the general public) artists, who have helped define the many jazz idioms that  collectors seek. Mosaic has sought out hidden and seemingly lost tapes of jazz giants, whereas other jazz labels have been satisfied to just issue readily available material.

Although the original issue on Impulse Records of John Coltrane’s Sun Ship consisted of only five master tracks, Mosaic Records was able to track down from the newly discovered original reels, the existence of unedited alternate takes, false starts, and edits, as well as recorded conversations between producer Bob Thiele, and Coltrane.

The Sun Ship session was recorded during 1965, among Coltrane’s most prolific years, at a time when his music was going through a period of extreme evolution. It was at the end of the period of his classic quartet comprised of the rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and the legendary Elvin Jones on drums. Sun Ship documents the group at the crescendo of their creative peak, just a matter of months before the departure of Tyner and Jones.

The music found on this session is powerful, sometimes chaotic, and at times somber, while seemingly prophetic, not knowing that Coltrane would pass away just two years later. Coltrane’s tenor invokes a spiritual tone, and is also wildly free, while Garrison and Jones swing with a loose groove. When Tyner has his moments he solos with thundering chords and commanding keyboard runs.

Hearing this music over thirty-five years later, the impact is no less stunning and contemporary in an avant-garde fashion today than it was when first recorded. The unedited tapes with both complete alternate takes, false starts, and inserts provide a window into Coltrane’s creative musical imagination. The short conversation snippets found throughout the LPs, though not containing any historical significance, remain interesting, as John can go from a humorous aside immediately into a burst of passionate playing like he was plugged into a high current electrical outlet.

Record 1, Side A, has three takes of “Dearly Beloved,” including a false start. Side B has the first two takes of “Attaining.” Record 2, Side A, continues with takes 3 & 4 of “Attaining” plus the first three takes of “Sun Ship.” Side B of the 2nd LP features the released version of “Sun Ship” as well as the album version of “Ascent” (Take 1). Jimmy Garrison’s extended bass solo is the lion’s share of this track, and is masterful.

The third LP has five takes of “Ascent,” on Side A, and they are incomplete versions and inserts. Side B is made up of a full alternate version of “Amen” and the same released 8:17 track from the Impulse issue.

The acoustics on these records is stunning with kudos going to Kevin Reeves for the remix, and to Kevin Gray for the remastering. Listening to Jimmy Garrison’s solo on “Ascent” makes you feel like he is just a few feet away…

The Complete Sun Ship Session box set is tailor-made for the hardcore John Coltrane enthusiast, a special prize for the chosen few who would savor every note recorded by John. Though the music presented here can sound jagged and dissonant to the general public, there remains an audience of Coltrane fans and young inspired musicians, who will find great pleasure in the exploratory, wildly creative emotional roller coaster ride that Coltrane leads as chief engineer. Limited to only 3500 box sets, it would be wise to contact Mosaic Records through their web site ( www.mosaicrecords.com) to purchase your set before this issue sells out.

—Jeff Krow

Inside the insane 50,000-watt Ibiza speaker stack built by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy

http://www.theverge.com/2013/7/19/4537724/lcd-soundsystem-frontman-returns-to-his-roots-with-amazing-custom-speaker-set

 

Inside the insane 50,000-watt Ibiza speaker stack built by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy

One of the most impressive sound systems on the planet

Despacio

Image credit: Robert Martin

The sound system is the foundation on which entire genres of music have been built. A hulking, pulsating, blinking mass of wood, metal and plastic that delivers one crucial thing to any party — volume. Without the sound system, we wouldn’t have reggae, ska, dub, disco, or funk. We wouldn’t have house, techno, synthpop, trance, hip-hop or dubstep. Without the sound system, we’d still be dancing the fox-trot.

No one knows that better than James Murphy, the frontman of sadly defunct LCD Soundsystem, who spent his 20s working as an audio engineer before getting distracted by becoming a rockstar. But Murphy’s going back to his roots, working with mashup pioneers David and Stephen Dewaele — better known as Soulwax and 2manyDJs — to put together his dream sound-system for a three-night residency in Manchester namedDespacio.

 

TUNED FOR OPTIMUM SOUND QUALITY, NOT MAXIMUM LOUDNESS

Despacio is Spanish for “slow,” which the Dewaele brothers originally intended to use for a night in Ibiza playing records between 95 and 115 bpm. “We’ve really been into the concept of taking records and slowing them down on the turntables to produce this swampy, sexier effect,” explains David. “When we moved it to Manchester we just stuck with it.”

A huge 50,000-watt rig has been designed by the trio down to the very last detail, consisting of eight enormous 11-foot speaker stacks, positioned in a circle pointing at the audience in the center. It’s been tuned for optimum sound quality, not maximum loudness. “The system is like a dinosaur, if dinosaurs had survived and evolved along with modern creatures,” James says.

Despacio-003-560Image credit: Ellis Reid

He explains: “The old disco systems were just sound systems, really. Big hi-fis, and similar in design to sound reinforcement systems, live systems, public address systems, and jamaican dub systems. Dub systems were the first to get really specific about large masses of people moving around to pre-recorded music. And then disco systems like theParadise Garage system started using some of the hi-fi and dub techniques to make big noises.”

“As time went on, smaller, more efficient boxes and drivers were built with minor compromises to the quality but massive advantages in size, power requirements, et cetera. Each time one of these small evolutions happened, there was another small compromise (in my mind) and eventually we wound up with the modern club system. That can range anywhere from a bunch of shit piled up and run in the red to make drunk people not hear other drunk people very clearly, all the way to the modern awesome-sounding club / dance PA rigs, which, to my old-dude ears sound totally sweet if you play modern dance music, but don’t tend to reproduce ‘Hells Bells’ particularly satisfyingly.”

Despacio, on the other hand, has been designed specifically to reproduce both modern dance music and “Hells Bells” as accurately as possible. To that end, the trio will only be playing vinyl through the system. “Vinyl sounds better,” James says, simply, when quizzed why he’s rejecting digital music. “Why do things the easy way?” asks Stephen.

“VINYL SOUNDS BETTER.”

Getting the components right is important, too. They’ve been supplied by McIntosh, an audio equipment company founded in 1949, just before the very first sound systems were beginning to take shape in Jamaica. Its heritage includes supplying amplifiers for the Woodstock festival in 1969, and creating the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound. “Those amps are ‘banuts,'” says James. “Which is a combination of bananas and nuts. All three of us have old Mcintosh amps in our studios and homes. We’re longtime fans.” David adds: “James is forgetting another very important reason: they look amazing! Those front plates with the blue VU meters are a design classic, and eight humongous stacks with the amps built in and the meters moving in unison will look better than most modern club lighting.”

Once the three nights are complete, the system won’t be dismantled. “We may eventually find a sacred space on a mystical island and build a shrine where it will live forever,” says James. Stephen adds: “We’d love to do a US tour with the sound system, and we imagine that due to the sheer size and weight of the system, we will need three trucks likeEmerson, Lake, and Palmer had. The flyer should be a helicopter shot of the three trucks driving on the turnpike saying MURPHY, DEWAELE and DEWAELE on the roof.”

Despacio-010-560Image credit: Robert Martin

Of course, given the collective musical talent involved in the project and how often they’ve worked together in the past, it seems churlish not to ask if there might be some collaboration in their future. “We’ve been making some ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ together for fun over the past few years, but we haven’t made any decisions about if / when / how to inflict these dubious mongrel creations onto the world,” says James. “The truth is that we’ve made some amazing music together but ‘someone’ has been too ‘busy’ tasting wine and producing popular music, so none of it has been finished yet,” David adds.

Despacio is running for three consecutive nights in the ballroom of New Century House during the Manchester International Festival, from July 18th to the 20th.

What does a £2,500 record sound like?

 

What does a £2,500 record sound like?

Audiophile Pete Hutchison has gone to extraordinary lengths to reissue golden era classical recordings in their purest form. He talks to Killian Fox about the price of perfection, the ‘digital con’, and the sound of a truly analogue recording

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/may/25/pete-hutchison-interview-new-vinyl-recording

Pete Hutchison in his studio in west London

‘It’s not just about vinyl, it’s about a whole philosophy’: Pete Hutchison in his studio in west London. Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer

Four years ago, Pete Hutchison realised that his record-collecting habit was getting out of control. From a young age he had been buying music across a wide variety of genres – folk, rock, punk, jazz, house and techno – but recently he’d been getting into classical music, and that, for a lover of rare vinyl, is an expensive move. Classical music tends to fetch much higher prices on the collector’s market than other genres. “In a single year,” he says, “I spent £40,000 just on classical, not counting all the other music I was buying.” One purchase that year, a rare box set of Mozart recordings from 1956, set him back £7,000.

Seeking to address the problem, Hutchison decided to take matters into his own hands. Since 1991 he has been running Peacefrog, an indie label that has enjoyed considerable success in recent years with acts such as José González and Little Dragon. His label’s distributor was EMI, which held the rights to a formidable collection of classical recordings. Through his contacts there, Hutchison got permission to remake 80 celebrated recordings from the so-called “golden era” 1950s and 60s and reissue them himself, via his new label the Electric Recording Company.

The first limited-edition repressings, three sought-after LPs of Bach sonatas played by the Hungarian violinist Johanna Martzy. They went on sale last November, priced at £300 apiece. The second reissue was the rare Mozart box set. A collection of the composer’s complete Parisian work on seven discs, directed by Fernand Oubradous, and limited to 300 copies, it will cost you £2,495.

These are no ordinary reissues. Hutchison’s purism as a collector, it turned out, was outstripped by his perfectionism in the studio. Many vinyl reissues are produced cheaply and quickly on contemporary machinery. Hutchison insisted on doing everything as it would have been done half a century ago, but with added perfection. “I want to have the best-sounding records in the world,” he says.

Naturally, this wasn’t going to come cheap. “The first challenge,” he tells me when I visit him at his studio in Notting Hill, London, “was finding and restoring the equipment.” A willowy man with long hair and a gratifyingly bushy beard, Hutchison is every inch the obsessive audiophile, and now he has the machinery to match. The EMI reel-to-reel tape recorder on one side of the room, which had to be fully restored, would have been used at Abbey Road to record the Beatles and the Stones.

The mastering console in the centre, also built by EMI, came from Nigeria – but the real find, Hutchison tells me, was the pair of contraptions to our right: a valve-powered tape machine the size of an Aga and a vinyl-cutting lathe, both manufactured by the Danish company Lyrec in 1965. Hutchison found the two machines “shipwrecked” in a council garage in Cheshunt, bought them for £10,000 and spent three years and “10 times” the purchase price rebuilding them with the help of veteran sound engineers Sean Davies and Duncan Crimmins, guided by instruction manuals Davies had kept since the 1970s.

Valve technology all but disappeared in the mid-70s, when the studios switched over to cheaper transistors – a travesty, in Hutchison’s view, exceeded only by the subsequent switchover from analogue to digital. “The problem with transistors is they sounded a bit hard and glassy,” he explains. “They didn’t have the texture and open top-end of the valve sound.” Now he is bringing that lost texture back to life. “These, we believe, are the only machines in the world capable of producing an all-valve stereo cut.” When they put out their first stereo release in July (the Bach and Mozart records are mono), it will, he claims, be the first all-valve stereo cut in almost half a century.

Having paid so much attention to how his product would sound, Hutchison didn’t want to skimp on appearance. “The sleeve and artwork design and manufacture had to be done as it was in the 50s,” he decided. In east London, he tracked down an artisan printer with a 1959 Heidelberg letterpress and set him to work. Everything had to be authentic, right down to the vintage gold paint and the silk cords, and nothing could be scanned: even the images had to come from the original photographs, which meant tracking down the photographers, or their children, to request permission. The 50-page booklet accompanying the Mozart box set took an entire year to make .

When Hutchison plonks the £2,495 item in my lap, informing me that it’s probably the most expensive record ever made in terms of manufacturing costs, I open it nervously and peek inside. It’s a beautiful object, and the attention to detail is astonishing. But has all this effort really been worthwhile?

Financially, perhaps not. Although he says he’s recouped 50% of the manufacturing costs for the first two releases since November (they are still coming out on a drip-feed basis), breaking even on the entire project will take a lot longer. “Possibly my kids might recoup it,” he says, laughing. Money, it seems, isn’t the main issue here. Hutchison tells me with obvious pride that when a writer for the American magazineStereophile got his hands on the Mozart box set, “he said it was the most expensive record he owned but by far the best. And that was a great accolade: success to me is more about getting the respect of individuals like that than it is about the financial side.”



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It’s also about drawing attention to superior technologies that have been neglected in the scramble to do things in cheaper and more convenient ways. It would be easy to read the project as a critique of the digital era, and in fact Hutchison represents it quite openly as such. “It’s not really just about vinyl,” he says at one point. “It’s about a whole philosophy: it’s the aesthetic, it’s the sound, it’s everything.”

In terms of the listening experience, digital, he says, “is the great con. They said that CDs were indestructible, but they weren’t. They said it would sound better, but with the MP3 we are at probably the lowest point in the history of sound. It’s a compressed file. If you try to play an orchestra over a proper sound system on MP3, it’s just garbage.”

Hutchison has bigger criticisms to make about digital culture – we have become slaves to our technology; the distractions of mobile phones and social networks are threatening creativity – but, I wonder, is this project really the best way to get those points across? How effectively can a philosophy be expounded if it costs hundreds, even thousands of pounds to buy into it?

Hutchison acknowledges that exclusivity is an issue. “We’ve had some comments where people have said, ‘I wish I could afford these records, why does it have to be so elitist?’ The reason is simply how much these things cost to make – it’s a bit like Aston Martin making cars at a loss in the 60s. But I think now that the technology’s settled, we can look to do some stuff that’s a bit more affordable to some people.”

In July, the Electric Recording Company will put out its third release, a 1959 stero recording of Leonid Kogan playing Beethoven’s violin concerto, conducted by Constantin Silvestri. Further ahead, Hutchison has plans to move beyond classical music into rock, jazz, and other genres with a broader appeal, which would help lower the price somewhat. “They would sell more so we could press more and maybe do them around the £100 mark,” he says.

Still not fully convinced, I ask Hutchison if his products are for audiophiles only; or would the average listener be able to make out the difference in sound quality? “Anyone could tell,” he says. To prove his point, he places one of the Bach LPs on to a turntable and lowers the needle. Across a gap of more than half a century, Johanna Martzy’s violin begins to play. It’s not only the music that’s extraordinary: the sound is warm, textured, gorgeously nuanced. We sit in silence for a few moments, marvelling at the clarity. Save for a few little crackles here and there, it’s perfect.