Listening in Depth Part II aka Sound at its Noblest

DepthYou have to go way back to July 17, 2013 for the first Groove post on fine quality Columbia Phonograph ad-serts. As you’ll recall, “Listening in Depth” is a buzz term used by Columbia sound laboratories to promote their seemingly revolutionary Directed Electromotive Power (D.E.P.) phonograph console. Featured here is Model 535 which boasts and brags about all the same cabinet wood finish variations as Model 532, but ups the ante in overall power and sound quality (if only marginally). This beautiful piece of 1958 machinery would go perfectly in any (or every) room in my house, and I’ll personally shake the hand of the first person to send me one. Email me for shipping address.

Beats, a Birthday, and a Boat

20140627-234422-85462240.jpg Combining a portable turntable, the annual spinning of the Earth revolving around the Sun, and luxuries of 1930’s, high-class travel, yields a few, important last-minute notions: 1) None of us, especially me, are getting any younger and, 2) Holding a record over an open porthole is, I guess, something I thought I’d never do.

If there is a will, there is a time for anything.

Happy Birthday, Emile Berliner

Emile BerlinerToday, we honor the birth, ingenuity, and modern-day-forward-thinking of phonograph pioneer, Emile Berliner. Evolving from the Edison-based cylinder phonograph that preceded him, Mr. Berliner had the wherewithal to secure his disc record gramophone into the thickened soil of format obsessed enthusiasts, and whose achievements in developing the preferred, modern day musical vehicle (as of the past decade +) need not go overlooked. Happy Birthday, Mr. Berliner, and thank you for shining a light into the darkened void of my obsessive behavior… this next round is on me.

With Time, Comes Maintenance

MotorSo, the hi-fi is on the fritz. Well, that’s nothing a trip to the local hardware store, and the local pharmacy can’t fix (or so I’m hoping). How something is programmed to revolve at precisely 33.33 rpms is beside me in the first place, but one thing (has been) is painfully clear… the living room turntable needs fixing.

Today’s laborious result = still needs a bit of work, but at least this 1966 motor is as crystal as Palmolive dish soap.

The Genesis of an Obsession

20140413-153512.jpg Lifelong treasures seldom unveil themselves without fervent mining. This seemingly innocent moment marks the newest, documented genesis of my uncontrollable record obsession. Captured some 32 years ago, an astute observer may assume my DJ skills would have matured with age… unfortunately, I peaked at the age of two, and the extent of my record spinning abilities is limited to the dropping and lifting of the tone arm, aka the raising and lowering of a mechanical lever. I may not have been able to tie my own shoes, adequately feed myself, or speak without a lisp, but I damn well knew a good groove when I heard one.

Moscow Mules at 3am

3am RantFueled by a Moscow Mule at three in the morning (the first I’ve ever made for myself), I sit, alone, ripe with intensity at the notion of plugging away at today’s fiendish post. Unfortunately, I have no geological compass with which to guide my lamenting rants. My scorned conscious maligns itself at continuously writing about writing about music, instead of actually writing about music… the byproduct of never taking myself too seriously.

Why music? Furthermore, why the tedious and lethargic interactivity of a flippable media disc? And why does it provide so much relentless satisfaction? Are we slaves to our pleasures? Would we care to acknowledge the answer we know to be true? I’m not immune to the truth. I just choose to keep it at bay in the back of my mind next to my burgeoning narcissism, and that video of me singing Pour Some Sugar on Me as a nonsensical child.

Perhaps, personalized discovery is to blame… or to credit. A sea of emotions built, and then repeatedly cast upon the wall with each gratifying listen. Music is above all other things, the greatest distracter of deafening silence. Because, once the silence takes hold, you’re stuck with the worst conversation you can possibly imagine… the conversation with yourself.

I listen to music in order to mute my internal monologue. My unconscious self, much like my conscious self, is a raging idiot, and I’ll do just about anything in my power to shut it the hell up… I don’t see harm in fanning this enduring process, do you?

You Never Forget Your First

Baby PhonoIt’s not every day an obsessive-compulsive collector is reunited with his first turntable. Today was that immortal day. While on holiday in the muggy bayou that is (currently) Southern Wisconsin, I (actually, my father found it) discovered a crucial piece of my record loving history, this late 70s, Disco Mouse, Sears, Roebuck and Co. phonograph.

Still in working, albeit cosmetically challenged, condition, this little guy provided countless hours of Pac-Man adventures, abridged versions of my favorite Star Wars, and Star Wars related fantasies (think The Ewoks Join the Fight), and spun my very first picture disc, 1977’s Main Street Electrical Parade. (It was most recently the spinner of Louie Louie by The Kingsmen, Volare by Dean Martin, and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. Oh how times have changed.)

A collector exhausts many a turntable throughout their lives. Some rest in unrepaired ruin, while others lay in storage for over 30 years, waiting to once again offer a plethora of new memories.

Many thanks to my folks for introducing me the wonderful world of recorded music.

Listening in Depth

Listening in DepthListening in Depth, as apposed to listening in width, I suppose, is Columbia’s new (at the time) marketing gimmick to sell their “360 High Fidelity” phonographs. “Choose from more than 35 new Columbia phonographs in a wide price range and variety of cabinet designs and colors.” The phonograph featured here, Model 532, is available in mahogany, blonde mahogany, dirty-blonde mahogany, sandy-blonde mahogany, unnatural-blonde mahogany, ditsy-blonde mahogany, or walnut.

Announced in this ad-sert is Columbia sound laboratory’s own Directed Electromotive Power, or D.E.P. for short. This new feature “seals the sound chamber for tonal balance throughout the entire listening range.” (Seals it with a kiss, I suppose.)

Considering a phonograph upgrade to your own private domicile? “We invite you to inspect these portables, consoles and combinations at your Columbia Phonograph showroom today.” Update: All former Columbia Phonograph showrooms have, rather unfortunately, been converted into Jo-Ann Fabrics stores, with the exception of Wisconsin. Those have been transformed into Ben Franklin discount stores.

Magic Brain: A VERY Brief History

Magic BrainStarting around 1934, the term Magic Brain was given to high end, and often-expensive (especially for the time) radio receivers manufactured by RCA Victor. This new, futuristic, prewar technological improvement to the widely used radio receiver, allowed the heavy-pocketed user to 1) enjoy their favorite radio programs with new, higher fidelity tone performance, 2) tune in to more stations, 3) get exclusive access the RCA Victor’s “X” band, the same station aviators heard for up-to-the-minute, U.S. Government weather reports, and 4) the apparent alleviation of physical pressure when tuning into specific frequencies. (Citation)

Paralleling the start of the Second World War, RCA Victor released the Magic Brain RCA Victrola. This new, music listening wizard provided the same, groundbreaking, and industry redefining, features of the Magic Brain radio receiver, in a state-of-the-art radio-phonograph. The Magic Brain RCA Victrola offered a 180-degree shift in the way records were played, and how phonographs were manufactured. This model offered a tandem tone arm, which allowed the unit to play both sides of a record without having to flip it (there is something romantic about manually flipping a record, but there are certainly times when I’d love the ease and convenience of the Magic Brain). In addition to the tandem tone arm, the Magic Brain RCA Victrola allowed for up to two full hours of continuous, uninterrupted listening pleasure by the oversimplified ease of a single, pushed button. Mechanical noise was eliminated, the need to lift a lid was done away with, and the overall capacity was increased, housing up to 15, 10” records, or 12, 12” records.

Certainly an interactive jukebox for the family living room, this ingenious machine would unfortunately live an exceptionally short life. Due to the U.S. Government’s need for shellac, the material in 78rpm records as well as the main ingredient in U.S. made bombshells, it obtained nearly 70% of the nation’s supply, forcing two revolutionary music listening necessities. 1) With nearly no shellac to make new records, record companies began buying back out dated and/or unwanted records from the public (paying 2-3¢ per disc, equaling close to 500,000 lbs of shellac), to grind down in order to make new records. 2) With the short supply of shellac, and the high demand for consumable and obtainable mediums of portable music, the experimentation, and eventually the manufacturing of the vinyl record was introduced, and the rest is record collecting history. (Citation 1, citation 2)

With a new format, the Magic Brain RCA Victrola was rendered obsolete, and therefore was swiftly removed from production. A video of this monster in action can be found here.

The Triple P

Mercury Phonograph InsertOn my quest to find the perfect portable phonograph (the Triple P, as I call it), I stumbled across this weathered insert from who-the-hell-knows-when. A quick Google search reveals that Philips began manufacturing these beauties in 1963, so I guess, now-we-all-know-the-hell-when.

This insert features two, distinctly different looking players. First is the AG-4026. This compact player is perfect for annoying your temporary beach neighbors with your controversial Lenny Bruce albums, and plays 4 speeds on 7”, 10” and 12” record. Operating on easily accessible flashlight batteries, this lightweight (8 pounds) transistorized phonograph offers distortion-free response from 80-16,000 cps from its new 7” TICONAL speaker. The word around the waves is that it’s the “Big Set Sound” so, there you go.Beach Bums

The second is the AG-9115. Think of the AG-4026 as being the “Four” series and the AG-9115 as being the “Nine” series. This is NOT a kids toy. This portable Hi-Fi STEREO phonograph provides two TICONAL speakers, separate tone and volume controls, a new “auto-manipulator” tone arm and weighs a slender 24 pounds. Alright, that may be a little heavy to tote around on a bike trip or on a romantic picnic, but I’d still love to see the AG-9115 in action.

Made in Holland by Philips, these two portable players, one mono and the other stereo, would be perfect for my everyday record-listening mobile needs… if, you know, it were still the early 60’s. My hunt for the Triple P marches on.

The 1966 Philco High-Fidelity All-Transistor Stereophonic Radio-Phonograph

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I am a sucker for antique record paraphernalia. Be it cheesy “as seen on bad 70’s TV” record cleaners, random manuals to record players I’ve never owned, or in this case my 1966 Philco High-Fidelity All-Transistor Stereophonic Radio-Phonograph.Record Player Open_2

Nearly a decade ago back in film school I was prop shopping for a 1960’s period short film I was involved with. Now, thanks to my mother I’ve always been a frugal shopper, so when digging around one of Ventura, CA’s many antique shops I immediately perused the booths near the back of the store that featured items at 50% off. While on this hunt for cheap, yet relevant 60’s era props I came across this pristine phonograph. At first glance of this beautiful cabinet record player, and without even seeing the price tag, I was instantly fixated on becoming its ultimate and inevitable owner. When I saw the price tag of $80 I nearly wet myself. $40 + tax later she was mine. I called my buddy Omar, who had a flat bed and we hauled it off to set. It didn’t have a dominant presence in the final short film, but when the shoot was over I found myself the proud owner of an amazing piece of stereophonic machinery.Record Player Inside_2

The LP on the platter is Johnny Cash’s 1957 debut Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar, which would have been just 9 years old when this High-Fidelity All-Transistor Stereophonic Radio-Phonograph was manufactured and sold.

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For nearly 10 years ol’ Philco has moved with me a total of five times. She’s always dominated every living room she’s inhabited and still sounds as good today as she did the day I brought her home. Not bad for being 47 years old.

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I enjoy imagining what the manufacturers at the Philco Corporation back in 1966 would think of the music I play on this phonograph now. I doubt they’d be as much into N.E.R.D., The Revolting Cocks or Drive Like Jehu as I am.Copyright

Totes, Bra

SW ToteI’m in the market for a portable turntable, so if anybody has any suggestions please let me know. For said future turntable will be this companion piece, a brother-in-arms at 45 caliber, if you will (or if you won’t, it’s totes up to you).

Perfect for kids of all ages, this Star Wars Record Tote (made in 1982) holds around 25 45s and is surprisingly durable. I keep my Read-Along records in this guy, but certainly plan on toting him around on picnics when I find my portable player.

Also, if you ever hear anyone pronounce “totally” as “totes,” smack them in the head. Smack them in the head and do it hard… hurt your hand hard, you dig?