I took this in New York near Cielo in the Meat Packing District in August 2006. There was a heatwave in the city. The celsius temperature dial went into the forties. I could smell melting rubber through the taxi window on the way in from JFK. Never found out who lived there.
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Last week we added some Hammond organ to a couple of tracks on my new solo album, and I realised again what an intoxicating noise they make when played by someone good while fed through a proper old Leslie speaker, such as the one we used (pictured here) at Eastcote Studios in west London.
Invented in the 1930's by Donald Leslie, the Leslie speaker is a combined amplifier and loudspeaker designed originally for Hammond organs. Leslie originally intended for the sound to approximate the sound of a theatre or pipe organ, but it's enclosed rotating horn and drum became a unique sound in its own right.
The speed of the rotation can be controlled by the the organist and the acceleration from the swirling ringing 'chorale' sound to the thrilling rush of the 'tremelo' at the flick of a switch, combined with the coming-and-going 'Doppler effect', was soon being used in American jazz by early adopter organists such as Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff. In the sixties it found its voice in r'n'b and rock and reggae through great players such as Booker T Jones, Stevie Winwood, Al Kooper (Bob Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone'), Ray Manzarek and Jamaica's Winston Wright. By the late sixties, the Leslie was a fixture in many recording studios and artists were experimenting with is uses. Even vocals (The Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Comes') and guitars were fed through its idiosyncratic rotating sound.
I first used one, aged twenty, at Power Plant in 1983 during the recording sessions for Everything But The Girl's debut album 'Eden', enthusiastically adding it to the songs 'Frost and Fire' and 'Another Bridge'. Last week I asked Jim Watson to come and play it for me, and experienced some proper playing! Watching someone play a Hammond and Leslie properly is like watching a skilled rodeo rider. Really great. Hope you like the results when the album comes out next year.
Been on the sofa listening to music all afternoon, watching the autumn light fade over the trees outside. Tea. Beer. Biscuits. Leafing through the paper and books I might read. Watching the football on mute. Marvelling at the recent lyrics of Mark Kozelek. Here's what I've been listening to. New and old. Hope you like it.
In July 2012 I interviewed my long-time mastering engineer Miles Showell, long-time resident at Metropolis Mastering in London, and now with his own mastering suite at Abbey Road Studios. I wanted to ask him about the new found fascination with vinyl.
BW / There is a revival of a belief among home-listening record buyers that vinyl sounds better than CD. CDs seemed to have been contaminated by a dislike for MP3s. They're 'harsh', they're 'digital', people cry. It is causing people to reject their CD collections, and buy music on vinyl again often at very high prices. A love of 12" packaging and the rituals aside, it is baffling: surely for most people in domestic environments they are imagining things.
MS / I completely understand your frustration. While vinyl records are truly capable of extremely high digital-beating fidelity, this can only the case if the record was (i) cut well at the mastering stage, (ii) processed and pressed well at the factory, which is the really hard part, (iii) then kept clean and stored in ideal conditions and (iv) finally played on a decent turntable with a very well-engineered tone arm fitted with a good and correctly aligned cartridge that in turn has a clean and undamaged stylus all of which needs to feed a high quality RIAA vinyl disc pre-amplifier.
Exactly. Who is going to be able to afford or set all that up?
Yes, as you can see there are a hell of a lot of 'ifs' in there. Obviously all of the above is very possible but it is difficult and more expensive to really do vinyl records justice. It is just not feasible that all the people who feel records "sound so much better than CD" have been able to achieve all of the above.
I am sure part of it is that people tell themselves it sounds better because it is 'analogue' - a word that now has near mythical proportions enriched as it is with popular modern connotations of authenticity and organic content. People say vinyl sounds 'warmer' but surely this is invariably down to low-frequency boosts and compression put into cartridges to maximise volume out of a turntable - a bit like that old 'Loudness' button on old-fashioned amplifiers. It is not really anything to do with what is on the vinyl itself. Do you think there are also other reasons that have caused this perception?
It could be that they have very poor CD players (not impossible, as the CD player has been de-engineered of late as domestic audio equipment is being made cheaper and cheaper). Or maybe they are not playing manufactured CDs but home made burns made in computers. The CD burning drives bundled with most home computers leave quite a lot to be desired (poor jitter rates when burning audio CDs especially if they are burn very quickly ie x64 which people tend to do also).
And the blank CDs used?
Yes, the variability of blank media which can also have a very negative effect on the audio. This is especially apparent at the budget end of the blank CD market. Here at Metropolis we like to use Taiyo Yuden Gold blanks for audio CDs but these cost us something in the region of 70 pence per disc. Very few people in the real word would spend that much on blank CDs when they believe the hype (well, theory really) that it is "digital so makes no difference as long as the 1s and 0s can be read".
And the source material?
Yes, a lot of people burn CDs from their iTunes library so obviously they are starting with lossy compressed sources (MP3 and AAC) and not full bandwidth audio. Sometimes there is also the problem of compound compression: a manufactured CD is ripped at high speed using a lossy 'codec' to the computer, then a "copy" audio CD is burnt for a friend who, in turn rips it into his computer via a lossy codec and so on and so on.
So the chances are in most environments a CD player is still a good choice?
Yes, a decent mid-priced CD player will probably sound better than a decent mid-priced record player set up in most cases just because a decent turntable, arm, cartridge and RIAA pre-amplifier combinations are more expensive that their CD counterpart as well as difficult to set up correctly and maintain. But, I should also add, a decent turntable could quite easily beat any CD player (regardless of budget) fed with poor quality CDs.
It seems the playing field for comparisons is not exactly level.
As someone who also loves the vinyl format I am chuffed at its' recent revival, however I am not sure all of the people who profess to hear a difference are really doing fair comparisons.
What do you choose?
Here in the studio, if potential or new clients want to hear how the room sounds, I will often play vinyl records and a lot of people are staggered at the potential fidelity of this pretty crude music carrying format. So it is a hard one to call. At home I will happily play vinyl or CDs (with a slight preference for vinyl probably because the RIAA equaliser in my amplifier is so sweet sounding) but as you might expect I have pretty good gear that I have acquired over time as well as access to an excellent engineering team who can help me tinker with it!
And for the average home listener?
For most people good CD is as good as it ever needs to be. The problem is that CDs in the domestic environment - for the reasons outlined above - are often not quite what they used to be.
For what it's worth, readers, I listen to my iTunes on shuffle all day long with tunes at varying levels of compression and quality. For me the tune rather than the obsession over its pristine sound quality is what matters on a day-to-day level. I agree with Miles that well-made vinyl can sound startlingly good on amazing gear, but surely the one of the chief reasons the professionally made CD arrived in the first place was we were sick of the scratches and crackles and crappy tone-arms of the early 80's, especially when listening at home. CDs have their drawbacks but let's not imagine ones that aren't there. And then let's all bundle round to Miles' house to check out his vinyl setup when he has a moment!
Another 60 min mix from my 2-hour 6Mix radio show for BBC 6Music. This one was originally broadcast on Jan 2 2011.
Tracklist: Will Saul & Tam Cooper 'Room In Your Heart' (Wolf + Lamb Slow Hands Mix) (Simple) / Klein & M.B.O. 'The M.B.O. Theme' (Atlantic) / Solomun 'Hypnotize' (Diynamic) / Sh*t Robot 'Tuff Enuff' (Michael Mayer Remix) (DFA) / Deniz Kurtel 'The L Word' feat. Jada (Guy Gerber's Countryside Remix) (Crosstown Rebels) / Arcade Fire 'The Suburbs (Continued)' (Merge) / Johnny D and Nicky P present The Brooklyn Zoo 'Wild Kingdom (4th Floor) / Brusque Twins 'Cliff Dweller' (Unknown) / Esa and Mervin Granger 'Luxarama' (Midnight Marauders Remix) (Rememory) / Flowers and Sea Creatures 'International' (Buzzin' Fly) / Brian Eno 'Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960' (ESG) / Abacus 'We Cookin' Now' (Guidance) / Sleazemaster 'Chorditekno' (Jussi-Pekka Remix) (Subself) / Todd Rundgren 'Torch Song' (Bearsville)
Pic of Todd Rundgren