From My Collection of Gramophone Records
When I was a boy, we had a large house but very little money to improve or maintain it. No central heating. At least a strong moral pressure for baths to be cold. And my bedroom had no electricity. Since I’ve always been obsessed by music, my solution to this problem was to go off, when I was twelve, to the local street market and buy an acoustic gramophone – an HMV Model 102 from about 1932. For the next few years, until I discovered how to run a spur from the nearest ring main, I collected hundreds of gramophone records, most from before the second world war, some from the nineteenth century. And I would sit, shivering and wrapped in a blanket, listening to the treasures they contained.
Being a touch autistic, I never got rid of the gramophone, or any of the records. Now, they are all stored neatly away in the big living room cupboard – a cupboard that I believe was, during the eighteenth and ninettenth centuries, where the chamber pot was kept out of sight.
I’ve decided, as often as time is available, to digitise some of these. I could use an electric pick-up and heavy software processing. Instead, my intention is to record them exactly as they sound when played on my gramophone. There is some historic benefit in this. Most people nowadays hear old recordings remastered on electronic equipment, and with a lot of the noise taken out. Sometimes, the remastering finds parts of the signal hidden from original playback equipment. Sometimes, though, processing will remove part of the signal along with the noise. In all cases, the recording will not sound as it did in its own day when played with reasonably good equipment. There are few people left who have heard what can be done by a steel needle and an exponential horn. The effect can be impressive and even grand. That is the idea behind this project.
So, my hardware is my HMV Model 102, a Blue Yeti USB microphone, and my notebook computer. The software used is Audacity. Here is a picture to show the set-up.
Here is the gramophone. The barbecue skewer is to stop the lid from falling shut.
And here is a close-up to show what is happening.
It shows how the needle is vibrating in time to the grooves on the record, and how this vibration is communicated to an aluminium diaphragm, and sent into the horn for amplification. No electricity – just a communication of movements that anyone can understand by looking. And the machinery that does all this is still in working order after nearly a hundred years.
Sadly, some of the records have been broken over the years – either by my own carelessness as a boy, or by the oaf of a removal man who dropped a whole box of them in 1993. Again, being a touch autistic, I carefully saved all the pieces, and have now stuck everything back together with superglue – which does a fine job so long as a record is pressed flat before the glue sets.
Here are the recordings.