Monday, November 27, 2006

Snatch Paste

Back in March I blogged about the imminent release of Snatch Paste, an LP on the Vinyl on Demand label containing an assorted selection of tracks from the three Snatch Tapes Compilations. Well the wheels of the industry can turn slowly but just in time for Christmas I can announce that the disc is now “out” and is a fine document of the more experimental end of the UK DIY tape scene between 1979 and 1981.

I received my copies at the weekend and as always for the first couple of plays was taken aback at just how different a vinyl pressing sounds to the audio master. Don’t get me wrong the record has been perfectly well cut and pressed (on heavy weight vinyl indeed) its just that all records sound different to the audio that went into them. Advocates of vinyl always point to its potential to reproduce a much wider frequency range than CD’s and of course that fully rounded bass sound. Both of these qualities do exist on playback but the medium is far from being a transparent one. When cutting the master the engineer often makes a number of on the spot sonic decisions in a bid to best squeeze on as much of the audio spectrum as possible without causing the cutting head to burst into flames. Its essentially a compromise as, to get 22 minutes on the side of the LP necessitates quiet a bit of audio ducking and diving. A 12 inch single gives just that much more room but in both cases (LP & 12 inch) the bass frequencies have to be drastically rolled off otherwise the grooves in the disc would be too wide to be playable. This is known as pre-emphasis and is a fixed equalisation curve applied to all discs. If you were to play the resulting LP back “as is” far from having a deep bass sound it would be incredibly tinny. However what happens is that the phono amp in every Hi-Fi has an equalization circuit in the pre-amp stage, which reverses the process that occurred in the cutting by boosting the bass. Over the years cutting engineers have learnt to ride this process and make records that are good re-presentations of the original tape or sometimes even sound much better, but a transparent copying process this is not.

So in the Snatch Paste LP we have a pleasing paradox; a series of recordings made for cassette release some 25 years ago, recently digitised and now played back through the medium of vinyl with all its nuances and colors. The end result is like some audio sonar bouncing back a quarter of a century to some murky marine bed of ferric experimentation and then forward to the present day via bit and stylus. Oh and if you make this one of your desert island discs you get the added bonus of being able to use the back of the sleeve as a chess board!