As most of you know, I run nwcMUSIC, a geekmusic festival held as part of the Norwescon science fiction convention. It’s new, this’ll be our third year.

We have concerts during the evening, but during the daytime, we have participatory programming, including an intentionally silly talent contest (Cascadia’s Got Talent, which is really Cascadia’s Got a Gong Show, and if you want to look up The Gong Show, go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Back? Good. Cascadia’s Got Talent actually gives out prizes! Terrible, terrible prizes. But I have a rule: we give junk as awards, not garbage. Anything given away has to be what it says it is, and has to work, even our terrible, terrible vacation tours to Beautiful Downtown Kent’s Historic Warehouse District.

(For the record: it’s a pair of Metro ride-free tickets. BUT IT WORKS.)

We usually end up giving away a couple of albums, too. The one I’ll never beat was Slim Whitman: Yodelling, but I’m pretty happy with this year’s finds so far:

Nothing says Dream Along like The Stars and Stripes Forever on Steel Drum

I think Musical Treasures of Holland speaks for itself. Still in shrink wrap! But Dream Away with the US Navy Steel Band is something special. Monophonic TRUE HIGH FIDELITY. And you’ll enjoy the monophonic recording even more played back on both speakers of a stereo unit!

On the back of the album, they printed the microphones used, tape deck used, record master etching lathe model, and crossover circuit specs.

It still sounds like it was recorded in a washroom, but that’s not important. I think I kinda love these guys. <3

The album is visually pristine. It’s also been played, a lot – somebody loved this album. Side 1 played fine, but side 2… side 2 wouldn’t track, on my turntable. The tonearm just kind of slid across, hopping from groove to groove.

At first, I was hugely disappointed, but then I started screwing with tracking and skating controls – putting more and different weights and skews on the turntable’s pickup arm, basically – and it would play for a bit, faintly.

And then the needle would clog. Now, if you’ve never used a turntable, they work this way: a tiny artificial diamond is attached, facing down, at the base of a very small rigid metal rod. This diamond rests in the etched grooves in the vinyl (or other material) album service. Changes in the width and height of the groove create vibrations in the small rigid metal rod, which are converted via very small magnets attached to the rod and the tonearm head into very small electrical currents, which form the analogue sound signal.

(So really, records recorded early enough – off live etching techniques – are literally captured soundwaves. Think about that, it’s awesome. But I digress.)

A modern turntable pickup “needle.” Originally? Actually needles.

A needle clogging refers to the gem and metal rod picking up so much cruft from the album being played that it gets lifted out of the sound channel and can’t pick up anything anymore.

I cleaned this album conventionally before putting it on the turntable. The surface looks pristine. The grooves were filled with gunk, somehow. Not in a visible way, but in a way enough to clog the turntable needle.

It may disturb you to know that I fixed it. Quadrupled the tracking weight, skew and antiskating boosted to unhealthy levels; it probably wouldn’t’ve worked as well in a stereo recording, but I managed to use the needle on my turntable to clean out the grooves.

Which, as it turned out, smelt of cigarette smoke. The album itself didn’t. The record sleeve smells fine. But the gunk coming out… kind of like cigarette smoke.


And only on one side! Side 1 was fine! I don’t get that part. Side 2… well, it took a lot of work. I was cleaning and clearing the needle four to six times every song, the first couple of times through.

Honestly, it felt like archeological excavation. It really did. Every time, I’d get a bit more sound. A faint fuzzy noise would slowly resolve into distinct instruments. New background instruments would appear. One track, I’m pretty sure, was recorded live; you can now just faintly hear what sounds like audience, in the background, a couple of times.

Or something that sounds like that, anyway.

And now? It plays fine. It still sounds like the classic Old Record – lots of crackle, tho’ not nearly so much as it originally had – but entirely listenable. It works now. And so, it’ll be a prize at nwcMUSIC’s Cascadia’s Got Talent.

All of which is a really long excuse to post this awesome graphic:


Originally on Retronaut

Have a good weekend, guys. See you Monday!