If you're a music lover like I am, and you're fascinated by the entire record-making process, get thee to WAX, the Los Angeles Record Fair, going on today and tomorrow over at the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. An optional part of admission is a demonstration of the process of cutting an acetate. I was on-hand today while we went into the bowels of the iconic Capitol Records Tower, inside the Ron McMaster studio, where Ian led us through the entire process. We sat, watched, and listened while John Coltrane's "Blue Train" was turned into a fresh acetate.
It's pretty amazing and quite gratifying to see the completely manual and analogue process take place. Ian explained to us that the more bass there is in a record, the more of the disc is taken up, shortening the length of the music that will fit on to a disc. Now I have a much better understanding of compression, why it exists, and why some records seem to sound "flatter" than others. Ian operated a lathe called a SAL 74, made by George Neumann, something that looked right out of the 1960's but with the precision of something years ahead of its time. Dust gets blown off each fresh platter with a burst of nitrogen, because compressed air may contain some moisture.
After the acetate is cut, the technician looks at the grooves through a microscope to make sure the grooves are the right depth. Then the disc is flipped over for the cutting of the B side. Thankfully, with vinyl making a comeback in recent years, this process still goes on every day at Capitol Studios. On average they are making one of these per day. Ian recounted to us how when he started working the lathe there he found an old unit in the closet and was told that this was the very lathe that the masters to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" was cut on, and how he begged the powers that be at Capitol to let him operate it. It is now creating records as it once did in the 1970's. Some topics are hard to convey accurately, this is one of them. You just have to see this for yourself. Not a single computer is involved in this painstaking and loving process.
It's no wonder that the building itself is on the national registry, the halls and rooms are lined with photos, certificates, and other icons that are just stunning. Now, before you think to yourself "that Ivor is one lucky guy", you too can see all of this if you're quick and snap up what tickets remain for this killer tour. The tour alone is $40, or you could get an all-day pass for tomorrow. If you love this stuff as much as I do, grab a ticket while they're still available.