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bertrand

Acetates

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I've been puzzled about this for years, and was reminded again while looking at Noal Cohen's Gigi Gryce page.

An acetate of Gryce performing a piece called 'Dancing The Gigi' was sold on eBay in 2004. The Herbie Nichols Mosaic booklet mentions two acetates, featuring four songs that Nichols did not record otherwise: 'Crackup', 'I Worship Delilah', 'The Happenings' and 'Change Of Season' (the last two tunes have been recorded by others). I remember hearing that an acetate also existed of another piece.

What are acetates exactly? Are these essentially demos? What machine can these be played on? When did they stop making these?

Most importantly, how can we find out what's out there? Obviously, these things belong in discographies, but it's hard to know of their existence until someone stumbles upon them - it's not like recordings for record labels for which there are usually lists (e.g. the Blue Note session logs that Alfred Lion found shortly before his death).

Another interesting aspect is that they often seem to contain otherwise unrecorded tunes. I wonder if some of the unrecorded pieces I have found at the Library of Congress over the years might be found on acetates, although I suspect that acetates were not common during the era I am focusing on (late fifties to early seventies).

I hope many of you have more information on this.

Bertrand.

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In some ways, acetate discs are yesteryear's tapes. They are discs (usually aluminum or—in WWII—glass-based) on which sound is literally cut. In the late 30s or early 40s, companies like Columbia used 16" acetates instead of the old wax-like discs. This is why we have extended recordings—at Columbia, I found, for example, a Billie/Lester selection that had never been issued, simply because it was too long to fit on a disc of either of the standard 78 rpm formats. That is also why we have some sessions that go beyond the musical performance to include studio chatter.

The original use for acetate discs was in broadcasting. Radio stations cut programs on discs for delayed airing—for example to accommodate the different time zones. In the late '50s, when I worked at WCAU, in Philly, we had tape, of course, but we were still cutting acetates for certain use in production where cueing up a tape to play a snippet of sound was more cumbersome than simply dropping a stylus on the desired track.

Acetates were also what people used privately, before tape recorders became common—Benedetti, for example, recorded those Bird fragments on acetates, using a portable disc cutter. My late friend, Timme Rosenkrantz had such a machine in the early '40s, when he—among other things—made the first recordings of Errol Garner, and Jerry Newman took his portable cutter around to capture Monk, Christian, et al at places like Minton's and the Gee Haw. And, as you mention, acetates were commonly used for demos.

Acetates containing rare or otherwise valuable performances will, of course, usually find their way onto vinyl or CD. Some will not, because those who possess them see heightened value in having unissued material. The Gryce on e-bay may be such a case, I don't know.

I have a strong feeling of déjà vu, so I'm sure we discussed this before, but perhaps on another board.

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My prized "Four Sounds" demo recording was acetate. They are playable on TTs and I think they were usually "cut" at 78 rpm. They are also quite fragile. The fact that mine was made of glass can be seen at the edge where there is a little flaking, and from the side you can see the green of the glass underneath.

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Teasing brings up a good point. If for no other reason than preservation, there things should be hunted down and transferred to CD since we know how fragile they are. Of course, there's the whole argument about how long CDs will last... In any case, it's definitely more than the 10 years some alarmists will say.

From Roswell Rudd's notes, I'm afraid Herbie Nichols' copies of the acetates were worn out quickly. Who knows if there are copies floating around :(

Dan, did you transfer your Three Sounds acetate to CD?

Bertrand.

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Dan, did you transfer your Three Sounds acetate to CD?

Yes, with an assist from Allen Lowe, and copies were sent to Gene's widow, Bill Dowdy, and Michael C (Michael said he wouldn't include them in a Three Sounds Mosaic because of the sound quality and that the group sound wasn't the same as the trio alone - he said if anyone ever put one together, it belonged in a compilation "Oddities of the 50s and 60s"). Jim took an MP3 copy and posted them on his server with a link in the Four Sounds thread that I started way back when. Not sure if its still available.

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In regards to longevity, I have acetates that have been in my possession for around 50 years, and they still play as well as ever. A lot depends on the quality of the original and how it was stored.

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In regards to longevity, I have acetates that have been in my possession for around 50 years, and they still play as well as ever. A lot depends on the quality of the original and how it was stored.
.

Interesting. My dad had dozens of acetates from his days in the biz. They all sat on a shelf beside all the LPs. He never played them. Years later, when we tried to transfer some things to tape, many were unplayable. Others sounded fine.

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Due to time constraints, i'm copying parts of an article i did on lacquer discs for Wax Poetics magazine a couple years ago. (There's more, but i need to go to the paint store with my girlfriend; i'll try to hunt down the rest later.)

Keep in mind that the audience for this article was decidedly more funk/soul than bebop or band stuff etc.

The first thing to understand about lacquer discs, also called “acetates”, is that only the earliest examples – we’re talking 1930’s here – actually contain acetate. And while one can argue that this distinction amounts to little more than record nerdery gone wildly unchecked, it is important to consider the following: in order to properly care for audio media, one needs to temporarily forget that the piece in hand is a record, tape, etc and focus instead on the structural composition of the item itself. Evidence of this is nowhere stronger than the case of the lacquer disc, as the properties and degradation issues associated with acetate differ from those observed in nitrocellulose (lacquer), the substance most commonly found on so-called “acetate” discs; especially since most of us have a few more Jamaican dub plates than we do Edward R. Murrow radio broadcasts.

Until magnetic tape became widely available shortly after WWII, the lacquer disc was the most common way to make instantaneous recordings; that is to say, recordings that could be played back immediately after the audio was captured. Historically, one thinks of speeches, radio broadcasts, and other public addresses when he thinks of the kinds of information typically found on lacquer discs, but the medium proved convenient well into the 1980’s. The best example of this – due, one has to think, to a heavy reliance on disc-based media playback – was its popularity among Jamaican dub engineers. By making instantaneous recordings, said engineers could not only fire off several versions in an afternoon, they could also bring them to the sound system yard that same night. Instant gratification.

Structurally, lacquer discs are comprised of three main elements: (1) substrate, (2) information layer, and (3) the adhesive that holds them together. The substrate is the core to which the information layer is adhered; making it, for all intents and purposes, a metal record laminated in a black, vinyl-like substance. More often than not, the substrate is going to be aluminum, especially if the disc was manufactured during the last half of the 20th century. Other examples include paper and glass; the latter briefly replacing aluminum during the War effort. Each substrate introduces a different set of problems as they degrade. Glass, obviously, can crack and break, while aluminum is susceptible to warping during prolonged exposure to heat. The information layer, then, is the black substance surrounding the substrate. It is the reason why lacquers look like vinyl despite having a metal or glass core and, again, it’s almost always going to be nitrocellulose. Readers familiar with the film, Cinema Paradiso, already know what happens when nitrocellulose is exposed to extreme heat: it ignites into flames. Consequently, keep your lacquer discs away from the stove. (For real though, the nitrocellulose used in the manufacture of lacquer discs contains too many inert fillers to retain the same intense flammability as old nitrate film. It was as much a financial decision as anything else: fillers reduce the amount of raw nitrocellulose manufacturers had to purchase to make blank discs.)

Mechanically speaking, information is committed to the surface of lacquer discs in a manner quite different from commercial records such as LPs, 12-inches, 45s, or 78s. (This is where the “instantaneous” part comes in.) Lacquers are recorded “on the fly”, meaning that a recording lathe cuts a groove into the disc’s surface in realtime with the incoming audio feed. Commercially produced records, on the other hand, are created either by injection molding or compression molding. Don’t sweat the terminology, though. The important thing to understand is that both of those methods require a mold to be made well in advance of even one completed disc. By comparison, the instantaneous recording process virtually ensures that every lacquer disc is going to be extremely rare, if not outright unique. So don’t front: you may very well have the only copy in existence.

There's more to it but Part 1 is all i have on my internal HD right now. I go into greater detail about degradation issues in Issue #18.

One more thing: "Copying [anything] to CD" is not a preservation solution. Recordable optical media - CD-R, DVD-R, etc - are notoriously unstable. Moreover, they only have the capacity to store mid-fidelity copies. Best practice is committing to a .WAV file at a resolution of 24bit/96k, stored on a hard drive, preferably a server with regular tape backups etc.

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who was the 4th member of the three sounds.....is there a neat story of how you discovered that item?

Pete Best.

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who was the 4th member of the three sounds.....is there a neat story of how you discovered that item?

Pete Best.

:P

I don't know how you missed it, Aric, but here's the thread, the audio links still work but my picture of the band is not displaying.

http://www.organissimo.org/forum/index.php...ur+Sounds\

The short story is that there were several different saxophonists who filled out the "Four Sounds". The first one was Lonnie Walker who was brought into the band by, iirc, Andy Simpkins. Walker was a somewhat technically limited player and the band, wanting to play more modern jazz, decided that he needed to be replaced. Ironic, in that the name of the group, which endured for 15+ years, came from his nickname "The Sound". There's some dispute as to the reason why Lonnie was asked to leave; I've given you Bill Dowdy's recollection while Janie Harris, Gene's widow, says that Gene was not thrilled when Lonnie pulled a gun out of his saxophone case during a pay dispute with a club owner. If the story is true, he was probably happy to have that "convincer" but he was a little concerned about what might happen if his saxophonist decided to use his gun, particularly in the rougher clubs that they played. Personally, I tend to believe Dowdy's version of events.

If you aren't aware, all of this happened while the band was trying to get established in the Midwest and before they headed east as a trio. Their base of operations was Cleveland, and they rehearsed regularly at Boddie's Recording studio, which is actually still in existence. There is some dispute as to whether a Demo was recorded (Gene's version) or if the studio owner tried out his new equipment by recording the band while they played (Dowdy's recollection). Dowdy does remember that touring musicians would come back to the studio with the band to jam, so there is the tiniest bit of hope that there may also be an acetate recording of the Three Sounds jamming with Lee Morgan. Seriously!

So, this demo recording was made, and the acetate may never have left the city of Cleveland. It was found by a record dealer who discovered it in someone's garage. He put it on Ebay. I won it. The winning bid:

washq.jpg

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In the '50s and '60s before cassettes, many studios cut acetates for the artists to take home to evaluate.

Untold demo sessions were done and discs dispensed.

Like CA I have 50 year old discs sounding fine. None have died yet.

This stuff will never be sorted out for the neatniks.

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FWIW, the Diz/Bird 1945 concert issued on Uptown was from acetates.

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Interesting. My dad had dozens of acetates from his days in the biz. They all sat on a shelf beside all the LPs. He never played them. Years later, when we tried to transfer some things to tape, many were unplayable. Others sounded fine.

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you mean you obviously bid MORE than a quarter, but becasue there were no other bids, you got it for a quarter?

yea im checking out that other link now, this is gonna be awesome!

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