In the world of vinyl records, 50 years is a long time.
Take my latest thrift store find, it is a London Phase 4 Stereo recording of the Rimsky-Korsakov classic Scheherazade. This is the classical music interpretation the fabled 1001 Nights (or Arabian Nights) that brought us Aladdin’s Lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor among other Disney classics.
Basically, Scheherazade’s douche husband, the Sultan, didn’t trust women, so he would marry a virgin, sleep with them and then execute them the net morning so they wouldn’t betray him… kind of an efed up historic version of a domestic abuse Minority Report.
Anywho, Scheherazade began telling the douche Sultan a story on their wedding night. It was apparently a cliffhanger, so the douche Sultan didn’t execute Scheherazade the next day (so he could hear the ending).
Scheherazade then commenced to keep up the story/cliffhanger/story/cliffhanger bit until the douche Sultan saw the light and made Scheherazade the sultanista… or whatever, and quit threatening to chop her head off.
Rimsky-Korsakov puts this sad and impossible tale of Scheherazade to music. As the synopsis suggests, the tale goes on over 1001 nights, so the theme is very repetitious… a new dawn, a new story, will the douche buy it?, a new dawn, repeat.
Maestro Leopould Stokowski conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a recording of Scheherazade, using the new Phase 4 Stereo recording technique. Phase 4 was a Decca Records initiative to use a whopping 10 channel recording console to capture better sound. Four channel mixers were state of the art at the time (the Beatles recorded many of their records to four track at Abbey Road well after Phase 4 was using 10 or 20 track).
Scheherazade was made using the 20 track mixer and a selection of Neumann, Telefunken, AKG and custom built microphones (Neumann M50, Neumann m49, Neumann km-56, Neumann Km-53, Telefunken 251, AKG c-12, London (custom built) FR-1A, London(custom built) FR-1B). Suffice to say if a recording engineer would have “accidentally” made off with those mics after the recording session and put them away in his/her attic for the past 50 years he/she could be very wealthy right about now.
The mics were arrayed over the orchestra and their positions were refined over the course of rehearsals and with the supervision of the Maestro.
The result is a stunningly wide soundstage, with individual performances spaced not only left right but front back as well. Realistic strings, vocal violin, sizzling symbols, these were all very present in the recording. The 50 year old album has it’s challenges as well. My $0.99 record, while appearing quite pristine to the eye, had obviously been played on some really cheap gear at some time… there were obvious rice krispies (snap,crackle and pop) in the groove, but all in all, this gem was a good addition to the collection. Too bad the stylus technology cheaply available today didn’t exist 50 years ago, maybe we’d still be able to find quiet versions of Phase 4 Stereo vinyl today.