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Uncut Vinyl
March 17, 2010 4:24 AM   Subscribe

"Chris Supranowitz is a researcher at The Insitute of Optics at the University of Rochester. Along with a number of other spectacular studies (such as quantum optics, trapping of atoms, dark states and entanglement), Chris has decided to look at the relatively boring grooves of a vinyl record using the institute’s electron microscope." More complete study here.
posted by gman (37 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suddenly understand audiophiles. I can totally see some imperfections in those grooves. They're imperfect!
posted by OmieWise at 5:04 AM on March 17, 2010


Little Harmonic Labyrinth

Tortoise: Thank you. Now as I was about to say, I have just figured out where we are.
Achilles: Really? Where are we?
Tortoise: We are walking down a spiral groove of a record in its jacket. Your stick scraping against the strange shapes in the wall acts like a needle running down the groove, allowing us to hear the music.
Achilles: Oh, no, oh, no ...
Tortoise: What? Aren't you overjoyed? Have you ever had the chance to be in such intimate contact with music before?
posted by inconsequentialist at 5:13 AM on March 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I like the comment that says something like "brings new meaning to the phrase 'to cut a record'".

What was the old meaning?
posted by DU at 5:15 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


What was the old meaning?
Shhhh...You'll disturb the children. They're so cute in their innocence.

What I especially love about pics like these is that they bring to mind the meaning of the term "analog". Hint: It's not the opposite of "digital".
posted by Thorzdad at 5:30 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


600 km section of Ius Chasma in the Valles Marineris canyon system, Mars.
posted by cenoxo at 5:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, to find a link to Nicholson's multi-page footnote in The Mezzanine, exploring the vinyl canyons of record grooves...
posted by progosk at 5:57 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Laugh lines on our faces / Scale maps of the ocean floor

Does anyone remember the guy who managed to make a software record player which analyzed hi-res scans of records in order to play them? I think he got Rite of Spring working, although it sounded like the "needle" was made out of a brass tack. I could've sworn it was on the blue about five-six years back, but my google- and mefi-fu are totally failing me this morning.
posted by griphus at 6:24 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I look at those SEM pics and think to myself how record players work pure magic.

And then I wonder how the record companies pressed such tiny grooves into warm vinyl, with such tight tolerance for peaks, troughs and all the other design requirements that softened vinyl must impose.

We live in an age of wonder.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone remember the guy who managed to make a software record player which analyzed hi-res scans of records in order to play them?

I think you're thinking of Ofer Springer's Digital Needle, which was indeed featured here.
posted by jedicus at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Slightly disappointed that the vinyl valleys aren't littered with tiny musical instruments.
posted by orme at 7:28 AM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ah, to find a link to Nicholson's multi-page footnote in The Mezzanine, exploring the vinyl canyons of record grooves...

Here you go..
posted by GeorgeBickham at 7:28 AM on March 17, 2010


Does anyone remember the guy who managed to make a software record player which analyzed hi-res scans of records in order to play them?

IIRC, there was a neat mention of similar technology being used to scan recovered vinyl records from a future, post-apocalyptic Earth in Alastair Reynolds' Century Rain. The book includes a technologically-advanced group of humans that call themselves Slashers:
Their official name is the Federation of the Polities, but they trace their existence back to "an alliance of progressive thinkers linked together by one of the first computer networks", whose symbol was a slash and a dot, ie Slashdot.
Sadly, Reynolds didn't also include a reference to the Meefers, worshippers of the librarian goddess, who no doubt survived the devastation and subsequently expunged all historical record of hipsters, George W. Bush, Ayn Rand, Andrew Sullivan, and Cory Doctorow.
posted by zarq at 7:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I look at those SEM pics and think to myself how record players work pure magic.

And then I wonder how the record companies pressed such tiny grooves into warm vinyl, with such tight tolerance for peaks, troughs and all the other design requirements that softened vinyl must impose.

We live in an age of wonder.


Actually, our parents lived in that age of wonder. We live in a different age of wonder made up of ones and zeroes.
posted by rocket88 at 7:48 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry... the text I quoted was from Century Rain's wikipedia page. Contains spoilers.
posted by zarq at 7:50 AM on March 17, 2010


Groovy, man.
posted by Goofyy at 7:51 AM on March 17, 2010


Groovy.
posted by humannaire at 8:29 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


No I meant neato.
posted by humannaire at 8:30 AM on March 17, 2010


The electron microscopist in me feels obliged to comment on the aggressive accelerating voltages. That guy must have sputter-coated those records to next Tuesday to keep the surface charge down. Plus that third image is a bit noisy.

As for the record itself, the groove is about as dirty and imperfect as I figured it would be. I guess all the microscopic goop helps give vinyl that "superior" sound quality, right?
posted by TBAcceptor at 8:31 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Am I late to the "Groovy" party?
posted by Balisong at 8:39 AM on March 17, 2010


And then I wonder how the record companies pressed such tiny grooves into warm vinyl, with such tight tolerance for peaks, troughs and all the other design requirements that softened vinyl must impose.

LOTS of pressure.
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chris also did the pits in a CD – here’s what they look like, just for contrast...

I think the vinyl looks better.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:10 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I keep a pair of 3-D glasses in my desk drawer just for such an emergency as that last image. Marvelous! And if I'm not mistaken, I think what we're looking at is the very beginning of the guitar figure in the opening melodic statement of the T-Bones' "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)", Liberty, 1965, a split second before the drums and bass come in.
posted by Faze at 9:12 AM on March 17, 2010


LOTS of pressure.

That was a lot of fun to watch.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2010


~Chris also did the pits in a CD – here’s what they look like, just for contrast...
~I think the vinyl looks better.


You mean it looks more like...sound?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:39 AM on March 17, 2010


~I think the vinyl looks better.

That's nothing! Back in their day, vinyl sounded much better than their day, vinyl sounded much better than their day, vi zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
posted by hal9k at 9:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


- Ah, to find a link to Nicholson's multi-page footnote in The Mezzanine, exploring the vinyl canyons of record grooves...

- Here you go..


Bingo! (And on MeFi, how apt; thanks GeorgeBickham.)
Having re-read just that part of the whole thing: almost too rich, as always, NB...
posted by progosk at 10:10 AM on March 17, 2010


Was it a science fiction short story or an internet hoax in which someone claimed we could hear sounds and voices from the ancient past by analyzing the wobble in the written lines of ancient manuscripts and teasing out the component that was caused by sound waves hitting the pen? I love that idea, and it only seems slightly more ridiculous than some of the other insane things cryptanalysts can do do with computers.
posted by straight at 11:41 AM on March 17, 2010


You know that you can clean vinyl records with wood glue, right?
posted by mrbill at 11:49 AM on March 17, 2010


[...]analyzing the wobble in the written lines of ancient manuscripts and teasing out the component that was caused by sound waves hitting the pen[...]

straight: it was the circular incisions on ancient vases - a Belgian April Fool's.
posted by progosk at 11:55 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait...when did Slashdot turn progressive in anything but the most technological sense?
posted by DU at 12:09 PM on March 17, 2010


I guess all the microscopic goop helps give vinyl that "superior" sound quality, right?

Well, let's start with the premise that we don't know what that "goop" really is. It might be inherent in the record itself, or it might be dust on the record...or it might be a flaw in the sample prep. Lesson number one for those that play vinyl is to clean your records.

Throwing out the sampling rate issue that some claim might give records an advantage - but that makes little scientific sense - yes, one theory of why vinyl sounds better to some is the imperfections. If you listen to music live, or even a live recording, there is an immediacy that can be lacking from a "perfectly" recorded and rendered piece of audio. There are those that speculate that part of our hard wiring is to notice imperfections and see them as markers of realism.

Others, such as myself, suggest that records often "sound" better because of the experience they create. Listening to vinyl is an immediate affair. You can't walk off, you can't ignore the record. It's similar to the issue of whether Mexican Coke made of cane sugar tastes better than Coke made of corn syrup and placed in a can. Coke will tell you there is no taste difference. Blind taste tests will probably prove the same (I believe the NY Times wrote of this). But man, the feel of the cold glass bottle that comes along with the cane sugar Coke makes all the difference.
posted by Muddler at 12:12 PM on March 17, 2010


Thanks progosk, I think that is the version I was remembering, although I see from your 2nd link that the idea has also appeared in fiction (X-Files, Gregory Benford, CSI, etc.) quite a bit.
posted by straight at 1:08 PM on March 17, 2010


I'm sure I remember a game show segment from 20 years ago or so where a guy identified lps of half a dozen classical works just by looking at them. iIRC the relative loudness of passages was particularly amenable to visual inspection. It's still fascinating that such relatively high fidelity sound is possible using such gross physical techniques.
posted by Jakey at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2010


Hand-made blank wax cylinders are still available for working Edison Cylinder Phonographs. One wonders how many types of today's digital media will be available in another 100 years or so.
posted by cenoxo at 3:11 PM on March 17, 2010


How one groove provides stereo sound.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:20 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


straight: Was it a science fiction short story or an internet hoax in which someone claimed we could hear sounds and voices from the ancient past by analyzing the wobble in the written lines of ancient manuscripts...

You might be interested in Rilke's Primal Sound, where he posits that one could hear feelings by playing the grooves on a skull using the technology of the phonograph: ""Is there any contour that one coud not, in a sense, complete in this way and then experience it, as it makes itself felt, thus transformed, in another field of sense?"

Friedrich Kittler has some fascinating things to say about this idea in his great book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.
posted by k8lin at 8:01 PM on March 17, 2010


Annotated MythBusters: Episode 62: ... Pottery Record (Archaeoacoustics):
The MythBusters used two setups to do their recordings onto the pottery. In the first setup, which was meant to test the historical version of this myth, they spun a piece of pottery on a pottery wheel with a stylus etching into its side. The stylus sat on top of a drum, which transmitted vibrations. Tory and Kari took turns screaming sayings to be recorded.

For the "forensic show"/CSI variant, they cut some straw from a broom and held it against the side of the spinning pottery. In their first recording with Kari, they were worried that wind from Kari's mouth was moving the straw instead of her voice. They added a wind screen and did some more recordings.
Result: busted. There's more about this concept in the Language Log blog post A phonographic phony, including a reference to Charles Babbage discussing the possibilites way back in 1838:
Thus considered, what a strange chaos is this wide atmosphere we breathe! Every atom, impressed with good and with ill, retains at once the motions which philosophers and sages have imparted to it, mixed and combined in ten thousand ways with all that is worthless and base. The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered. There, in their mutable but unerring characters, mixed with the earliest, as well as with the latest sighs of mortality, stand for ever recorded, vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled, perpetuating in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man's changeful will.
Echoes of the past, indeed.
posted by cenoxo at 4:53 AM on March 18, 2010


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