BACH TO THE FUTURE

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This Season: Jasper Rees meets a record producer with a passion for vinyl and the authentic hiss...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2012

A Bach violin sonata loops on a turntable at 33⅓rpm, the way all such music once did. The high mournful tone of the soloist, Johanna Martzy, hails from 1957, part of the golden era of vinyl recording that lasted till the 1970s. If you fancy one of the original EMI pressings, you can spend months and then £4,500. Alternatively, there are the Electric Recording Company's facsimiles of Martzy's three rare LPs of Bach sonatas. Beautifully rendered, they look, feel and above all sound like the real thing. At £300 apiece, the price isn't modest, but then only 300 copies of each record will seep out. The company is, essentially, a lanky man with a strawberry-blond mane, Pete Hutchison, founder of the indie label Peacefrog. He has long collected popular vinyl with abandon. Five years ago his father bequeathed him a few hundred classical albums, and he started buying first pressings. "One year," he says. "I spent over £40,000."

So he opted to produce new versions of these collectables. Once he had licensed 80 classic recordings, all he needed was a valve-powered tape machine and lathe cutter. Most of these sturdy workhorses of the analogue era were chucked out by studios in the mid-1970s when cheaper transistors replaced valves. Hutchison tracked down a surviving example in Romania, bought it for £10,000, and "spent ten times that restoring it". Made by Lyrec of Copenhagen, the two machines now stand in a London studio. The tape machine, metallic green and speckled with dials and knobs, is the size of an Aga. On a grey industrial turntable from the Jurassic era, the golden deck gleams. Data from the master tapes on one travels along a cable to the cutter head on the other, which carves grooves into a record-shaped lacquer. And Hutchison's obsessiveness doesn't stop there. He tried four factories before he found, outside Amsterdam, a company that could marry hefty vinyl with sufficient sound quality. For the liner notes, he went for letterpress printing. When he says "sourcing the right cardboard was a real problem", you know you're in the presence of perfectionism squared. The music comes up with some authentic hiss, and Martzy's keening intensity is now richer and crisper. Call it augmented authenticity.

The Electric Recording Company first releases available now; theelectricrecordingco.com

Jasper Rees is an arts feature writer, co-founder of theartsdesk.com and author of "Bred of Heaven" 

Illustration Chris Price