Yesterday afternoon, The 78 Project was invited to record a 78 live on
WNYC Soundcheck. Justin Townes Earle was kind enough to sing his new
song “Memphis in the Rain” when our needle went down. And host John
Schaefer gamely put his voice on acetate as well! WNYC captured the
whole experience, and it’s streaming from their site for you to hear.
LISTEN: The 78 Project and Justin Townes Earle on WNYC Soundcheck
Our cameras were rolling, and we caught the moment of Justin Townes Earle making his 78 below.
It was sunny on Wednesday. But on Thursday, when we arrived on Rosanne Cash’s doorstep, the rain and cold were looming over our plans to record in her beautiful garden. So we set up in Rosanne’s kitchen while she made tea. John picked on his guitar, the morning rested on the hands of the clock and the black tuxedo cat investigated our Presto on the counter. A sense of comfort and family reverberated through the room. “The Wayfaring Stranger” is a spiritual made most beautiful by it’s simple narrative: after the toil of life’s journey, we will find home.
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He traversed Manhattan, journeying to the edge of Brooklyn to sing for us. His words tell of a love of the lonesome West, and his voice is rich with understanding that in the solitude of a traveler’s nights, a song can become your companion. Loudon Wainwright tells us he doesn’t know much about ranching, but just after striking the last chord, he shares one piece of wisdom that a man who rides an old paint horse would know: the proper way to take off his hat.
Special thanks again to the Brooklyn Rod & Gun for making us honorary members for the afternoon. We love your peanuts.
It was a mild day for December in New York, but it was winter nonetheless. And there was a quickness in our steps as we walked with Amy through the windy Harlem streets, to get the blood moving, to stay warm. Murder ballads are in Amy’s blood, she was raised on country songs filled with agony and ardor, and she poured that lifetime of woeful narratives into the deep blackness of the acetate.
“The Railroad Boy” is often sung as “The Butcher Boy”, and while the story is always chilling – a scorned young girl meets a sorrowful death – it can be for different reasons. “The Butcher Boy” sometimes lives up to the imagery its title evokes, ending with the boy murdering his lover, a variation Amy speculates may have spawned from a misinterpretation of the line “He took his knife and he cut her down.” In Amy’s version of “The Railroad Boy,” as in most of the song’s incarnations, the line refers to her father releasing her from the rope she has used to take her own life.
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It’s no surprise when Amy reveals that her favorite song ever is “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” a crooned warning that your lover could kill you if you wrong them. Her flipside, “Red Banks,” like many of the songs she records and performs, depicts acts of passion that more often lead to the grave than to the altar.
Official 78 Project Stroboscopic Disc now available in our store.
We knocked together our love of sound, technology and the moving image to create The 78 Project. We are just so excited about exploring the places where music, film and science meet. Call it nerdy, we won’t argue. But we know you’re with us!
It’s why, when we were looking to make something, a piece of The 78 Project that you can hold in your hands, a Stroboscopic Disc seemed like the perfect thing. It’s a vintage science experiment you can perform on your turntable at home, with a useful function, and a cool visual effect to boot.
For almost 200 years stroboscopes have been employed as useful tools for determining cyclic speed. On a stroboscopic disc, concentric bands of radial squares each correspond to a speed on your turntable – 33.3, 45 and 78 rpm.
Place the disc on your turntable, apply direct light and set the platter spinning. The corresponding radial appears to be perfectly still if the record player is working just right.
If you’re testing a vinyl or acetate recorder, the extra hole on the disc fits right onto your stabilizer pin. We use this to test our PRESTO before each recording!
Our friend, and super-talented Brooklyn silkscreen artist, Kayrock, cooked these Strobes up for us. He even had them die-cut for precision. We love them. Can’t help it. They’re the perfect piece of functional beauty.
The 78 Project: Vandaveer “Banks of the Ohio”
When the PRESTO clicks on and the platter starts to spin, there is a moment where the whole room focuses in and everything becomes a part of the music; the radiator’s hiss is a harmony and the sounds of traffic below tune to a G so perfect you can check your strings against it. And so it was on a wintery afternoon in New York, as every whisper of steam and every squeak of the bed’s springs under the weight of the PRESTO merged into Vandaveer’s “Banks of the Ohio.” The hotel seemed, on that December day, built to make this record, its purpose finally revealed in a rush of song.
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Special thanks are due to Ye Olde Carlton Arms, the artbreak hotel that was kind enough to host our crew for this episode. They are true to their history and truly kind to their fellow eclectics.
It’s not so common anymore to see someone pull up to a studio mic with a cigarette dangling irreverently out of the side of their mouth. We’re not saying we miss that so much, at least not the lingering sour and musty smell that lived in our favorite clothes for all of the pre-smoking-ban years. We’re just saying it was standard for rooms filled with working musicians to also be filled with smoke. Knowing what we know now about the incredible danger of fire that comes along with recording onto lacquer discs (common practice throughout the ’30s and up to the ’60s), smoking anywhere near them seems pretty much certifiable.
Recently our friends at ARSC started a conversation about the combustible nature of nitrocellulose lacquer. It was a topic we gleefully joined in on, having plenty of firsthand experience in that department (see our Reverend John DeLore teaser below.) The conversation called to mind a story we’d heard a while back, but it took a deeply learned producer friend in New York to help us place it by reminding us that the story took place in The Beatles’ Abbey Road Studios.
Geoff Emerick wrote a fantastic memoir about his years as a recording engineer for The Beatles, and quite a few of his stories revolved around the highly flammable nature of the nitrocellulose lacquer discs that they used in the studio. Apparently, when lacquers were cut, they would sweep the hair-like chip into a chute below the cutting room. He compared it to the old system some barbershops used for clearing out the snipped hair, wherein they would sweep the hair into a hole in the floor and clean it up after a lot of it had accumulated in the basement. Except that the accumulated lacquer chip from a few days of recording alone at Abbey Road would be enough to blow up the whole block.
In fact, it is even said that a popular studio prank would be to create tiny bombs out of nitrocellulose lacquer remnants which would be lit and thrown at a friend. Because the chip incinerates instantly, it would burn out before it reached the other person. Hopefully.
It sometimes happens that we don’t immediately burn our acetate chips after a shoot for The 78 Project. Unable to throw away something so precious as the negative space from a human voice, we feel obliged to keep the chip for posterity. But there is always a wary look that goes around the room as we decide who’s going to put the makings of a tiny bomb in their bag and carry it home.
Richard Thompson (Official Teaser)
The man travels with just one guitar. We have heard it said that you can only truly know One of your chosen instrument, which seems to have some fervent truth to it. One microphone stands between us and silence, one acetate holds all of our hopes. And, on a recent February afternoon, one New York hotel room was our whole world as Richard Thompson’s voice, sure and broad, poured forth “The Coo Coo Bird.”