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They don't make records like this anymore! Why?

"Speaker to speaker interplay of specially scored orchestral works with scintillating sounds augmented by synthesizers. The full range of audio frequencies beyond the range of human hearing..."


Well, what do you expect for 50p (1$) secondhand? Tasteful this record is not, and the cover is the least of its problems.

However, it does show how people thought about music and high-fidelity back in the mists of 1974 when Sounds Astounding was released.

The blurb goes like this...

"Speaker to speaker interplay of specially scored orchestral works with scintillating sounds augmented by synthesizers. The full range of audio frequencies beyond the range of human hearing. The maximum performance test for your stereo hi-fi equipment!"

Clearly in 1974, stereo was not a novelty. However, even thirty-odd years later, you can easily come across people who don't understand what stereo is. Pick a random selection of people in the street (friendly looking people for preference!) and ask them to explain the difference between mono and stereo.

You will find that few can give a fully correct answer incorporating a phrase similar to, "At least two channels of audio all the way from microphones to loudspeakers".

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s when stereo was indeed a novelty, recordings were often made in so-called 'ping-pong' stereo, where it was clearly audible that sound sometimes came from the left speaker, sometimes from the right. Rarely from both at the same time though in this style of recording.

But the early 1970s there was a new development in music technology - the Minimoog synthesizer! There had been synthesizers before this, and there were other models available, but the Minimoog captured the essence of subtractive synthesis in a convenient, musician-friendly package.

So what could be more natural than to add it to the symphony orchestra!

The result in this case is pretty awful. But you would expect it to be. In 1974, people were still amused by the squelches and farts that subtractive synthesis can make. It took until the 1990s, I would say, before people learned how to achieve truly beautiful sounds with this instrument.

I've been pretty harsh on Sounds Astounding, haven't I? But there is one feature it has that today I long for...

Something different.

These days, people seem to know how recordings should sound, in their respective genres. So popular music recordings all sound alike, hiphop all sounds alike, classical sounds alike...

Where's the adventure? Where's the fun?

Where's the experimentation and sometimes getting it wrong?

No, what the world needs right now is another Sounds Astounding, for the 21st century.

Or maybe you know of one? Contributions welcome!

By David Mellor Monday August 7, 2006
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