The 78 Project = Awesome

Back in March I shared a brief news story about a hipster band releasing an album as a 78-RPM in (of course) Portland, Oregon. The band used a 1947 lathe cutter to make the disk. It seemed, to me, a little bit phony, with the column’s author even taking a somewhat mocking tone in his piece: “Move over, cassette fetishists. Your infatuation with an outmoded medium has just been bested.”

Today I stumbled across this – the 78 Project – and my faith in contemporary recording utilizing 78-RPM disks was restored:

The 78 Project is a documentary and recording journey inspired by Alan Lomax and his quest to capture music where it lived throughout the early 20th century. Our project brings the spirit of his work into the present as we pair breakthrough musicians with the songs and the fascinating recording technology of the past. With just one microphone, one authentic 1930′s PRESTO direct-to-disc recorder, and one blank lacquer disk, musicians are given the opportunity to make a recording anywhere they choose. What we have found is that the film, music and feelings that result defy space and time, living music inspired by ghosts.

Watching some of the episodes of the web series has been a delight and I was pleased to see they have undertaken a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full length documentary of their project. One of the greatest discoveries from watching some of these phenomenal musicians record direct to acetate has been the realization that with this technology, you only get one take to cut your album. There’s no digital editing, auto-tuning, or “cleaning up.” If you screw up, you start again from scratch. And there’s certainly something exhilarating about that risk that is clearly absent from modern recordings: when it’s safe and easily sanitized “in post,” the magic of the moment and the rawness, the authenticity of the music is reduced or even removed altogether.