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Vinyl Mail Bag

Compiled by Lukas Kendall

Here are some letters we received back in June following a column on vinyl soundtracks by Mark Hasan (go here for part one and part two). Sorry we didn't run this sooner -- it's been hard finding the space!

The information on the Andromeda Strain soundtrack is especially interesting....

From: (Robert Hubbard)
Kudos to Mark Hasan's FSD article on vinyl soundtracks. It's one aspect of FSM that I miss during it's 'zine' days, the mention of vinyl LPs. To most of the collectors who've come of age in the 90's & have probably never seen an LP: Save on a couple of bootleg purchases and invest in a turntable!

I have a bit of tangental information regarding THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN album.... (long backstory: connected up with a local soundtrack enthusiast who wanted a clean dub of the album, which I happened to have [the second pressing: pretty plain, but in great shape for listening], and he forwarded the following piece from Jeff Kilan of Wichita, KS. Mr. Kilan had tracked down the man who had a hand in the album, Dr. Rick Steinberg, and had him write down his recollections of the project.

Hexagonal Music: How I Manufactured The Andromeda Strain Soundtrack LP

by Dr. Rick Steinberg

History done at the request of Jeff Kilan, June 2000.

In 1970, during the editing of his now classic movie "The Andromeda Strain", the director, Robert Wise, approached me with a view to have the soundtrack album marketed in a special manner. I was then in charge of Order Service for MCA Records; that is, record manufacture. He asked if it was possible to have the record pressed in a hexagonal shape as the extra-terrestrial viral strain called Andromeda in the film was hexagonal. I said anything was possible, but that it would cost an estimated $20,000. While this was then a high figure for record production, it was minimal to the movie business and was agreed.

The executives at Kapp Records were only too happy to go along with the scheme as it relieved them of the production costs. (The soon to be defunct Kapp Records was one of several labels under the MCA umbrella at the time.) I discussed the matter with the president of Monarch Records, who pressed all MCA record requirements for the West Coast at that time. My idea was to have the music recorded in 10 Au format but put on a 12 Au matrix and manufactured as a 12 Au record. A steel hexagonal mold would then be made and this would be used in a press to trim the excess material from the 12 Au record to make a hexagonal shape, leaving the 10 inches of recorded material intact. This became the production method.

Kapp had agreed to a production run of 10,000 records. The pressing process encountered some problems: the unrecorded surface of the record had to be roughed so that it could be gripped for the cutting. This left unsightly corners on the finished record, therefore a more careful method of roughing only those edges that would not form the corners of the finished record had to be devised. Also, for a run of 10,000, the edges of the mold had to be sharpened frequently so as to leave a clean edge on the record.

The packaging into the record jackets also required extra time compared with normal jacketing. However, the total cost, including a spare mold, came to somewhat less than the quoted figure of $20,000. MCA were fortunate in having a very creative design team for their record jacket production. John LeProvost and Virginia Clark wanted to reflect the fact that it was music from a movie, thus they came up with the idea that the jacket should emulate a camera lens surrounding the actual record, but nevertheless pasted on a 12 Au square board.

The original 10,000 records sold out fairly rapidly. Gil Melle, the composer of the music, urged a second pressing, but the Kapp management did not want to go to the expense of reproducing the original format. It was therefore decided to repress the 10 Au recording on a 12 Au standard record and package it in a standard jacket. This did not sell so well, and MCA soon lost interest in the record.

Hope that's of some interest to the ANDROMEDA STRAIN fans out there. Looking forward to the continuation of the vinyl piece.

From: John,
Like Bob Smith, I too was one of those "people" you talk about here. Many good points in your spiel. I prefer the ending on the Poltergeist CD without the laughing. Enjoyed reading it. It brought back a lot of memories.

From: Victor Field <>
With regards to music on vinyl or CD or whatever, I refer you to the moment in "Ed Wood" where our hero tries to interest a movie producer who by his own admission makes "crap" in hiring Bela Lugosi for his film - when Wood asks what would result if he got a star, the producer replies "Crap with a star." The same basic difference applies with any format for music - whether it's on plastic or metal, good stuff is still good stuff even if it's scratchy and crap is still crap even with the latest sound advances. People have complained about "FSM" discussing the movies along with the music for them, but the latter basically exists because of the former; you can't say that about records. Shouldn't we be interested in the music, not what it's on?

From: Simon StLaurent <>
Your comment on Ben Hur LP... regarding MGM Camera 65 being "just good old Panavision". Not really! The "65" means 65 millimetre film. Panavision is generally 35 mm.

From: "Josh Gizelt" <>
At the risk of sounding like a rabid perfectionist, Mr. Hasan's Wednesday article featured the following statement:

Ben-Hur featured the LP, liner notes, and a Random House book detailing the production stages, the universal wonderment people will experience with "MGM Camera 65" (really just good old Panavision) and some (tacky) specially commissioned paintings (traced from production stills) of dramatic highlights, "suitable for framing." How can anyone resist?
Ben Hur was photographed in an anamorphic 70 millimeter format (exposed surface is 65 millimeter with the other 5 millimeters used for the magnetic sound track).&nbsp; In addition to yielding the almost quadrupled image space as 35 millimeter, it is anamorphically squeezed during photography and unsqueezed during projection, yielding a ribbonlike aspect ratio (screen width:hieght) of 2.66:1.

In general, Panavision is merely anamorphic 35 millimeter, yielding a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Although not in use any more, Super Panavision is straight-up 70 millimeter, yielding a 2.1:1 aspect ratio, while Ultra Panavision is the same as the touted MGM Camera 65.

The demise of large format film production is lamentable, and it is important to many, not just myself, that the facts are kept straight, so that those of us who have seen actual 70 millimeter productions can remember what film is supposed to look like before it's replaced by a digital format.

From: "nick garrod" <>
I have found Mark Hasan's two articles on the CD versus LP debate most interesting. I too still have all my soundtrack LPs which were lovingly collected over a period of some 15 years. I would never dream of selling them off even though l now have many on CD. Not only are they more aesthetically pleasing than CDs but in the case of those from the fifties and sixties the sound is better than any CD reissue simply because the LP was pressed when the recording was new and therefore sounds better than a CD which was made some thirty or forty years later by which time the original tapes had begun to deteriorate. Good examples of this are South Seas Adventure, Vertigo (l think Mark, you mentioned this in your article) and Old Man and the Sea (the Varese CD seems to have lost something in the remastering process - the LP sounds much more vivid). I used to own the Mainstream CD of To Kill a Mockingbird which was awful (muddy and muffled) until l obtained an original LP issue which is much clearer. The same can also be said for DRG's issue of FUNNY FACE - the LP is dynamic but the CD is muffled and the orchestration obscured (especially in the song 'Funny Face').

Another good case for retaining LPs also is the running time. With so many CDs running up to 75 minutes and beyond I find it increasingly difficult to find the time to play them (I have to listen to them with no distraction, I just cannot listen to a film score whilst doing something else, it detracts from the listening experience). An LP that runs to some 45 minutes is very often just the right length.

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