There seems to be a resurgence of vinyl long-playing records. Once more they are in the shops, and people are buying turntables to play them. Enthusiasts say that they provide the ‘authentic’ sound that is lost in clinical-sounding CDs or digital downloads.
Does vinyl provide ‘faithful’ reproduction of music? No way José.
The first mass-produced gramophones played shellac records at 78 revolutions per minute (RPM). They used a steel needle that was able to reproduce the music without electronic amplification, and were a miracle of purely mechanical engineering. I had one in the 1950s, and first heard the best bits from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung on an old 78 record. The ‘hiss’ from these machines sometimes almost overwhelmed the music – certainly in the quiet bits.
The technology improved greatly using diamond or sapphire needles with electronic amplification, on vinyl records rotating at 45 and then 33 RPM. The level of hiss and noise was lower, but it was always there, together with ‘rumble’ from the turntable motor.
In the mid 1970s when I started earning money, I wanted decent quality music and built a pair of great cabinets out of chipboard with Wharfedale loudspeakers. I also built an amplifier from a kit – which had to be returned to the manufacturer because I wired it up incorrectly and it blew up – and purchased a reasonably expensive turntable with a diamond stylus.
I relished my music and enjoyed, for the first time, hearing both classical and pop in reasonable HiFi. But as the quality of the sound greatly increased it was impossible to ignore the more subtle faults, the ‘pops’ and ‘clicks’: static electricity. There are many problems with vinyl, but the one that drove me quite mad, was that of trying to eliminate static electricity build up. It is virtually impossible, because a rotating dielectric disc with an arm containing metal bits close to it, goes some way to becoming a Whimshurst Machine, an early design of generator for producing very high voltage static electricity.
I tried everything: a brush made of carbon fibre (a conductor to conduct away the static electricity), a carbon fibre mat on the turntable platter, even a static gun that was supposed to neutralize the static by spraying static of the opposite polarity. All failed.
Then there was the tracking problem which introduced further distortion. When the master disc was cut, the cutting arm did not pivot at one end but tracked the groove, so that the cutting needle was always parallel with the groove. Nearly all turntable decks have a pivoting arm, where the angle to the grooves varies as the record plays. It is possible to get parallel tracking decks but they are expensive – I had one, and the proof of the pudding, an LP that I twice exchanged at the shop because of intense distortion in a crescendo (it was Elgar’s Sea Pictures) played perfectly on my parallel tracking deck.
A further problem that can occur, is that a very loud section immediately before or after a quiet section can sufficiently modulate the adjacent groove such that the ghost of the loud bit can be heard during the quiet period. I first heard that in a 45 record of Shakin all Over – Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ best known hit.
Then there is background noise. The stylus pickup needle and coil are very inefficient, so the electrical signal needs a great deal of amplification – lots of gain. High gain means that all the imperfections, mechanical noise and distortion etc. get amplified up to be heard as background noise. And of course, the whole thing is analogue, with the intrinsic difficulty of maintaining linearity at high gain.
Admittedly, the overwhelming majority of records that I had a problem with were of classical music, with its far greater dynamic range, but, as noted above, even ‘pop’ music was not immune.
So the ‘authentic sound’ that advocates of vinyl claim, consists of surface noise, rumble from the turntable motor, electrical noise from the high gain amplifiers used, tracking distortion and static ‘pops’, not forgetting the regular clicks as the needle encounters a scratch on the disc, and the intrinsic limitations of an analogue, mechanical system to reproduce, with any sort of linearity, the original signal. Give me a CD or digital download any day.
Toshiba have just pulled out of building a nuclear power station in the north west, and the UK finds itself in the situation of generating 20% of its electricity from nuclear plant that will be obsolete and possibly shut down within ten (?) years. The only new nuclear power station will be Hinkley C, coming on line in 2025 (?), and making up only half the shortfall (and that very expensively).
Renewables could fill the gap, and there certainly do seem to be a lot of wind turbines around – as well as a lot of solar power. But, as they say, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Quite.
I keep a boat at Bradwell Marina on the estuary of the River Blackwater in Essex. The tidal range there is frequently 15 feet. Twice every 24 hours, a considerable quantity of water climbs up 15 feet and then drops back down. This pattern is repeated to a greater or lesser extent all around the coast of the UK. Surely this enormous energy source could be tapped?
The idea of tide mills goes back hundreds of years. There was one at the head of the River Roach near Southend; there still is one at Woodbridge although it has been converted into a marina. The principle is simplicity itself: build a reservoir with access to the sea. Allow the high tide to fill it up, then close the access channel. As the tide drops, allow the water in the reservoir to drain out via a water wheel. As the name suggests, in early days these were used to grind corn. However, replace the water wheel with a turbine driving an alternator and there is a source of electricity, and with a suitable design, it will work as the tide is falling as well as when it is rising. The process is entirely renewable subject only to maintenance costs.
Although the height of the high tide varies throughout the year with the waxing and waning of the Moon, it is little affected by the seasons and the weather, and the reservoir can be as large as you like. How about a great barrier along the east coast? The coast would be protected from erosion and the sinking of the land, and enough water could be stored for the entire electricity needs of the country. The Dutch have built such sea barriers – starting hundreds of years ago – so why can’t we do the same here using modern technology? Another thought; the vast Goodwin Sands off the Kent Coast are an on-going hazard to shipping. Why not build a great reservoir there?
The bad news, is that there was a plan for a 320 MW scheme in Swansea bay – that is about half a percent of the country’s electricity needs. The cost would have been £1.3 bn. The government rejected it earlier this year because the capital cost per generated unit of electricity would have been three times that of Hinckley C. Is it me, or was that an insanely short-sighted decision?
Much of the cost of the Swansea project would have been for the construction of a nine km barrier, but that is prehistoric technology! The pyramids were higher tech than that, and once built, the barrier would have lasted virtually indefinitely. The turbines would have been sophisticated, but even they are hardly cutting-edge technology. No-one knows what cost-overruns will occur on Hinkley C, but given the history of the nuclear power industry and the state-of-the-art technology, I’ll bet they will not be modest.
Hinkley C has a design life of sixty years. After that, it’s just a large area of very expensive highly dangerous scrap that will cost goodness knows how much to make safe. And in case anyone has forgotten, Hinkley C is financed by the Chinese and French and built by the French. How’s that for ‘Taking back control?’
I am not against nuclear power, far from it, but even its most ardent supporters would never claim that it is a low risk technically or financially.
No, the Swansea Bay decision was very poor. Just another example of the inability of this government, with its retinue of mediocre second-raters and time-servers, to make any decision without f*****g it up.
In 1890, William Morris published a rather silly socialist ‘Utopia’ called News from Nowhere. Set in London 200 years in the future, money, politics, organized government etc. have all been abolished. Work is a pleasure, passed around so that everyone gets a chance at doing different jobs. The sexes are equal (although the women still wait on the men in a guesthouse).
There are many absurdities, like the gang of happy road-menders with gold and silver embroidered clothes looking like ‘a boating party at Oxford’. How happy would they have been doing the job in mid-winter, with snow, wind and rain and the ground as hard as stone…
But the book does contain one gem: since politics and formal government have been abolished, the Houses of Parliament are used to store manure…
How that idea resonates today, when, with a few honourable exceptions, members of all parties in Westminster seem determined to place their collective common sense on hold and damn the interests of the country.
I have never made any secret of the fact that, in my view, the referendum result was a catastrophe. Certainly, many people were concerned over immigration; others, terminally against the ‘European’ project. How many though, I wonder, have had their views poisoned by the stream of anti-European prejudice, based on innuendo, half-truths and downright lies, peddled by the right-wing press.
Nevertheless, the country voted to leave, and for better or worse, that is what our government had been instructed to do. No matter that anyone with half a brain and 10% of the common sense of a nine-year-old, would realize that from the point of view of the EU, the UK could not possibly be granted even as good a position vis a vis trade etc. outside of the ‘club’, not paying the dues, as within it.
Furthermore, that same person, unless they were completely fooling themselves, must have known that – as I said in one of these posts right at the beginning of this process – the Irish border problem is a circle that cannot be squared without serious concessions.
So what happens? After months and months of haggling, a deal is finally thrashed out. Is it a good deal? I have no idea, but I’m guessing that given the enormous constraints, it is probably the best that could be hoped for. And, it is clear from the EU that it is either this deal, or no deal.
Does the Prime Minister get the backing of her cabinet and ‘The House’? Not a bit of it. A string of cabinet resignations, backbenchers calling for blood, and the Labour Party – what planet, I wonder, are they living on – calling for the government to ‘step aside and let them have a go’.
No, we have been brutally let down by our representatives; they are a Dung Parliament, a crock of shit, a pile of ordure. The British People want this business settled without bankrupting the country, stifling business and bringing chaos to the channel ports. And all Parliament can do is abrogate their responsibility, stamp their collective feet and refuse to bow to the inevitable.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs