Master Casts of Everything

This is a machine like the one I saw work at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn.

In January’s freezing cold, I went with friend and bandmate Alex to Greenpoint’s Salt Mastering, in the hopes of obtaining masters for a four-song EP Conversion Party plans to release in February. The process was surprisingly painless, and we left a few hours later, excited about the new space and organization audible in our recordings.

I’m not enough of an audio guy to tell you what mastering actually is in the digital age, or explain effectively how the sound changed, but there’s a lot more clarity and power in the music for some reason, and new order, as well, to the sounds coming out of the speakers. Almost as if a bunch of players finally moved into more clearly-assigned sonic spots, instead of projecting their noises from a tiny crowded stage. Needless to say we’re looking forward to having our new recording heard its finished form. All in good time.

Perhaps more interesting than the mastering itself however, was what happened afterward.

Paul Gold, a friendly guy with impressive credits, showed us newbies around his modest loft space, which houses not only thousands of feet of magnetic tape but some vintage — and quite serious — analogue equipment.

Paul had to cut a lacquer disc master after doing our EP, and invited us to stick around and watch. I still don’t understand all of his explanation of how it works, but there’s a giant stylus, some very sharp and tiny needles, helium, and a whole lot of heavy looking machinery involved. My understanding is that tiny magnetized “speakers” play the music, which in turn informs a needle’s incision into the lacquer disc. The lacquer disc will then be used to press vinyl records. My favorite bit of information: when looked at under a microscope (there’s actually one on the machine to monitor the progress of the needle if need be), the grooves cut by the needle look like giant mountain ranges. I own some records, and my dad owns a ton, but I’ve never been behind the scenes, and it was pretty fascinating. I’m hoping to learn more.

Just cause: Liars’ “Plaster Casts of Everything”

About Ben

Ben Brock Johnson is a print, radio, and new media journalist working in New York City.
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