Lessons and Carols.

Bought a well-used (and, sadly, well-crackled) LP copy of the King’s College Choir from Christmas 1958. Finally got around to googling it today, and found out that the recording’s fairly well known. Well known enough that the BBC actually remastered the recording into 4:0 “Surround” just this past Christmas. (Not clear from the article what the format means. Is it just 5:1 without the center and subwoofer? Or is “4:0” just what we’re supposed to call old-style quadrophonic sound these days)?

My own copy, bought for $3 at a local second-hand bookstore’s used records bin, is not in the best of shape. As a Christmas album, it was quite likely played once a year, and it shows from the wear and tear. No major scratches (except for one brief dig towards the very beginning), but it sounds as though the disc was never properly cleaned by the original owner (lots of burned-in dust, pops and crackles). It’s also doubtful they had high-end equipment.

But as I played it (pulling it onto the laptop as I did so), I realized that patterns within the wear and tear allowed me to do some forensics. Whoever owned this album is almost certainly dead (as are many of the voices on it, by now), but you can tell from the degree of noise which parts of the disc had been listened to quite often, and which had been largely ignored. I could tell you which three songs he or she adored, playing and replaying them over the years. I can imagine the time someone must have slipped while cueing up the first track to make that scratch I mentioned. It also sounds like they skipped most or all of the vicar’s sermons. And, for whatever reason, they were NOT fond of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, which sounds almost pristine (I intend to recover that one outright for my own Christmas music mix).

With respect to the recording itself, I can understand why this one seems so beloved by experts on the subject. It’s the BBC’s first stereo recording of the King’s College Christmas Mass (or ‘Service’?– do Anglicans call it ‘Mass’?), and it sold well into the 1970s on both vinyl and reel-to-reel. Presumably recorded at the tech limits of late 1958 (at the very beginning you can even hear a truck/lorry driving by outside before the singing starts).

The cleaning software does an admirable job on this material, though some of the noise can’t be totally removed without doing injury to the original recording beneath. Other than Faithful, I have no idea what I will do with these sounds. The vicar’s voice is well recorded, and might have some future use to me. And I’ve always wondered what could be done with a voiced choir’s sounds, after breaking it up into grains.

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