CD release of “Gomasaba & Yugao & Kushinsai” was in April in 2015. This time my album released as an analog record under cooperation support with an Kyoto-based record shop “JET SET”. This is the first release of analog disc in my career.
When I knew that the cutting work will be done by a cutting studio names “SCHALLPLATTEN SCHNEID TECHNIK” which located in Frankfurt, Germany, I really wanted to see how the records are produced at the site. So I decided to go to Germany in March this year. They were probably surprised to hear about my visit from Japan only to see the cutting production. I appreciate them explaining me from zero because I didn't have much previous knowledge.
Now I will deliver the “Report 2” which is mainly the conversation with a cutting engineer Mr. Daniel Krieger. It contains lot of technical description, but please read it and feel the rare opportunity!
---The business card of Mr. Daniel Krieger, who is a managing directer and cutting engineer of SCHALLPLATTEN SCHNEID TECHNIK ( SST studio ), is double-sided printed in English and Japanese. Do you have many clients in Japan? “
“The ratio is not that high, but we import raw material from Japan so the priority became high. The company is named MDC and it is located in Tokyo. Their production plant is in the high land. Clean air is important for material production. Also because of this their products are that good! I have been your home country once, Japan is very beautiful.”
---Vinyl sales had been down under the weight of CD for a while, but it have grown again.
“Well, from 1998 to 2008, I had cut only electronic, techno music for dance floor. Now the ratio of electronic music went down, and a lot of pops, rock, jazz and classic is getting higher again. Bay the way, what I cut right now is traditional turkish music, I guess It had been recorded long time ago.”
---Is this console specially made for vinyl cutting ?
“Yes, usual mastering consoles have just one stereo signal path with eq and dynamic processing devices. A cutting console has two signal paths in parallel. One is the signal, which feeds the machine so it knows in advance what kind of music will come, and the other signal is the actual cutting signal. That signal comes to the cutting head. So every processing I do with signal, I have to do with two stereo signals. I will explain it in more detail later.”
--- (pointed to Spectral Analyzer) What do you use this for ?
“I can check the frequency range with my own eyes. Basically every sound can cut to vinyl, but there are some restrictions concerning intensity. Sibilants and fricatives, high frequency sound like hi-hats, crash, cymbals may not be too loud, otherwise the cutting head can be overloaded. When you playback the record, the sound might be distorted or crunchy somehow. Therefore I have to estimate in advance, wether the music production is suitable for being cut on vinyl as it is. Particularly concerning the intensity of the high frequency signals, in extreme situations I have to get back the master to the mastering studio. Because when the signal has to be processed very strongly, I might affect the entire sound image of a production and this is more a creative process. I am rather focused on technical assessment of the master, and not so much into esthetical evaluation or revision.”
---This disc which you are about to cut has a larger size than standard vinyl discs. I have never seen this before. Is this not a record?
“Here we cut on lacquer discs, their diameter is 14 inch. The lacquer can be used only one side, the other side will be damaged in the pressing plant. After the cutting is finished, I send it as it is to the pressing plant, but not before I engrave onto it for identification purposes. Usually the engraving contains catalogue number or matrix number or reference number, sometimes additional message, and always our company name “SST” puls a token of the cutting engineer. In my case “KR” - my last name is Krieger.”
---So each cut lacquer disc is the only one in the world.
“Exactly. We send it to the pressing plant, and on basis of this they produce a pressing stamper, and with this stamper they can press vinyl records. On this occasion I will show you about the steps I do before and during the cutting.”
---Oh yes please!
“Do you hear the noise? This is the noise of the vacuum. Usually the lacquer disk is just put on the turn table, but if you turn on the vacuum, you can not take it away. It is sucked and attached on the turntable.”
---To make it stable?
“Exactly, so it can not slide and sits absolutely flat on the turntable, and also here is a little suction tube, which removes the materials that will be cut out of the lacquer to get the groove. The groove is cut with this sharp stylus (made from sapphire or ruby) here, and the material that emerges from this cutting process will be sucked away so doesn't bunch up here.”
---It's a microscopic world. How do you cut the groove with the console and the cutting machine?
“The modulation, let's say the swinging of the groove, is determined by the sounds of the recording. While the disk is rotating, the groove will be cut like a spiral (from outside to inside). The swinging of the groove is larger when the sound is louder, therefore more space from one groove to another has to be made in advance, so that the groove will not cut into another groove that has been cut before. If the music is very silent or when there is just no sound, the grooves can be cut very close to each other, because they don't use much space. Therefore the machine has to calculate in advance the space between the groove that has been cut one rotation before and the groove that is cut at this moment.
Listen, this is the signal that will be cut, it is slightly delayed from the signal that is fed into the machine. The time lag is exactly as long as the half rotation of the record. This is the time that is needed for the space calculation. It allows the machine to recognize the music a certain time before it will be cut actually, and on bases of this information the machine can calculate the space that will be necessary.”
---The groove is not cut simply into the lacquer. Is there anything else you must be careful?
“For example, the duration of side B will be 25 min., I have estimated with which level or which intensity I can cut the music. Because the level with which I will cut the music decides how much space will be consumed. And of course I only have a certain space available which makes one record side, and I have to try to find settings with which the total duration of the master for this side will fit on this side. I must not use more space then available, because this would mean the last track will just not fit on the record, on the other hand I have to avoid that I find settings which in the end use only half of the space available. Technically that would not be a big problem, but it just looks not very nice. Most people expect that one side of a vinyl record is more or less completely used.”
--- Indeed. I believed that the space of the vinyl is completely used by groove from start point to end but as you mentioned, the total time differs depending on the length of tracks. That makes sense.
“Therefore I have to pre adjust the depth or the broadness of the groove, which I can set here. Also the basic distance between the grooves in case that there is no music, or the basic grooves distance can be set over here. Because the master with a duration of 25 min. is quite long time for one side of the record, I have to set the cutting basic measures to minimum.”
---On contrary is there record which is too short?
“If the music is rather short, let's say just 10min. for one side, I can cut it very intensively or loud, and I can choose a rather big groove dimension. Because I have the space, I can waste space as much as possible. But in this case here I have to choose rather small and careful settings so I achieve that this master can be cut completely on the space.”
---Are the depth and width of groove differs from high / low frequencies?
“Please look through the microscope. Quite easily to see that low frequencies like bass produce long wave lengths, rather slow movement of the groove. This is the hi-hat and this is the bass drum. Very short wave lengths represent high frequency signal, and long wave lengths represent low frequency signals. In that way you can combine every kind of sound.”
---I can see all the sound landscape now!
“Basically the modulation is not in the vertical direction so the depth of the grooves remain constant, but the groove execute lateral movements (parallel to the surface of the disk). The curves are not up and down, the moves are mainly left and right.
But if there are differences of loudness or phasing between the left and the right channel, depth modulation comes in addition. Basically, if the singer stands in the middle, the resulting groove modulation is just left and right.”
---Was that so. It is amazing that the sound can be reproduced only with lateral movements. Do the depth of the groove represents stereo images?
“Yes, depth modulation comes in addition when signal differs between left and right channel. Basically bass and singer are in the middle, but one of the guitars is only on the left side, so the basic music produces just sidewards modulation, and guitar also produces depth modulation. This is necessary to make possible a differentiation between left and right. So the pickup stylus can recognize this is left channel, this is the right channel, simply through the combination of depth modulation and side modulation.”
---By the way, you had been doing a large number of vinyl cutting. Do you have clients in all over the world ?
“I think, about 20 % we get from Germany, and quite a lot from France and the US, and a few from England. In England there are many cutting studios. In Germany are also around 10 cutting studios, but in England are much more.”
---Do you play any instrument?
“Only for hobby, I play bass guitar, started when I was 12, 13 years old. I still play but never had planned to make it commercially or as professional musician. Just playing live with a band around downtown. I started with punk rock, and later on it moved to more experimental stuff and Jazz, and in the end it was more pop rock music. But I would like to join a louder rock band again, I should look for some people to play in a band again...”
---What is this book ?
“This is the protocol of settings I have done for each cut.Just in this case here, it is very helpful that I can see which settings and adjustments I have made, during the cut for JSLP –68, which is HARCO's lacquers. Now I can cut it with these settings, the exact same cut again on bases of these notes. So every cut from 1971 is noted in books like this one.”
---Wow, it means, any record can be reissued as it was!
“By the way, here is an interesting effect, maybe it comes from the mixing.
There is a disturbance at 21, 22khz, a very high frequency signal. We have to put a lowpass filter on the signal processing, so this signal is reduced a little bit, and will not do harm to the cut. If we just let it go through to cutting, it might do damage to the cutting head, or just produce unpleasant disturbance noise when the record is played back on the turn table.”
---I see. If the process cannot be avoided to make the record, it is fine with me even if the sound image might change little bit. 11 tracks on this album had to be divided into A and B side, and so I chose 6th track as first track on B side. How do you think about it ?
“Side B is 5 min. longer then the A side. So we have to go down a little bit with the intensity of the modulation. Sounds below 40 Hz have been reduced with a high pass filter, because that signal component uses the most space. I have reduced them to save some space.”
---I understand well. Thank you. Can you please summarize the record making procedure ?
“Well, you know, with this lacquer which we just have cut you can not press anything, because this is too soft. And if you use it as a stamper, the groove of what you have pressed it on would be convex, and it is not possible to play that on the turntable. So from this lacquer, or first generation, you have to make an imprint with doing a complicated galvanic process through which Nickel is plated on the lacquer, and from this second generation, called father plate, you have to make a metal imprint again, this is the so called mother plate, here you can play back the groove again, it sounds like a record. If you make another imprint from this, you get the stamper (or son!) for pressing records in large quantity.”
--- Long process...
“Finally, I will show you something (while watching a website). This is a german pressing plant, you see the pressing machines. These machines are very similar with the machines in other pressing plants, also in Japan, at Toyo Kasei for example.
It is the same about cutting machines, the last machine has been manufactured very long ago. For all facilities and devices almost no new developments or productions have been started until now. That's why all cutting and pressing machines all around the world are busy at the moment. One stamper is attached to the press for A side, the stamper for B side on the opposite side of the press. A little cake of soft hot plastic is put between those both, then these will be pressed together, and result is the record!”
---Wounderful ! Every process of this analog production from cutting to press will be done here in Germany. I am really looking forward to finishing whole process and being arrived in Japan!
*** Daniel made me experience starting up to cut the B-side of my record “Gomasaba & Yugao & Kushinsai”. Of cource I filmed the scene. Here I release a short movie! Looks good, doesn't it?
During and after this studio visit, Masumi Ren-san acted as interpreter on-site and translated manuscript of this report. She lives in Frankfurt, has much experience in electronic music production and enjoyed the studio visit just like I did. Thank you for your assistance!
やまざきさんには、先日の自由が丘ひかり街イベントでの募金箱、この日鎌倉molnに置かせてもらった募金箱、さらにライブの売上の一部を合わせて、義援金として直接お渡ししました。2会場での募金にご協力いただいた皆さん、ありがとうございました。やまざきさんのお米や米粉を買ってくれた人も多くて、嬉しかったです。ライブ後にやまざきさんご家族と、moln店長の綾さん、ライブ担当の五十嵐さん（fisihng with john）と。