Title: “The Brief Histories & Modern Journey of a Vinyl Record”

Publication: The Brooklyn Rail, Feb 2012


Briefly: Following the production process of a record in Brooklyn with a look back at the history of music recorded to vinyl.


In one way, cutting a record is simple. The vinyl cutter just feeds the mastered files into a computer which is hooked up to a machine called a vinyl cutting lathe. The lathe then cuts the record. (Incidentally, vinyl cutting is a misnomer; what is actually being cut is an aluminum disc coated on both sides with a spongy black lacquer material. More precisely, the lacquer is cut—and ideally the aluminum remains unscathed. The discs cost about $30 each and are easily susceptible to inadvertent damage. On different occasions, Bonati has ruined lacquers with an accidental sneeze, a dangling jacket zipper, and a dropped piece of paper. As an ingredient, vinyl doesn’t appear in the record production recipe until much later. Almost everyone, however, including those who make a living doing it, refers to it as cutting vinyl.) Unfortunately for an aspiring vinyl cutter, lathes haven’t been manufactured in nearly 30 years. The Berlin-based Neumann Company was the last to do so, ceasing lathe production in the 1980s when it became too difficult to turn a profit on their last and most advanced offering, the $250,000 VMS-80 system. Widely considered the best lathes ever made, and the most popular brand of lathes in commercial use by American vinyl cutters, Neumanns can occasionally be found today on the used machine market, when they can be found at all. Weighing close to a thousand pounds and resembling a bulky, blinking set prop from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, most lathes ended up liquidated, discarded, or landfill-bound after the music industry embraced the compact disc. 

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