Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Stereo test records appeared regularly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. One side of the LP usually showed off examples of the wonders of stereo recording, often classical music or sound effects that passed magically from one speaker to another, whilst on the other side of the album were detailed instructions on how best to set up your stereo for full enjoyment of those micro groove frequencies. These instructions were often combined with a series of electronic bleeps and bloops that that supposedly allowed for proper adjustment of tracking and frequency response of your Hi-FI.
What is appealing about stereo test records is that the discs break the usual continuity of the recorded medium. As was suggested in turning the Picture Down a couple of weeks back contemporary music recordings are highly artificial. Stripped of the natural visual counterpart the music attempts to fill the space with a continuity of sound. This can literally mean a filling of the sound space using compression to create an impression of absolute volume or it can mean a more subtle continuity that of an uninterrupted signal. This can apply from everything from easy listening music to the most leftfield noise work.
With their direct instructions to the listener to get up and start moving speakers about and even reconnect wires and adjust the height of the needle Stereo test records break this continuity. The apparatus of reproduction is foregrounded and the listener becomes an active performer. Playback becomes not just a seamless process but open to change, variation and even chaos.
Instructional LP’s on everything from dance to cookery shared many of the same characteristics of the Stereo test record. Diagrams and fold out sheets would often accompany the records thereby restoring a visual element to the audio, as intrepid couples would try to master the intricacies of the Latin Hustle.
Test records were either budget releases or given away free with audiophile publications. With a little rummaging examples can be readily found in flea markets or in the exotic sections of second hand record shops. From my own collection here is is suitably reworked series of test record (ings) for your downloading pleasure.