The Mainspring Press Newsletter • June 2020

THE MAINSPRING PRESS
NEWSLETTER • June 2020

 

There’s much to tell you this month, but first, I want to express my profound dismay and disgust over the murder of yet another unarmed black man by police, and over the inexcusable damage being wrought by an administration that is demonstrably amoral, corrupt, incompetent, and utterly lacking in class, compassion, and simple decency.

If that offends anyone, understand that no one is forced to visit this site. Anyone is entitled to their own opinion, misguided or otherwise; just as I am entitled to mine, misguided or otherwise. Unhappy with that?  Adiós!

Now… For the rest of us, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy all of the free resources and music we’re so proud to share with the record-collecting community — But don’t let that distract you from taking whatever action you can, in a constructive and positive manner, to purge those in Washington and elsewhere who are undermining our world, our nation, and our well-being.

Pressure your elected officials relentlessly, to the full extent allowed by law. Withhold your business from companies that are owned by or allied with those who work against the common good; and those, like Facebook, Twitter, and Fox, that enable the bad players. Demonstrate peaceably, but keep in mind the advice of a real president: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick. You will go far.”

Above all — VOTE. Yesterday, the good voters of Iowa sent one bigot down in flames. He  won’t be the last, by a long shot, with your help.

 

Allan Sutton
Publisher, Mainspring Press

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What Is “Forensic Discography”?

You might have noticed a new addition to our logo: “The Leader in Forensic Discography Since 1999.” So, just what the heck is “forensic discography”?

It’s a term coined by David Giovannoni that refers to the reconstruction of discographical data based upon first-hand inspection of the actual recordings, in conjunction with supporting ancillary materials, where original recording files or other company documentation no longer exist. (For those who don’t know David: Besides being a terrific guy, he holds the distinction of having brought forth sound from the theretofore-mute Leon Scott phonoautograms, which pre-date the invention of the phonograph by many years, and were previously thought to be unplayable).

Collectors are fortunate in that the original recording files for many of the larger companies of the 1900–1930 period are extant, and have now largely been transcribed and posted on various sites. They are an invaluable resource, and for the most part are highly reliable, although by no means error-free.

Problems arise when compilers unknowingly pass along inaccurate file data; or (worse by far) when they add anecdotal or speculative data without disclosing it as such, as Brian Rust did when he inserted countless incorrect issued-take numbers into the Columbia data that now reside — still unchecked and uncorrected — on the Discography of American Historical Recordings website. Nevertheless, original files are a blessing, and those who have taken pains to work carefully with the material, like John Bolig, Dick Spottswood, and Ross Laird, deserve our deepest gratitude.

Which brings us to the files that no longer exist. Over the decades, the original recording files of numerous record companies have been pilfered or damaged; have been added to or otherwise meddled-with by their custodians (as has happened with some Edison and Victor documentation); have been intentionally destroyed; or have simply vanished. Among the missing are the original files of such important labels as Paramount, Black Swan, Emerson, American Pathé, American Zonophone, acoustic Brunswick, Vocalion, and Okeh, and much of the Plaza–American Record Corporation output prior to 1930.

That’s where forensic discography comes in.

We’re extremely fortunate and grateful to possess an extensive in-house archive of forensic discographical data, painstakingly preserved or compiled over the course of seven decades by the likes of Ed Kirkeby, Walter C. Allen, Len Kunstadt, Carl Kendziora, Woody Backensto, George Blacker, William R. Bryant, and other legends in the field. Many of these folks were lucky to have started their work at a time when 78s were still plentiful, and a good day’s canvassing could yield stacks of minor-label records, details of which were carefully entered on the index cards that now occupy a good chunk of real estate in our office. Add to that the current network of well-respected researchers with whom we have the honor of  associating, and the high-quality data now flowing from some our more than 5,100 followers, and the future for this sort of research looks bright indeed.

Forensic discography isn’t easy, but it sure can be rewarding, horizon-expanding, and even fun (in a nerdy sort of way) on many levels. It’s an active pursuit, best suited to those who possess a passion for the music and for the hunt. It entails getting out into the real world to look at, listen to, and document countless original recordings first-hand; following the slimmest leads in hopes of unearthing some long-forgotten document, interview, newspaper account, or catalog that might help complete the  picture; and engaging with a network of highly accomplished, like-minded folks who are doing the same. Party on!

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What’s Coming Up?

Mainspring’s Free Online Reference Library continues to grow, and to attract new followers. We’re happy to report that other than an illegal posting of American Record Companies and Producers  by the Internet Archive — which was quickly discovered and has been addressed with a DMCA Takedown Order and pending legal action — visitors appear to be respecting our Terms of Use for these free (but copyright-protected) materials.

Coming close to completion are the revised and expanded Emerson discography (now including the smaller-diameter issues); a complete overhaul of National Music Lovers & New Phonic; and the revised Pathé-Perfect discographies. Longer-term projects include an updated Leeds & Catlin discography; the acoustic New York Recording Laboratories and Bridgeport Die & Machine (Paramount–Puritan) masters; the Hawthorne, Sheble & Precott) and International Record Company labels; and (the longest-term of all) the Plaza-ARC labels through 1930.

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Happiness Is a Stuffed In-Box

As the number of Mainspring Press followers and other visitors has increased dramatically over the past year, so has the volume of e-mail. If you’ve contacted us recently and not yet heard from us, have faith — We’re working through the deluge, but depending upon various factors, it could be some time before you receive a reply. Inevitably, there will be some to whom we may not respond, for any number of reasons. But be assured that if your e-mail merits a response, we’re working on it.

Any questions concerning book orders will continue to receive an immediate response, of course.

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