The mystery of sound
“Vinyl was supposed to be dead,” said Scott Soriano, owner of the local labels S.S. and Sol Re Sol Records. “Now that vinyl is ‘back alive’—though it’s never been dead to me—I know a lot about this stuff.”
Soriano shared the lot that he knows about vinyl to an audience of roughly 40 people at Verge Center for the Arts on February 2. The event, titled “In the Groove: The Art & Science of Vinyl Records,” set out to answer why collectors and music lovers are “so fond of this ‘obsolete technology,’” according to the Facebook event page. Ultimately, Soriano shared his reverence for the mystery of vibration—the engine behind all sound.
“It all starts with vibrations,” Soriano said with a twinkle in his voice, like an affable high school science teacher.
The self-proclaimed vinyl geek walked us through the history of records and delivered most chapters in casual bullet points. For example, a French bookseller in the 1850s noticed that a photographer could make a physical record of images. “He thought, ‘Maybe we can make a record of something we hear?’” And just like that, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville came up with the phonautograph. A bristle recorded a line of sonic vibration across parchment paper.
“You couldn’t hear it, but you could see it,” he said. “It was the first time anyone recorded sound.”
Soriano spoke with the relatability of the Comedy Central show Drunk History—in which a tipsy celebrity retells a chapter in history—but with none of the burps. Occasionally, he stepped back to recollect the shuffle of history pages in his mind, but he swung back with more sound bites.
In the 1940s, the electronics company RCA discovered the ideal size and rotation-per-minute for the highest quality sound: the 45 rpm record. “Nothing’s really changed since then,” he said.
Nowadays, Soriano said, we rely on two countries as our sources for record-quality vinyl: France and Japan. In that regard, the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration could affect music aficionados.
“That’s important because if we do get tariffs, then record prices will go up,” Soriano said. “Records are one of the things getting targeted.”
Soriano also walked us through the current process for manufacturing a record, which includes making a master disc, then a mother disc, then stampers, then the record—“a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.”
“It’s science, yes, but it’s an art form because there’s no exact way to get it right,” he said.
Once the record is popped onto the player, the needle reads the notches in its grooves. Then the vibrations are amplified. This left some audience members confounded.
“How do you get a vibrating needle to read a groove?” asked a man in the front row. “It seems like magic to me.”
“That’s the weird thing about it, is how? And I don’t know,” Soriano eventually admitted. “You can explain it to me, and I’m still like, ‘why is water wet?’”
Even record geeks have their limits.