I am aware that Salisbury documentation for 12c has been promised, along with a series on how to do tape virtualization …and neither have yet to materialize. I blame the pressures of work… and the fact that, my complete works of Benjamin Britten having arrived, I’ve been busy ripping them.
On this occasion, getting the ripping right means, essentially, two things: first, the rip must be as accurate (and lossless) as possible. For me, this has usually meant ripping with something like Exact Audio CD. But, though I’ve been a paid-for customer for years, I’ve only recently just worked out that dbPoweramp also does secure, validated rips, as good as anything EAC is able to do. It also happens to do them in a much less peculiar way than EAC, so that’s the tool I’ve been using this time. Works a treat.
Second, I’ve been making sure to get the CD artwork right, as much as possible. I hadn’t realised that this was an issue before, but the Complete Works CD set comes with a hardback book that includes some 47 pieces of artwork for the original LPs as they were released through the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Not every piece of artwork is present, and they’re printed in such a dark, matte way that they’re not often useful in and of themselves… but they made me realise (or remember) that there was a time when LPs came with expressive artwork that told you something about the contents… and that when CDs came out, they quite often didn’t.
Take just one example. When I re-bought Britten’s Turn of the Screw in about 1989, here’s what the CD box set looked like:
Well, it’s an interesting picture of Benjamin Britten at around the right sort of time (he composed the opera in about 1954) and you at least get to know that the contents are something called “the turn of the screw”, even if you happen to be allergic to the incorrect use of all-lower case. But you certainly wouldn’t know from that lot what a spooky ghost story the opera happens actually to be.
Courtesy of the Complete Works hardback book, I learned that this was actually the LP artwork that was used when the piece was originally issued on Long Play vinyl:
It’s clearly a cover of its time, but at least you get to know who’s singing -and the photographs appear to be from the opera’s first production, which makes them interesting in their own right. You also get to know the opera’s about a ghostly male figure outside a leaded window and looking like he wants to get in; a panicked woman inside and looking like she’s prefer to be out; and an innocent child at prayer is clearly involved in it somewhere along the line. All in all, it’s a far more informative LP cover than we CD-buyers got landed with in the 1980s.
As it happens, when I first bought this LP set (from a music store in Cambridge in about 1983), the thing came with this cover:
Clearly a product of the late sixties, it manages nevertheless still to tell you who’s doing the singing and playing …and that there’s a principle female character, two wild characters somehow related to a spooky country house and two kids standing, literally (and one guesses metaphorically, too), in their shadow… it’s still a hell of a lot more informative than the “modern” CD cover. It’s also more attractive.
As another for-example: Here’s what Billy Budd looked like when Decca bought it out on CD:
So you might figure that it involves a young boy, someone in a flat cap, a guy in a sweater who looks a bit like Benjamin Britten (for it is he) -and the continuing inability to use case properly.
Here’s the LP cover I got when I bought the same piece 30 years ago:
So now it’s a bit clearer that it has something to do with the 18th century, naval vessels, a court martial -and that Glossop, Pears and Langdon and others are singing in it, with the LSO conducted by Britten himself doing the playing. We’re apparently now suffering from a bad case of all upper case, but I nevertheless know which version I find more useful (as well as more visually appealing).
I could go on, but I will spare you the details. The short version is that I’ve spent three weeks or so trying to get hold of the “correct” imagery for each piece contained within the Complete Works set… and it’s sometimes very difficult, if not outright impossible.
Where there are two or more versions (as with the Turn of the Screw covers shown above), I’ve gone with the one I remember being on the LPs I purchased or borrowed from the library all those years ago, even if they happen not to be the truly “original” ones that were used when the LP was released for the very first time. But for some works, there doesn’t appear to be any good, original artwork that I can track down: if you happen to have an original LP of the Sechs Hölderlin Fragmente or the Poets Echo for example, I’d be very grateful for a scanned copy of them. I’ve made do with “something appropriate” from time to time, too: Britten’s version of “God Save the Queen” was never released on LP in the first place (so far as I know)… so I’ve nabbed a photo of the Queen opening the Maltings Concert Hall in 1967, at which it was definitely played. Similarly, I can find no original release of the Welcome Ode in 1977 …so I’ve used a photograph of the Ipswich Corn Exchange, which is where the first performance took place. And so on.
The artwork I used for the 1944 historic recording of the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is of the first disk of my own copy (as in the thumbnail image that starts this entire blog piece)… one of my more prized possessions, up there with Nixon’s Vice Presidential signature and my Maria Callas signed photo.
As it is, I have ended up with mostly-suitable artwork for everything in the set: to spare me having to do it ever again, and in case there are Britten fans out there who might want to take a shortcut, this zip file contains all the artwork I could ferret out. It’s still not perfect, but it’s better than what I started with …and now that the ripping’s been done to my satisfaction, perhaps it’s time to turn back to Salisbury and tape changers!