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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Memo to Radio Three - all discs are records but not all records are discs

Listening to BBC Radio Three first thing this morning my ears prick up when "the announcer" (I feel sure they should still be called "announcers" on Radio Three) talks about playing "some new discs".

"Discs" is a term that seems to hang on at Radio Three and in certain corners of Radio Four. It wasn't long ago that Desert Island Discs (there it is again) asked guests to pick eight "gramophone records" to be cast away with.

All terms used to decribe sound carriers have a moment in the sun and quickly become quaint. In the late 60s people talked about having "an album collection" because it implied a whole new level of sophistication. In the late 70s cassette was the dominant format. At the time my mother would describe any recorded music as "a tape".  I cling on to "LP" because it puzzles young people. I have known people point at 12" vinyl LPs and call them CDs.

"Album" itself is a word borrowed from the world of photography, used to describe the packages in which the first classical works could be spread over a number of 78s. "Waxing" and "vinyl" were borrowed from the production process. "Hot biscuit" was a hipster term for a record, so-called because early 78s would be apparently baked during manufacture.

There's actually only one word that would cover anything from an early Edison cylinder to the latest stream, anything from a rare Black Patti to a Paul Young cassette with a cracked case picked up in a motorway service area, from a Jamaican dub plate to the most recent classical performance.

That's the word "record".

"Record" doesn't apply to the physical object. It applies to the medium. Therefore, that music they're playing on Radio Three may be coming from a disc or it may not, it may be a download or it may not, it may in ten years' time be played in via a machine that we cannot imagine now. It will however still be a record.