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The 78 Project

prestoA filmmaker and a journalist are “turning the tables back” to 78 rpm records, reports Andy Beta in The Wall Street Journal (3/22/14). The filmmaker is Alex Steyermark, who along with journalist Lavinia Wright recorded and filmed artists including Rosanne Cash, Marshall Crenshaw and Richard Thompson cutting acetate 78 rpm records. The resulting film, The 78 Project, recently debuted at the South by Southwest Music Festival.

Both Alex and Lavinia say they were influenced by Alan Lomax‘s legendary “field recordings rendered on a Presto.” Lavinia, who is 30, says she grew up listening to her father’s collection of 78s. “It was a big ceremony in my household when as children we learned how to properly put the needle down,” she says. “My parents took it very seriously.” Recording artist Joe Henry, who contributed a track to the project, feels the 78 does indeed create a special kind of “listening experience.”

“To play a 78, you pick a song and make a deliberate act out of sitting in front of it and listening to it go by, lifting the needle after,” he says. “You have to bring yourself to it in a way that most people don’t any longer. It insists upon your full engagement.” Moreover, because “of the nature of the acetate, where every playback slowly destroys the record,” each of these 78s would only be played once, to transfer them to digital. “You listen very differently when you understand that it will be the only time you have this particular experience,” says Joe.